Meghalaya s lost treasure

Meghalaya has some of India's richest geological treasures. The Meghalaya Adventure Association (maa), which maps ancient and unique caves, identified 970 caves in the state. The list includes Krem Kotsati-Umlawan in Lumshnong, in Jaintia Hills district. At 21.6 kilometres (km), this is the longest natural cave system in India. The breathtaking caves also have a river and a 11-metre high waterfall. But this natural treasure has been destroyed by rampant limestone quarrying, in process since two cement plants came up in the area.

The Krem-Kotsati happenings are part of a pattern of unregulated industry endangering the state's natural heritage. Limestone occurs extensively along Meghalaya's southern border and cement needs huge amounts of it. "Whole ridges of limestone in the Jaintia Hills will be subjected to blasting operations and cause tremendous damage to the cave systems,' predicts maa general secretary Brian Dermot Kharpran Daly. He questions the right of the government departments to glibly sign away the state's natural wealth that has taken millions of years to create.

These plants have been set up by the Cement Manufacturing Company Limited (cmcl), Meghalaya Cements Limited (mcl) and Barak Valley Cement Limited (bvcl). The state's single window clearance system has facilitated such projects. "To our knowledge, both the cement plants have failed to get even the environment impact assessment clearance from the Union ministry of environment and forests, despite the plants being near the caves,' says Daly.

However, cmcl says that environmental clearances have been obtained from the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board (mpcb). The company also claims the project is not within or even in the five km aerial radius of any reserve forest. "The nearest