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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Tribals of India's N-E not allowing govt for uranium mining

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Tribals of India's N-E not allowing govt for uranium mining
Guwahati, India, Sept 25 -- India's federal government is facing stiff resistance from local tribal bodies and environmental groups in the northeastern state of Meghalaya over a plan to allow uranium mining in the region.

While landowners of the proposed mining area have welcomed the project, pressure groups like the influential Khasi Students' Union (KSU) and some rights groups were vehemently opposed to the move saying emission of radioactive uranium would pose serious health hazards.

"No degree of prosperity could justify mining and accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances. The move poses an incalculable danger to the locals," John F. Kharshiing, chairman of the Federation of Khasi states, a powerful tribal assemblage, said by telephone.

The opposition comes at a time when the Principal Adviser of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), V.P. Raja, currently on a visit to Meghalaya, held several rounds of talks with landowners, the KSU, and other tribal councils and rights groups.

According to surveys by DAE, there could be up to 3,75,000 tonnes of uranium in Meghalaya's Domiasiat area - by far the largest and richest sandstone-type deposits available in the country.

The ores are spread over a mountainous terrain in deposits varying from eight to 47 meters from the surface in and around Domiasiat, 135 kilometer west of Shillong Landowners of the area, however, want the mining to start.

"We want job security for our youths and environmental safeguards and if that happens we are ready to allow mining in our area," R. Myrthong, president of the landowners association, said.

After initial operations, the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) was forced to wind up mining in the mid-90s following a string of violent opposition from villagers and other pressure groups in Meghalaya who alleged emission of radioactive uranium was posing serious health hazards.

Uranium is an important mineral ore for making nuclear weapons, with experts saying the untapped reserve at Domiasiat could be a potential resource for India's nuclear research programme.

The mining project which was estimated at Rs 3 billion in 1992 and now revised to Rs 8.14 billion, is being opposed by the Hills State People's Democratic Party and Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement, both regional political parties.

Joining the bandwagon of protests are the KSU, the Meghalaya People's Human Rights Council, and the Langrin Youth Welfare Association.

"We want an independent team of experts to conduct a study and submit a report and say whether uranium mining is safe or not," Emlang Lyttan, leader of the Federation of Khasi Janitia and Garo People, a powerful tribal council, said.

The state government is once again trying to revive the project through a public hearing planned Tuesday to drum up local support.

"There are lots of wrong notions and rumours spread by vested interests saying uranium mining would pose serious health risks. But studies conducted by experts does not indicate any such worries," a senior official of the Pollution Control Board, said.

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