Meghalaya: Court rebukes NGO, says PIL was aimed at endangering the progress of villagers

In a harsh indictment of ‘civil society’, the Meghalaya High Court dismissed a petition filed by an NGO, Shella Action Committee (SAC), against cement major LafargeHolcim deeming it was “totally without merit” and “tainted with ill design”. The bench observed that the SAC could not produce even a single landowner who was affected after the land was transferred, sold or leased out in favour of the company.

The Court also ordered the petitioners to pay a fine of Rs. 20,000 which will be donated to those affected by the Kerala flood. The PIL had claimed that mining of limestone caused a huge loss of revenue and irreparable loss to the indigenous people residing in the area. However, the Court observed that it was filed without any substantial basis. The Court also observed that the PIL was aimed at jeopardizing the progress of the village.

The Court observed that in addition to the Rs. 171 crore the company had contributed to the State’s exchequer, the company had contributed immensely towards the welfare of the people by generating direct and indirect employment, provision of education, skill development and in numerous other ways. The bench also said that the project is a major source of revenue for the people of Nongtrai village, adjacent to Shella village.

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Incidentally, it was the initiative of the very people of Nongtrai that saw the mining of limestone in the area. In 2010, the Nongtrai Village Dorbar, a traditional tribal village council, had moved the Supreme Court in support of Lafarge. “The project has not resulted in a diversion of agricultural land. No cultivation is possible in the mining area due to the rocky nature of the soil. The Shella Action Committee does not represent the native people of the area. They are not even residents of the area,” the Dorbar had said in its counter affidavit. It was also claimed that since the land belonged to the Dorbar, it was up to the Dorbar to decide whether to allow limestone mining in the area.

The Nongtrai Dorbar also claimed that the SAC, which claims to represent the villagers of Shella, has no rights over mine as it falls under their jurisdiction. Mining was allowed by the Supreme Court to resume in July 2011 after it had temporarily stayed mining in the area in an earlier ruling. The Court had observed that the company had taken the consent of the custodians of the land, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council and the Nongtrai Village Dorbar, before embarking on the project. The Court also observed that the mining project had brought schools, jobs, healthcare and other associated benefits to the people of the land.

Devjyot Ghoshal, writing for the Business Standard, portrays a moving account of the hopes and aspirations of the people of Nongtrai which are intricately associated with the mining project. In his article, he quotes people who have directly benefited from the project and were concerned that should mining in the area be abandoned, they will suffer as a consequence. Ghoshal ends his eloquent article with the following words, “In many ways, the invitation to Lafarge was an attempt by the village of Nongtrai to take destiny into its own hands. Incidentally, in Khasi, the local tongue, Nongtrai means ‘our own land’.”

It may be noted that Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt. Ltd., the company that operates the mine, has won the Guru Dronacharya award for safe mining for three consecutive years.

The PIL filed by Shella Action Committee, which was pending since 2007, is a classic example of how NGOs work against the greater good of the people, which is in direct contradiction with the manner in which civil rights groups portray themselves to be the conscience keepers of society.

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