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People demand closure of illegal coke factories within 5 days in Meghalaya

The local people of Elaka Sutnga under the banner of the Environment Coordination Committee (ECC) took out a protest march from Moopala to the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Khliehriat, the district headquarters of East Jaintia Hills.

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Shillong: Demanding the closure of over 20 illegal coke factories in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, thousands of people took to the streets on Monday seeking immediate action to protect the people from the toxic pollution emitted from the factories.

The local people of Elaka Sutnga under the banner of the Environment Coordination Committee (ECC) took out a protest march from Moopala to the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Khliehriat, the district headquarters of East Jaintia Hills.

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Later the ECC members handed over a memorandum to Deputy Commissioner E Kharmalki and demanded that all the coke factories be closed down within five days and to take necessary action against the proprietors for the irreparable loss that have been caused to the environment and life of the people.

The ECC activists alleged that almost all these coke factories under Elaka Sutnga areas have been set up without mandatory regulatory certificate or clearance from the concerned authorities.

“These plants are emitting dangerous gases and particulate matter beyond the permissible limit. These plants taking advantage of the CTO emit smoke and pollution into the atmosphere without considering the serious impact on the ecology,” ECC Secretary Secretary, Pynbait Sutnga stated in the memorandum.

Further, Sutnga also pointed out that wherever the smoke passes the trees or forest becomes reddish and perishes. “This phenomenal condition can be seen clearly at Umpleng, Nongjri Nongshning, Umtyra, because there are some plants granted with CTOs,” he said.

“Establishment of hazardous industries in and near the human inhabitation area can never be permitted as per the Supreme Court,” he said, pointing out that the right to pollution free environment has been declared as the right to life under the purview of Article 21 of the Constitution by the apex court.

Coke industries are categorized in the First Schedule item 4 of the Factories Act as hazardous process factories. Coke plants have a devastating both short- and long-term impact on the environment.
Stating that the toxic emission due to the unabated operation of these coke factories without proper prior treatment is causing severe health issues to the indigenous residents of Elaka Sutnga, he said that many of the residents are experiencing symptom such as “headache, cough, allergic rhinitis, throat irritation, allergies to the eyes and skin, respiratory distress, breathlessness, difficulty in breathing”.

Sutnga said the residents are concerned about serious diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases, Asthma, Skin allergies, Hypertension and Miscarriage that can arise due to prolonged exposure to these coke plant emissions.”
He said that the agricultural fields of larger section of the people who depend on agricultural activities for livelihood have become barren lands and uncultivable due to chemical and toxic waste released from the coke plants.

“We are deeply concerned about the potential short term and long-term impact of the coke factories on emission of the dangerous greenhouse gases, particulated matters and many more during the process of combustion of coal at the coke plants,” Sutnga said, adding that the people’s economy has mainly been forest based subsistence farming and agriculture since the distant past and are regulated on the basis of customary, clan, community and individual forest ownership practices in consonance with the precedent and tradition and under the protection of the 6th Schedule of the Constitution.

“Land, water and air are the three most important components for survival. Land and water pollution in the Elaka is a prominent crisis and somehow the people manage to live with such crisis. However, if legalized, such factories in the Elaka the consequences would be grave danger to the life of the people, air pollution is a non- compromised issue in nature,” Sutnga said.

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