At least seven police personnel were injured after violence broke out during a public hearing for expansion of a limestone mining project in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district on Saturday, officials said. The violence erupted after members of various groups protesting against the project forcefully entered the public hearing site and threw stones, injuring the police personnel, they said.
Tear-gas and stun grenades were used to disperse the protesters, police said, adding that the public hearing was being held outside the deputy commissioner's office for the proposed expansion of the limestone mining project by Star Cement Ltd.
"Seven police personnel, including women constables, suffered injuries during the protest and stone pelting incident," East Jaintia Hills Deputy Commissioner (DC) E Kharmalki said.
The public hearing started off peacefully at 11 am but had to be adjourned after over 1,000 people, including NGO activists, started barging into the venue, he said.
"After there was continued disruption and when we wanted to again start the public hearing around 1.30 pm, we decided to call off the meeting since the situation was not suitable to proceed ahead," Kharmalki said.
Police exercised full restrain from using any force, but they were compelled to use tear-gas and stun grenades to control the situation, the DC said.
Several anti-mining and pro-environment groups have expressed strong opposition against the expansion of the mining project. The groups are also against the decision of holding the public hearing at the DC's office, which they say is very far away from the proposed mining area at Brishyrnot.
The protest took an ugly turn when organisations along with people from the area forcefully entered the premises of the public hearing and damaged the 'pandal' erected for it outside the DC's office, police said.
When asked, Kharmalki said that he will immediately submit a report to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
"A report (regarding the incident) will be sent to the MoEF so that it can accordingly take a decision," he said and added that the next date for the public hearing will depend on the decision of the ministry.On whether the district administration will file a case, the DC said, "We are still assessing the situation to find out who has violated protocols, who has damaged the 'pandal', and then accordingly we will take a decision (on what action should be taken)."
Organisations that are protesting against the mining project include the influential KSU, JSU, EJNC, HANM, HYC, FKJGP and STIEH.
The protesting organisation have said that allowing expansion of the project will affect the environment. Not only will it pollute rivers but also affect the Narpuh Wildlife Sanctuary which is located adjacent to the proposed mining area, they said.
Brishyrnot Waheh Shnong (headman), Standly Massar, expressed concern over the incident that led to the cancellation of the public hearing for the third time.
"It is really an unfortunate incident and we don’t know the intention of the organisations protesting against the public hearing. They should have taken our views and opinion into consideration before taking such step," he said.
Massar also claimed that the village has seen development in regard to road connectivity and water supply, among others.
He also urged the state government to find ways and means to resolve the issue in the interest of the people of the area. One of the supporters of the expansion project, Angelina Massar, a resident of Brishyrnot, said that the cement factory will benefit the local populace in many ways.
"Regarding the allegation that the mining project will be detrimental to the environment, I am confident that there are laws that are binding to all cement companies for taking up land reclamation to prevent environmental degradation," she said.