Cement plants ruining caves in Meghalaya

SHILLONG: Indian sub-continent's longest and deepest cave system, the Kotsati at Lumshnong in Janitia hills, is under threat from a cement plants that have come up in the area under questionable circumstances. A few years ago, the Meghalaya government had approved two cement plants under the North East Industrial Policy at Lumshnong, where some of India's natural and ancient cave systems are located.

Kotsati, which measures 21.56 km, and other smaller caves - each a treasure trove of palaeontological, speleological, karstological, and environmental research - are said to be facing the threat of extinction owing to unmindful limestone quarrying. Environmentalists fear that the entire cave system could perish if things carried on as they are.

Most of the 24 openings to the Kotsati-Umlawan cave system are said to have been adversely affected not just by pollutants, but also by quarry deposits that have blocked the entrances and destroyed breathtaking coral and stalactite formations along with a 'virgin river passage' that flows inside it. "The project costs of both the cement companies have been grossly undervalued on paper to get easy environment clearance certificate from the State Pollution Control Board," said an environmentalist.

Experts claim that the destruction of some of "the unique and rare cave systems" of the world has already begun. Most have blamed the state government for allowing the cement plants to come up in these areas which are homes to historic natural biodiversity spots, including the Narpuh Reserve Forest.

"Everything will be ruined... the history, the distinctive cave life, the beautiful stalagmites," said an ardent speleologist who did not want to be named. "Documentation of some of the caves in Meghalaya, like the Bhuban cave in Nongjri under the East Khasi hills district date back to the 1827 or a little earlier and it would suffice to say that the caves provide for a comprehensive study of the environment," he said.

The cavers say they are not against development plans but emphasize that there should be some balance. "Do we have the right to destroy India's longest caves?" one of them asked.