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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 January 2008, 12:13 GMT
Indian uranium decision condemned
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Picture by Anirban Roy
Agencies have stopped exploration as they cannot exploit deposits
Groups in the north-east Indian state of Meghalaya have condemned a decision by the central government to allow the mining of uranium in the state.

The decision comes more than 20 years after the mineral was first found in the state.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) has now been given the go-ahead to begin open cast mining of 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore annually.

It will also process 1,500 tonnes of ore per day in a new plant.

Wasteland

It will be set up over a 350 hectare area in Mawthabah in the West Khasi Hill district of Meghalaya.

The UCIL says it has received a letter from the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests announcing permission for the project to go ahead because it will be located in a wasteland.

The Domiosiat mining site. Picture by Anirban Roy
Children play at Domiosiat - prized by experts for the quality of its ore

"No ecologically sensitive area such as a national park, a wildlife sanctuary, a biosphere reserve or a tiger reserve is reported to be located in the core and buffer zone of the mine," the ministry's letter states.

However, the ministry says that permission for the project is subject to implementation of certain conditions and environmental safeguards.

It points out that the uranium mining project can now go ahead only if Meghalaya's Congress-led coalition government also gives permission.

'Radiation hazards'

Regional groups like the Meghalaya People Human Rights Council (MPHRC), the Khasi Students Union (KSU) and the Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo Parties (FKJGP) have warned the state's Congress-led coalition government of a "massive agitation" if it agrees to uranium mining.

A boy said to be suffering radiation sickness at Jadugoda. Picture by Arghya Choudhury
Khasis say radiation hazards in Jharkhand state could be repeated

The KSU's general secretary Hamlet Dohling said his group was taking the initiative to convene a meeting of all parties to oppose the uranium mining move.

"Delhi's decision to mine uranium is unfortunate for our people. India will get nuclear power but our people will suffer the radiation hazards and die," said Mr Dohling.

The state's chief minister DD Lapang is tight-lipped about the development.

He described the issue as "very sensitive" and said a "decision could be taken on the issue only after consultation with all political parties and regional groups".

Meghalaya goes to polls in two months from now and analysts say the ruling Congress-led coalition may want to avoid a major controversy in the run-up to the vote which may boost the chances of the opposition regional parties.

UCIL officials say at present levels, Meghalaya accounts for 16% of India's uranium reserves.



SEE ALSO
Tribes dig in to fight uranium
05 May 03 |  South Asia
India's nuclear muscle
11 Jan 03 |  South Asia
Radiation sickness
06 Oct 99 |  Medical notes
Indian state approves uranium mine
14 Nov 00 |  South Asia
India finds big new uranium deposits
05 Jan 00 |  South Asia

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