Marak was instrumental in leading a youth uprising in five hamlets in Gongrot, in South Garo Hills, taking the ‘illegal’ miners completely by surprise. In his acceptance speech, he said: “I accept this award on behalf of my colleagues in GSU who have fought tooth-and-nail to preserve Balpakram National Park and the amazing wildlife of the Garo Hills.”
The story goes back to November 2008 when an attempt was made to open up a new coal mine on the periphery of Balpakram National Park. Like all coal mining in Meghalaya, no environmental clearance or related permissions had been taken for the mine. There are approximately seven laws under which clearance has to be sought by state and central bodies before any mining activity can be initiated. In any case, coal mining cannot be undertaken by private individuals as all coal (including that in Meghalaya) was nationalised in 1967. In blatant violation of the law of the land, ‘illegal’ coal mines continue to flourish all over Meghalaya. Local people in the Garo hills and other parts of the state operate the mines on their lands without any mining leases by the state government, under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, and the Coal Mines (Nationalisation)
The disputed mine was being planned in an aking called Gongrot (tracts of community land in the Garo hills are called aking). Since Gongrot is a remote aking, a road has first to be built to connect the mining area to the existing PWD road. This connecting road would have passed partly through Gongrot and partly through another aking called Halwa Atong. In order to build the road, standing forests in both akings would have had to be cut down.
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