Meghalaya limestone quarries closed
French multinational Lafarge's limestone quarries in Meghalaya, which supply raw material to its cement plant across the border in Bangladesh have been shut down by the government. This comes nearly a year after an official of the Union Ministry of Environment and forests (moef) found that the mining lease area was forestland. The official had also found that environmental consultants and a local forest official had given false information about the nature of land to ensure clearance of the project.
The temporary closure order, issued on April 30, 2007, is a major setback to India's first sub-regional private sector project under the much-hyped Look East Policy. The Indian half of the venture was already mired in controversies related to acquisition of tribal lands and subsequent mortgage of those lands to foreign banks in Bangladesh.
Limestone dependent The project involves mining and transport of limestone from Shella-Nongtrai villages in Meghalaya's East Khasi Hills district to a cement plant in Chhatak, Bangladesh (see map: Limestone travails), via a 17 km-long cross-border conveyor belt. The us $225 million, state-of-the art plant, Lafarge Surma Cement, depends entirely on limestone from Meghalaya's quarries. The project, initiated in 1997, plans to produce 1.2 million tonnes of cement annually. The plant started producing and selling cement in 2006.
The quarries, which are about 100 km from Shillong, are operated by a subsidiary of Lafarge Surma, Lum Umiam Mining Pvt Ltd. The mining rights, however, are owned by another Lafarge Surma subsidiary