Students’ blockade against uranium mining turns violent


Shillong: A two-night blockade in Meghalaya, called by the Khasi Students Union (KSU) to protest a proposed uranium mining project, turned violent Wednesday night with many vehicles set on fire by protesters, police said Thursday.

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The KSU, an influential students’ union of the northeast India, blocked traffic from 7 p.m. Wednesday till 5 a.m Thursday and then again for the same duration Thursday to Friday on the national highways between Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.

“Many vehicles, including six government cars, were either burnt or badly damaged as the KSU activists went on a rampage since Wednesday evening and till Thursday night,” said acting Director General of Police B. Kezo.

The KSU and several local parties have been spearheading the movement against the Meghalaya government’s decision to allow the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) to carry out pre-project development programmes in 422 hectares in the uranium-rich areas of West Khasi Hills.

The protest severely affected vehicular movement, specially night passenger buses and goods trucks, officials said.

The police chief said 10 KSU members were arrested for damaging the vehicles.

KSU president Samuel B. Jyrwa said the group at its meeting Tuesday decided to intensify the stir.

“The KSU at an urgent meeting decided to intensify its stir… to protest the Meghalaya government’s decision to lease out land to the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL,” he said.

“The KSU believes the uranium project would harm the environment and health of people living adjoining areas,” Jyrwa said.

Meghalaya Principal Secretary (Home) Barkos Warjri told reporters: “Police heads of the four districts – East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Ri-Bhoi – have been asked to see that the traffic flow along the national and other highways is not disturbed due to the night road blockade.”

Chief Minister D.D. Lapang told reporters Wednesday: “The uranium reserves are a national property and no one can stop the government from using them.”

“The government has waited for 20 long years to persuade the people to allow uranium mining at Domiasiat in West Khasi Hills district of southern Meghalaya,” he noted.

A senior Meghalaya government official said the union ministry of environment and forests has already allowed UCIL to start mining for the annual production of 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore and processing of 1,500 tonnes of the mineral ore per day in West Khasi Hills district.

The UCIL has proposed a Rs.1,046 crore open-cast uranium mining and processing plant at Domiasiat in the West Khasi Hills district. Meghalaya has an estimated 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits.