Imagine capital Shillong at 5000 feet elevation having to pump water from the mighty Brahmaputra in the plains of Assam in future! This is a very remote possibility. But a situation even somewhere nearby can spell doom for Shillong-like townships sitting at a higher altitude. What governments are focusing on is reaching more and more houses with water pipes to quench thirst of rapidly increasing urban population. But there is hardly any visible effort to ensure these pipes have water to reach the homes. Catchment areas in and around cities are depleting fast, thanks to the uncontrolled urbanisation. Shillong is no different.

Shillong, unlike other hill towns of North-east, has a lot of greenery left. One of its main reasons is existence of a number of defence establishments. The Eastern Air Command (EAC) headquarters which has covered hundreds of hectares of land in Upper Shillong has protected a huge catchment area above the capital city. There are other force headquarters like Assam Regiment, Gorkha Regiment and 101 Area of the Army, Assam Rifles, BSF and CRPF in the city. Having huge amount of land these forces can afford to keep most part of their campus green, using only small portion for building purpose. They deserve kudos for it. On the other hand, civilian groups keep on demanding removal of the forces from the city so that those areas could be used for ‘development’. These demands sound very bad music for the forces’ officials for whom Shillong is a very good posting without much to worry about. No doubt, they are always on the expansion mode, in Shillong.

The army’s alleged move to fell hundreds of trees in Raid Laban area of Shillong is condemnable. Besides being a violation of an earlier high court order, the defence authorities must have the basic knowledge of the need for protection of catchment area. The area concerned falls in Lum Shyllong, a critical catchment area, the birth place of several streams and rivers that flow through Khasi Hills before reaching the plains of Bangladesh and Assam. Even compensatory tree plantation in other places cannot repair the damage to be caused by the alleged housing project of the army. Government’s early attention on the issue is the need of the hour.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on March 31, 2017)

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