SHILLONG, Oct 09: The veneer mills operating in Meghalaya should be closed down as has been stated by the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which pointed out that there is no need for them in the state.
“Saying that we need veneer mills or plywood factory in the state is totally unjustified. Therefore, it (veneer) should be cut off from the department’s list and that veneer mills should be asked to close down as we don’t need them,” PAC chairman Charles Pyngrope has said here.
He also added that the state’s forest department has been directed to pull up officials who have failed to take action against illegal sawmills operating in the state.
“We have taken a strong view and directed them (forest dept) to check on these veneer mills whether they are adhering to the rules laid down and if not they should be closed down as veneer is not a value added product,” Pyngrope had said here on Tuesday.
He also said that the veneer that is extracted from the timber is not a value added product as the end product is the plywood. “This is just another material to make the plywood. Therefore by saying that veneer is a value added product is actually misleading,” Pyngrope said.
“In fact, Meghalaya cannot afford to have any veneer mill or plywood factory in the state with the forest that we have because the plywood from outside the state in Assam, West Bengal and Orrisa is plentiful and there is no effect on cost when it reaches Shillong,” he added.
Stating that the matter of environmental degradation is a concern of all, the senior Congress leader said, “Taking this into consideration, we found that the department of forest and environment needs to strengthen their laws and their working so that illegal felling of trees and export of timber by saying that they are value added has to be checked.”
PAC member and Umroi legislator George Lyngdoh meanwhile informed that there are about 33 licensed veneer mills in the industrial estate as per records of the department that are consuming huge amount of timber every year.
He said that the PAC feels that this is a concern because of the environmental degradation that is happening across the state.
“We have asked the department to review these licensed veneer mills and if needed to clamp down on the production capacity and on the amount of timber that is required by them to protect the environment in the state,” Lyngdoh said.
Expressing concern on the number illegal sawmills that are still operating in the state, Lyngdoh said that this shows that the Supreme Court’s order passed in 1997-98 has not been adhered to.
He said that the department has not moved a step in order to ensure proper rehabilitation and get a proper system in place to have a healthy environment for the operation of sawmills in the state.
Lyngdoh said that the department and government are currently working on a system to bring out a comprehensive plan to ensure that the illegal sawmills be brought under the purview of the apex court’s ruling.
On the other hand, Congress legislator from Mawsynram Himalaya M Shangpliang said that the PAC has also viewed the matter seriously and directed the senior officials of the department to pull up the erring DFOs.
According to him, there are instances in the department where lots of cases relating to the operation of illegal sawmills that have been detected but no follow up action was taken by the DFOs.
“Many DFOs have been found to be not following up with the cases that have been detected. Illegal sawmills were closed and after six months these sawmills open up again because the laws that are implicated are very soft and there is not much follow up by the concerned DFOs and that is why it encourages these illegal sawmill owners to reopen the sawmills that have been closed,” Shangpliang said.
He further pointed out that there is a particular DFO in West Garo Hills where cases have been detected and in spite of instructions to take action, the officer concerned has not responded till date.
“These matters are serious as it amounts to collusion, it amounts to a lot of suspicion of a nexus that is happening between the officials and the illegal doers,” the MLA said while also expressing his hope that the government will take up the matter very seriously.