The Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO), a powerful women’s group in Meghalaya, has opposed Uranium Corporation of India Limited’s (UCIL) plan to open up new deposits in this third uranium state in India.

"We at CSWO strongly oppose the move of the UCIL to open up new deposits in Kylleng-Pyndengsohiong-Mawthabah (KPM) project in Meghalaya, as it will destroy lives of people of our state for generations to come and the organisation will not allow this destruction," CSWO president Agnes Kharshiing said.

"If UCIL pursues to put pressure on mining and discreetly mines, we shall file a criminal case against them for trying to kill the people of the state knowingly. People in these areas and in the state as a whole, should be told and made aware of the danger of uranium mining and its waste which will cause rise in cancers," she asserted.

The Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL) has proposed to set up an open-cast uranium mining and processing plant at Mawthabah. Meghalaya has an estimated 9.22 million tonnes of uranium ore deposits.

The CSWO also expressed surprise at the government-owned UCIL pre-project activities like construction of road and bridges from Wahkaji to Mawthabah, healthcare and schools in the proposed mining areas.

"It is surprising that the UCIL is providing the road, health care and schools in these areas. Why is it that the government cannot make roads, cannot provide health care and schools in these areas and intentionally leaves the rural areas underdeveloped so that companies can come to exploit the tribal people by providing the assistance," Kharshiing asked.

Moreover, the CSWO said the state legislators and the government should be accountable for the backwardness in these regions and take it upon itself the burden to develop these areas, but not by a bargain to be able to mine this hazardous component, uranium.

Meghalaya is the third uranium-rich state in the country after Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. The state accounts for 16 percent of India’s uranium reserves, with deposits estimated to be around 9,500 tonnes and 4,000 tonnes respectively at Domiasiat and Wakhaji, both in South West Khasi hills district.

However, the proposed open-cast uranium mining in Meghalaya’s West Khasi Hills district has been hanging fire since 1992 after several groups expressed fears of radiation impact on human health and environmental degradation.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) had pegged Kylleng Pyndengsohiong Mawthabah project in Meghalaya for Rs.1,100 crore. The ores are spread over a mountainous terrain in deposits varying from eight to 47 metres from the surface in and around Domiasiat, 135 km west from here.

The UCIL plans to produce 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore a year and process 1,500 tonnes of the mineral a day.

In the past, Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma said his government would not bulldoze the uranium mining project in the state after various civil society groups including political parties opposed on health and environmental grounds.

However, Union Minister of State for Atomic Energy Jitendra Singh recently said scientific studies even in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre on those working there, found no adverse health effect.

"We need to do public awareness for this. The kind of mechanism, which is in place now… there is no obvious health hazard reported so far. No scientist himself has suffered," he said.