Agatha Sangma, an MP from Meghalaya has flagged concerns through a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding his ambitious expansion of oil palm plantations in the "biodiversity hotspot and ecologically fragile" Northeast (NE) region."Palm tree is not an endemic species of plant of the NE region and large-scale adoption of a foreign species of plant, which is water intensive, harvest will definitely create irreparable ecological imbalance and distort the ground water table," the Tura MP said in a letter to Prime Minister Modi on Saturday. The Union Cabinet had last week approved the National Mission on Edible Oils – Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) as a new centrally sponsored scheme with a financial outlay of Rs 11,040 crore. The scheme proposes to cover an additional area of 6.5 lakh hectare (ha) for oil palm till the year 2025-26, thereby reaching the target of 10 lakh ha ultimately. The NE region and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were chosen in the renewed scheme for expansion in oil palm plantations. Environmentalists have already termed the government's announcement as not just an ecological disaster for the fragile biodiversity in those areas but also a social disorder. While oil palm plantations are not new for NE India, yet the environmentalists are concerned as there has been no assessment on the environmental impact due to the proposal for increased plantation area.
"The concern is generated when one peeks into the finer details of the programme, the plantation areas so selected are the NE region and the Andaman Islands, both of which are biodiversity hotspots and ecologically fragile. Palm plantations in all certainty will denude vast swathes of land of its forest cover. Loss of habitat for the endangered wildlife will have a devastating impact," she said in the letter, a copy of which is with IANS. Sangma also flagged the other concern vis-a-is the socio-cultural issue. Stating that the Northeast India, though sparsely populated than the rest of India, is dotted with many ethnic tribes with their own cultural heritage and practices. "Ownership of land is a centrality of any tribal society, which is also connected to the identity, in many cases, it is the community ownership. Widespread plantations for commercial gain in all possibilities will detach the tribesman of this prized possession of land and wreak havoc on the social fabric," the letter said. She ended her letter registering her "opposition to the unilateral imposition of the NMEO-OP programme on the people of NE region" and requested the Prime Minister to have wider consultation with all stakeholders before moving forward with the decision. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Meghalaya, palm, oil, tree, habitat