Meghalaya Forest & Environment Minister James PK Sangma on Friday said the state government is yet to take a conducive decision to introduce the centre’s oil palm cultivation in the state.
The Union Cabinet had on August 18 approved a Rs 11,040 crore National Mission on Edible Oils- Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) to boost palm oil production in India. According to the mission, special emphasis will be given to the northeast states and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands due to the “conducive weather conditions in the regions”.
Meghalaya Minister Sangma, however, while replying to a starred question raised by West Shillong MLA Mohendro Rapsang in the Assembly informed that the government is still awaiting decisions and guidelines to be issued by the Central government before the department conducts due diligence on the matter.
“If the project comes at the cost of harmful impacts on our environment, the state is ready to drop it. We will not take any action wich may harm our ecosystem,” Sangma told the Assembly.
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar in an earlier interview had said that the land identified for oil palm plantations in northeastern states has already been cleared for cultivation.
Sangma, on the other hand contradicts and said in the Assembly, that the state has around 3.9 lakh hectares of cultivable wasteland over which the government will assess and study the impact Oil Palm cultivation may impact in the state.
The Centre under the mission aims at raising oil palm cultivation to 10 lakh hectares by 2025-26 and 16.7 lakh hectares by 2029-30.
Reacting to the supplementary query raised by the Congress MLA on the issue, Chief Minister Conrad K Samgma informed the floor that the Meghalaya was among the states that had raised apprehension over the implementation of the project during the recent virtual meeting chaired by Union Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Minister Kishan Reddy.
“Our stand is clear. We had communicated our intention to examine the matter before going ahead with the project,” he said.
Furthermore, he maintained the government’s effort to increase the forest cover in the state by 400-500 sq km.
Several sections of environmentalists and politicians had raised concerns regarding the mission mainly because cultivation of Oil Palm, a water-guzzling monoculture crop with a long gestation period unsuitable for small farmers, has been a cause of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, two of its largest producers.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, many endangered wild animals are losing their homes to make room for oil palms such as elephants, tigers, proboscis monkeys and Sumatran rhinos.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, Meghalaya MP Agatha Sangma warned that the focus areas were “biodiversity hotspots and ecologically fragile”. She added that oil palm plantations would destroy forest cover and the habitat of endangered wildlife.
India is the largest importer of oil palm amd currently it is dependent on Indonesia and Malaysia for its supply.