Feb 21, 2013 at 08:36am IST

Meghalaya polls: cement and coal lobbying remain a major concern

Meghalaya/Shillong: In the last 40 years of its statehood, Meghalaya has seen 23 governments. The coal and cement lobbies in the state are increasingly controlling elections and ensuring unstable governments.

Ardent Basaiawmoit, a legislator from Nongkrem is swimming against the tide, pushing for clean politics in Meghalaya. Basaiawmoit expects to win, but is not sure if change is round the corner. "Present situation is very unsettled; you never know which party will come to power. How many parties will share," Basaiawmoit said.

At least 18 Assembly candidates for the Congress or UDP have stakes in coal or cement mining, the most powerful lobby in Meghalaya, that can topple governments at will. The last five years have seen four governments and even President's rule.

"You have coal lobby on one side, they are very strong and having so many candidates this time. Then you have the cement lobby on the other side, all of them are just jostling for power and control over the government," Shillong Times Editor Patricia Mukhim said.

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma is well aware of the problems that his state faces from such lobbies. "They have tried to dictate in the past. They've tried to dictate during my time also but they've failed. Similar situation will be witnessed in the future," Sangma said.

In 2012 CNN-IBN filmed illegal mines operating in the mineral rich Jaintia hills and violations are often shielded by the locals no objection certificates. "Many of the headman, local people and even daloi who is the head of the ilaka, they have been bought by cement companies to support them and that makes it difficult to fight the case," Janitia Students Federation president Poipynhun Majaw said.

Even as the coal and cement mines flourish, 66 per cent of Meghalaya lives below the poverty line. As Meghalaya votes in 2013, the promise of stability and change seems distant.