Unhappy with Lafarge Umiam Mining Pvt Ltd’s (LUMPL) supposed faithlessness to commitments made, the Shella village dorbar has put the areas under its jurisdiction out of bounds for the multinational company’s personnel and villages.
This unprecedented restriction was imposed on September 21, local villagers told Highland Post.
Lafarge, which is part of LafargeHolcim Bangladesh Ltd (LHBL), is a company incorporated in Bangladesh. It was set up as a cross border cement manufacturing project in 2000 after India and Bangladesh signed a historic agreement that provides for uninterrupted supply of limestone to the company’s cement plant in Chhatak, Bangladesh using a 17 kilometre long conveyor belt from a quarry in Nongtrai, Meghalaya. Much of the conveyor below follows a route through areas under the Shella dorbar.
The dorbar claims that Lafarge owes it payment to the tune of Rs 8.58 crore since 2017, local sources said. It has been demanded a review of the amount of annual payments, which have not increased since 2011, and has now withdrawn all cooperation and support to the company until the matter of the payments is resolved.
It was only after a tough battle that went to the Supreme Court that Lafarge was compelled to create a special purpose vehicle, through which the company is bound to compensate the people of the area for the adverse environmental impact of mining in villages within 50 kilometres of its colossal mining operations.
The local dorbar has accused LHBL, which earned a profit after tax of Rs 69 crore between January and June, of using the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to wriggle out of its financial commitments. It had rejected an offer of a lump sum of Rs 10 lakh annually for the 2017-20 period as insufficient given the 8 lakh tonnes of limestone exported to Bangladesh in 2017-19 via the conveyor belt.
Under the dorbar’s edict, the essential support services of the Shella Welfare Society have been withdrawn and employees, contractors and vehicles of the company are restricted from using the roads, walkways, bridges and other places within Shella.
The dorbar and Lafarge have been negotiating over the issue of an increase in annual payments, with several meetings held since the beginning of the year. Lafarge had agreed to complete the process of reviewing the agreement within four months, but the coming of the Covid-19 pandemic saw them use this as an excuse for a delay.
Sources claim that the company cannot say it had run into a loss because of the pandemic because work was stopped only for 40 days during the lockdown. This is backed by the financial reports of LUMPL and LHBL, which show the companies running on healthy profits.
The Shella dorbar feel aggrieve that Lafarge appears to have forgotten that without the support of the dorbar, the company would not have received clearances to increase their mining area in 2016. The dorbar also takes credit for getting the Meghalaya government to allow the company to restart work during the Covid lockdown.
It has been learnt that Lafarge has proposed setting up a joint committee to resolve the issue, quoting the 2006 Deed of Agreement and amended agreement of 2011.