Meghalaya politician makes afforestation his campaign theme to remedy water shortage

Stump speeches are often rhetoric, targeting opponents. But this politician’s campaign theme is different. The campaign programme of Richard D. Shabong, the lone Communist Party of India candidate in the February 23 Meghalaya election, is practically a demonstration — of how to grow plants and trees on rock after adding topsoil.

Experts say that simply planting trees may not be enough for Mr. Shabong’s constituency Sohra, formerly known as Cherrapunjee, which is known for a paradox of suffering from severe and persistent water shortage despite being the wettest place in the world. Deforestation and soil erosion, coupled with a growing population, have reduced the water table, allowing the rain water to run off into Bangladesh. What is needed is a coordinated afforestation programme that involves not just tree planting but also rainwater harvesting and scientific water table management, the experts note.

However, government-sponsored programmes have been unable to make a big dent here so far. One scheme suffered from the plants being destroyed by forest fire.

In such a situation, Mr. Shabong hopes his passion will rub off on people and boost their interest and raise awareness. A resident of Lower Mawprem, Shillong, who retired as a field assistant in the botany department of North Eastern Hill University, Mr. Shabong has developed a plot of land near NEHU, where he has grown trees on rocks by filling dug-up rocks with topsoil and employing his knowledge of plant characteristics.

Mr. Shabong seeks votes, saying: “Grow trees on rock to make your villages green again to solve the problem of drinking water shortage.” He knows the heavy competition he faces from bigger parties such as the Congress, but says he has been overwhelmed by people’s response to his campaign.

“I will be busier after the election, as many people of my constituency have expressed their willingness to start growing trees on rocks on the hills around their village”, he said.