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Broken Landscape : Confronting India’s Water-Energy Choke Point

Cara Tejpal reviews the documentary Broken Landscape, directed by Michael T. Miller.

Book Details

Director: Michael T. Miller
Run Time: 13.28 minutes

“Before, the river was our source of water. Now the people do not touch it.” Downstream from the rat-hole mines that have pillaged much of Meghalaya’s landscape, Kip Amtra, Kharkhana village headman, dismally recovers a nugget of coal from the banks of the Myntdu river.

The lethal cocktail of injustices brewing in Meghalaya’s coal-laden interiors is served as a palatable shot in Broken Landscape. Produced as part of ‘Global Choke Point’, a collaborative project between Circle of Blue and the Wilson Centre, the documentary examines the conflicting demands for water, food and energy in this northeastern state.

In April 2014, the National Green Tribunal placed a ban on Meghalaya’s unregulated rat-hole coal mining that yields over five million metric tons of hand-mined coal each year. In doing so it stirred turmoil among the powerful mining lobby, the underpaid Nepalese migrant workers (who work in near criminal conditions) and vested political interests, while providing some salve to the land and those who still depend on it for a livelihood.

Through a series of poignantly-crafted interviews, the filmmakers introduce viewers to the ongoing struggle between the mining and environmental lobbies, as well as the collateral damage wreaked upon the disenfranchised. Served in true documentary style with no deference for glitzy graphics or even a narrative voiceover, Broken Landscape dutifully covers elements of human rights violations, migration, environmental destruction and the jarring inequity that characterises much of India. Commendable, considering the entire film runs for less than a quarter of an hour.

Strengthened by the investigations of Helpme Mormen, a reporter from The Shillong Times, the film strips away much of the development façade that the coal lobby propagates. “Less than five per cent of the people in the coal mine area really benefited from the mining,” he says, and the accompanying footage backs his claim. What it does not and cannot do, though, is provide alternative livelihoods to the mine-dependent workers.

Freely available on the Circle of Blue website (www.circleofblue.org), this film should be bookmarked by anyone interested in environment, economics and human rights, or for that matter, anyone pondering the conundrum of our greed for energy and our need for water.

Reviewed by Cara Tejpal

First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, April 2015.

 
 
 

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