In Northeast India, Cement Plants Disrupt Forest and a Way of Life

Lumshnong, a village in the Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, in northeast India, is home to both dense forests, rich in wildlife, and a large bed of high-grade limestone, one of the raw materials needed to make cement. The abundance of limestone has drawn cement companies to set up mines and factories, leading to extensive deforestation. In her film, “The Story of Lumshnong” — winner of the 2021 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest — Indian documentarian Aarti Shrivastava chronicles the impact that the cement industry is having on the forest and the tribal communities that depend on it. Pollution from mining is turning water red, villagers say, while airborne ash from cement factories is making children sick. The film highlights how local officials have disregarded laws and regulations in allowing cement companies to operate in this sensitive region, including altering the legal definition of a forest so as to permit mining in previously protected woodlands. In a region where journalists and activists have been assaulted while calling attention to the impact of mining, Shrivastava takes a close and uncompromising look at the devastation wrought by the cement companies. “You have to regulate air pollution. You have to regulate water pollution. You have to make sure that wildlife is not impacted,” says Shrivastava. “Mining happens everywhere, but there is a way you have to mine.” About the Filmmaker: Aarti Shrivastava is an award-winning documentary filmmaker based in Chennai, India. She has directed several environmental films, including Land of Widows, about the conditions for mine workers in Rajasthan, India, and White Knight, about Chewang Norphel, a 78-year-old engineer who developed a technology to create artificial glaciers. Her 2013 film, Foresting Life, about one man’s push to create a human-made forest, won India’s National Film Award for the Best Environmental Film. About the Contest: The Yale Environment 360 Video Contest honors the year’s best environmental films, with the aim of recognizing work that has not previously been widely seen. Entries for 2021 were received from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the first-place winner.