The Umiam Basin region is the area of operation of the SPV Society. The core area is situated near the limestone mining area that is currently under the management of Lafarge, 2 kms from Shella town, and the rest of the zone stretches across the basin of the Umiam-Shella River.
The River Umiam takes its origin from the Shillong Peak, the highest point in Meghalaya and then flows south through the high plateau of regions of Nongkrem, Smit, Nongkynrih, Laitlyngkot, Umtyngar and Mawphlang. The river passes through Mawphu, Thieddieng, Nongsteng areas and enters the River Umiam Shella Basin at Synnei and Umtlang Elakas then down to Sohlap, a locality of Shella, crossing the international border into Bangladesh.
Another part of the Umiam Basin consists of the branches of streams coming from Laitryngew area of Sohra down to Nohkalikai Falls into Nongriat, which then enter the basin at Tyrna, Nongkroh, Ramdait, Mynteng Elakas, joining the main Umiam-Shella River at the junction of Dewsaw, Nonglyngkien and Nongwar Elakas. The mandated area of the SPV Society conforms to the extent laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, by and large, coincides with the Umiam Shella River Basin.
The region is mostly mountainous and travel from one place to another often involves steep climbs and hikes through rugged, lush landscapes.
The majority of the villages here are inhabited by the Khasi tribe and a few other communities. They have lived in harmony with the breathtaking but difficult topography for centuries and have found ways to get the best out of the land. This region culturally has referred to as a land of horticultural riches.
The people here are rural and agrarian and also utilize forest resources very well. They are also known for their cane crafts and embroidery works. The aspiring younger generations include many who are working in nearby towns and cities, showing a slow shift in the traditional farming culture to a more education-driven one – reflecting the trend in many other rural areas of Meghalaya. Christianity is practised by the majority in these regions along with the indigenous religion of the Khasis.
The economic history of the Umiam Basin communities has been through a tumultuous phase since the independence of India. For many generations, the plantation farmers of this region had easy access to trade markets of the plains of Sylhet, but with partition, an international border disrupted this centuries-old relationship. The fruit basket of the region suddenly found itself cut off from its markets and trade diverted within the North-east via the roadways to Shillong and Assam. This suddenly meant that producers had to ferry their goods uphill, through very difficult terrain and many communities suffered economically because of this sudden change in trade dynamics.
Today, with the effort from the state and central governments and the help of agencies like the SPV Society, the Umiam Basin is being ushered back into the larger economic fold. Apart from farming and livelihood, education and infrastructure have also been bolstered to help the local economy grow holistically.