Prospects of large scale manufacturing industry in Meghalaya

By HH Mohrmen

Speakers or writers use allegories when they try to give some perspective on the age of the Universe. They would try to put it in a time frame to help people understand how old it is. This one I picked up is from a fortnightly published from UK by Rev Dr Maria Curtis, The Inquirer, Issue 7962/4 May 2019. Trying to give the gathering some idea how old the Universe is, Dr Curtis invited the audience to join her on a walk. She said we’ll cover 13.8 (billion years) kilometres in two days, as we walk from Big Bang which is estimated to have happened about 13.8 billion years ago, when our universe began, to the present. Every two steps represent a million years. The longest part of the journey is lifeless chaos, until mid-morning on the second day, a mere 5 billion years ago, when our solar system began to form and we humans appeared in the last few centimetres of the journey (Rev Dr Maria Curtis, The Inquirer, 7962/4 May 2019). Humans, by the way, appeared in the scene less than 500,000 years ago.

Coming to the history of our human ancestors, the first Homo Sapiens appeared about 300,000 years ago and fossils of the first modern human was found outside of Africa, 180,000 years ago. Geneticists calculated that the first Out of African migration which ultimately helped to populate India occurred around 70, 000 years ago. (Tony Joseph, Early Indians, the Story of Our Ancestors and where we came from P-xi). Humans definitely are versatile but they are not the only animals who adapted to the environment they live in and have evolved.

It is also true that humans are not the only animals that use tools to survive. We know that others animals like crows, beavers, chimpanzees and others also use tools to manipulate their environment for their own benefit. These animals have been using tools for millions of years and it was found that the tools used by Homo sapiens are not different from the tools used by our closest evolutionary cousins, Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis. (Tony Joseph, Early Indians, the Story of Our Ancestors and where we came from P-2). But how come humans became masters and lords over the animal and plant kingdoms?

It is believed that human dominance increases after man was able to make and control fire which also helped human in making tools, out of woods, stones and later of iron, bronze and steel. Man’s achievement is not only in making tools and using them as weapons, but his major achievements is also in his ability to herd animals and start practicing agriculture, which placed him in a much better position than other animals.

Even human history was fine till then, but changes which occurred later, happened so fast and this led to the destruction of the environment as we see today. But before that people went about doing their chores and farmers carried on their farming activities and blacksmiths supplied them with the tools they need for their different activities. Man also came up with idea of making weapons to protect himself against the enemy and battles became wars. This was how people lived till about two hundred years ago, when radical changes would happen. The change that happened two hundred years ago is that man could increase his tool- making capacity, which also brought a drastic change in the way people live. 200 years ago a group of people in England developed a means of mass production which helped kick- start the industrial revolution and that was the Big Bang that we are seeing now. All that is good and bad in the world today is because of the small band of people who started the industrial revolution.

The world changed and continues to change but these changes steered clear of the people who live in hills in Meghalaya in particular and the North East India in general. People in this region remain untouched by these changes till the advent of the British. The Khasi and the Pnar had some interaction with the plains people before the British arrived but that did not have much effect on them as they mostly lived their own way of life away on the hills. Perhaps the Pnars had much closer interaction with the people in the plains when their rulers captured Jaintiapur and annexed it to the territory of the Sutnga kingdom in the early 1500s. They not only captured Jaintiapur but also shifted the capital of the Kingdom to Jaintiapur where the royal family lived for the most of part of the year, and maybe till before India attained independence.

Apart from trading amongst them, they also traded with the plains and there are plenty of folk stories about these markets. The major activity of the Pnars is agriculture and animal rearing. Surprisingly this continues to be the main activity of a large section of the population till date. For these activities they needed tools and the only thing that the Pnar continue to do till today is to make iron tools for their daily use. However, people engaged in blacksmithy are also gradually decreasing, in the Jaiñtia hills. There are very few places which continue to make farming tools which are unique to the Pnar, like the different types of spade (Wakhu-Tuber, wakhu khian), the different machetes (wait), saws (kharat), sickle (rachi), axe etc.

Of course carpenters in the area also gradually evolved with time and graduated from making huts to making Assam-type houses and now concrete buildings. But the other things that people manufacture are the Larnai pots. Hence it is obvious that nothing has changed in the hills in the last few centuries. People may have dressed well, are better educated, have access to different media platforms and live different kinds of lifestyles particularly in the urban centres, but they had manufactured nothing other than what they had done traditionally. But even these activities are on the decline.

Some may say that people are now manufacturing cement, but the capital that has gone into building these plants all came from outside. Except for a cement plant which is partly owned by the former minister of the government of Meghalaya, the remaining plants in Jaiñtia hills are either owned by non-locals or they are major shareholders. The other pertinent question is whether cement manufacturing units helped provide employment to the locals? Locals were only employed as office clerks and many do menial jobs. The reason given by the management of the many plants is because locals don’t have industrial culture. This is the common refrain of the management of these plants. The different cement plants are not concerned about the youths of this area and they don’t see it as their duty to skill them and inculcate the industrial culture in them.

The state is now going gung-ho in promoting entrepreneurship in the state but how can the government expect this to happen when as alleged, people don’t even have the industrial culture to begin with. It is therefore very ambitious to expect that people will make this giant leap from the culture of blacksmithy which merely produces agriculture tools to manufacturing industries. The other question that the government needs to ask itself before promoting manufacturing industries in the state, is whether the state has the capacity to carry these giant plants? Has any independent study being done to understand the environmental and health implications that cement plants have on the people in places like Lumshnong and its adjacent villages where these plants are located?

Therefore large scale manufacturing is a big conundrum in the state like Meghalaya and the government needs to be extra careful with regards to large scale industries in its effort to promote entrepreneurship in the state.

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