2020: Not a good beginning

By H H Mohrmen

Weather-wise it was raining on the first day of the year; hence it was cold and damp, but that did  not dampen the spirits of the young souls in Jowai in particular to welcome the New Year in style. The community feast celebrated by all the localities followed by a carnival sort of procession in the entire town was as joyous as ever. And elsewhere in the state families and friends were out picnicking on their favourite picnic spots, but something else happened during the first few days of the year.

In the international arena the US drone attack which killed general Soleimani of the Iranian army almost sparked a war between the two countries of the world. Thankfully good sense prevailed on both sides and war was averted but not without casualties. Although Iran missiles did not hit American bases in the region, but unfortunately a jetliner was hit killing all the crew members and passengers in the aircraft. In India the protest against CAA has refused to die down in many parts of the country but in the famous University of the country something untoward happened.

The unfortunate incident of violence in the JNU campus which left many of the students of the University injured and the attack on students in the other prominent universities in the country should be a cause of concern for all right thinking people. If the Universities stop being a place to debate over issues where voices of dissent are respected, what kind of future do we have for our temples of learning? Universities should be like a garden where different kind of flowers with all hues and colours should grow at peace with each other and that is what we should teach our children. But if the goal of the administration is to patronize only one view or one voice and suppress debate then the alternative to that is violence as we have seen from the incidents at JNU, Jadavpur, Jamia and other universities, where unruly mobs took over sane debate.

Unlike in Assam where the protest against CAA issue continues unabatedly, in Meghalaya it has however subsided giving the Conrad led government a space to breathe, but the question is for how long. In Meghalaya confusion still prevails over whether we should demand for non- implementation of CAA in the entire state or for enforcing ILP in the entire state or both. It is however almost one month since Christmas, and while the leaders of the MDA Government are waiting for the invite from the Union Home Minister the question is whether the pressure groups continue to wait for the delegation to be invited?

The  prolonged and consistent protest against the CAA by the people of Assam compelled Prime Minister Modi and the Home Minister to abandon their proposed visit to the state twice in a row. This should be a matter of shame not only for the BJP-led government in the state but to the PM himself, as he is the only PM who is afraid to visit his own country despite the protection he has and that too in a BJP ruled state.

In the state, the James K Sangma episode has successfully helped the government to move the illegal transport of coal issue to the back burner. Is it sheer coincidence that this episode happened on Monday when this column had brought to light the illegal activities in transporting coal from the state and Justice BP Katakey also resigning as the Chairman of the NGT Committee on the December 2, which also happened to be Monday after a similar article was published by the Shillong Times? The question for James is if he has nothing to hide then why did he avoid the press? The press fraternity should not let this incident simply die down with time. If the government does not come out with the answers to the queries then perhaps the next move is to boycott reporting the Republic Day message of the State government.

The Shillong Times exposé on January 11, where it was confirmed by the NGT appointed Committee that Cement plants and power plants used illegally mined coal to power their units brought to light the fact that this Government and the previous one too were directly or indirectly involved in the illegal transportation of coal. The Government and the cement companies are hand in gloves with and the coal mine owners to rob the state of its valuable resources. The unholy nexus has denied the government royalty from the mineral that is due to the state and it has also deprived the state of taxes that would have added to the state exchequer had there not been these illegal activities.

After the Katakey Committee recommendation was carried by the Shillong Times, not only the Home Minister James K Sangma is in a mess, but even Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma will have a hard time answering questions from media persons when he meets the press the next time. The public have the right to know why the State Government is silent, or why it turns a blind eye when this looting is happening and who benefits from this entire episode. This is a very serious issue for CM Conrad Sangma and he should come up with a white paper on the illegal transportation of coal which has robbed the state of the revenue that it is due to receive. As per reports the state should earn royalty of Rs. 675 per MT, contribution to Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund at the rate of Rs. 485 per MT and GST/VAT @ of 5% and if we assume that the rate of coal per MT is Rs. 8000 then the government is losing a revenue of Rs 1,560 per MT. The new trucks now carry a minimum of 30 MT per trip and the number of trucks transporting coal per night would be minimum of two thousand trucks just on the Khliehriat Guwahati route. The State is thus losing 9 to 10 crore per night but someone else in the Government is pocketing this money!

The illegal transport of coal did not bring any revenue to the State and nor do the local people benefit from it. It is only the few people who have benefitted from the illegal act and still people justify the act. People justify the transport of coal on the pretext that it is people’s livelihood. But selling drugs is also somebody’s livelihood and it is an illegal activity so should the police should not catch those who are engaged in selling drugs?  The jaidbynriew is supposed to be one which considers ‘kamai ïa ka hok and tip briew tip blei’ as the two of the three cardinal principles of life of the people. But where is the value system of ‘to earn righteousness and respect fellow humans and the will of God’, when people openly engage in illegal activities?

Can the people still call themselves Khasi Pnar when they have abandoned their cardinal principles of life? The people who validate illegal activities do not have the right to call themselves the children of the Jaidbynriew because they have abandoned the very cardinal principles of life which make it distinct from others. This question is also for the students’ movements of the state. In the student protest earlier, the popular slogan was ‘Khasi by birth, Indian by accident’ but now the students has come up with a more dreadful slogan which they shout at the top of their voices, ‘Ha la ka ri katba mon.’ This is not only un-Khasi-like because people are supposed to earn righteousness and respect fellow humans and the will of God (kamai ïaka hok &  tipbriew tip Blei), but if the youth continue with this mindset, it is like opening a Pandora’s box. How then are we different from those we oppose?

2020 did not start on a happy note but hopefully as the days and months pass, things will work out and the year will bring cheer and joy in the face and the hearts of the people of Meghalaya.

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