Another year ends in the merde. Another cycle of wait-and-watch and wishful thinking begins. As we get ready to welcome 2020, a leap year, one wonders whether it will be a definite leap towards a better future or just a leap of faith. To repeat the cliché, hope floats.
This year has been quite eventful not only for Meghalaya but also for the country. The most important event of the year was the reelection of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre. And soon after, the electorate paid the price for their repeat mistake.
The party, now doubly arrogant, implemented National Register of Citizens in Assam with one motive — sieve out Bangladeshi Muslims and pack them off to where they came from. It was only living up to its promise made to the Assamese people before the Lok Sabha elections in the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, the move boomeranged as the list of ‘illegal citizens’ included a chunk of Bengali voters who reposed faith in the ‘Hindutva’ party.
That was not the end. Next in line was the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that was introduced to give non-Muslim refugees Indian citizenship. The bill not only cleared the hurdle in the Lower House but also in the Upper House, turning the country into a battlefield.
In Meghalaya, trepidation gripped the indigenous populace who came out in hordes in protest against the bill. As violence spiralled out of control in the state and neighbouring Assam, communications were cut off. Mobile internet and SMS services were stopped to check further snowballing of the situation. The cry for inner line permit grew louder — “No to CAB, Yes to ILP”. The festive season was marred by protests. Anxiety trumped happiness.
ILP the last word
Of all the issues, inner line permit, or ILP, has been on top of the list. The long-standing demand of the indigenous groups finally stirred the government to action this year. A resolution was passed before Christmas to initiate the process of implementing ILP. But this has also made small-time traders apprehensive that the new regulation will put a brake on tourist flow.
Ranju Das, who runs a small eatery in the city, says now tourists will think twice before coming to Shillong. “Earlier, tourists from Assam would flock to the state but with ILP, the footfall will be low. Our businesses will suffer,” he fears.
According to Dr Deepankar Dutta, a city-based physician, ILP should be implemented properly to safeguard the interest of tribals and indigenous non-tribals as well as tourists.
Pilaksh Marak, who deals in rubber in Williamnagar, is worried about the nationwide protests and the impact on economy. He feels ILP has come to the state too late and is unsure about its effectiveness at this point of time.
Marak is also concerned about Garo Hills, which needs development. “The region has tourism potential and the government should develop roads and better communications,” he says.
These were only the political and social upheavals which marked this year. There were other serious issues like climate and economy.
As Greta Thunberg warned world leaders to be more sensible and less money-minded, Meghalaya struggled with its own problems of pollution and climate change. The government and citizens grappled with the growing problem of plastic waste. While the former is still trying to find a solution, a section of the citizens came out to clean up the mess.
Bibisha Kharnaior of Iainehskhem Self Help Group has a vision for 2020. “Let us all use organic substance and say no to plastic. We need to work together to save the environment,” she says.
According to her, the government should think about door-to-door garbage collection and appoint women for the job. “Segregation of waste can be done on the spot,” she suggests.
Will her voice be heard for a better tomorrow? Only 2020 will show.
Urban wish list
Pollution is a major concern today. It has always been but we had, for so long, pushed it behind on the list of priorities. Lessening pollution was never a part of citizens’ New Year resolutions. Governments across the world had ignored it too. So this time, Anjalee M Shangpliang, associate professor at Lady Keane College, has made sure to demand the government ensures citizens’ right to breathe fresh air. “There should be less pollution. Also, in urban areas, there should be small parks for children and hangouts for senior citizens,” she says.
Meghalaya, Shillong in particular, definitely needs better planning not only to protect and preserve its greenery but also synchronise development mindfully. So far, urban development in the state has been haphazard, unrestricted and inconvenient. Shangpliang lists the immediate remedies for some respite in the coming year. “Well-lit streets, better infrastructure like public toilets and rain sheds” are need of the hour.
As one talks about urban development, one cannot overlook the appalling traffic congestion in Shillong. It has made the hill city quite infamous. The roads are perpetually choked and citizens need a way out of the chaos.
Gautam Gurung, a local taxi driver, says it is worsening by the day. “I have ideas to lessen congestion and I want authorities to consider them.”
Shangpliang too wants better traffic management. Dutta echoes their concerns. “We need to replan and decongest our existing roads for better traffic management,” he asserts.
“There are rules but not many people, including taxi drivers, are aware of these and we need to educate them about traffic regulations. Also, people should be sensible while buying vehicles. SUVs and large vehicles are not for small roads and they create unnecessary clogging,” says Gurung.
Flyovers and management of street hawkers are also on Shangpliang’s 2020 list.
One cannot ensure a better future without a better healthcare service and Meghalaya has not been a high scorer on this count. Citizens hope for health security and a responsible and caring government.
“Healthcare is our fundamental right and it should get more attention, especially for children, women and senior citizens. The mushrooming of street food joints, restaurants and eateries should be regulated regarding hygiene and quality. Meat and fish vendors should be sensitised about health and hygiene,” says Shangpliang.
Another problem afflicting the health of the state is the growing menace of drug abuse that is “spreading like wildfire”. When the youths of the state are intoxicated and their vision blurred by psychedelic pleasure, can we look forward to a better life ahead?
Keshab Lamsal of Kripa Foundation says addiction is a problem the state cannot ignore. “We need to spread more awareness among youth because they are the ones who can make a change in the society. At present, more money is being spent on eradication. But if our youths are aware of the issue, then this fund can be utilised for development and healthcare. I personally want to reach out to more youngsters and the government is helping too,” he says.
Meghalaya has its own cultural history but not many outside the state are aware of it. So Anirban Paul, a former journalist, wants better promotion. “Shillong always had a cultural side to it. Starting from the influence of Tagore, to the rich local literature of Soso Tham, it is one side of the city that has been very close to the hearts of people. This needs to be magnified further. The literary and cultural aspects of the city have to be made richer. Starting from performing arts to literary activities (like yesteryear events of Brainjam ft. Barry O’Brien) this city has huge potential,” he says.
Shillong was also once the education hub of the North East but with time, it has lost its glory. Many educationists like Shangpliang want it to be revived so that students not only from the region but also from mainland India as well as neighbouring countries come to Meghalaya for education.
The rising prices of essential commodities have affected the middle class in the state. The national economy is weak and so is the state’s. Unemployment is rampant and brain drain is the norm. Arpita Paul is concerned how the state will cope with these problems.
“We need more jobs. We need a stable economy and we need to put a leash on inflation. The middle class is the worst sufferer here and the government should take steps to alleviate their agony. This festive season was such a trouble for the poor as prices of basic things like onion were on fire. We definitely want to see a better economy in 2020,” says the student.
All the youth whom Sunday Shillong spoke to have similar views. With less opportunities in government departments, private sector and startups have become the obvious choices. The youth feel that Meghalaya should have a conducive environment for doing business and the government should have a sustainable plan and not piecemeal efforts.
So the year ends in turmoil and trepidation but citizens never cease to keep their hopes alive. Now, it is time for the government to live up to their expectations. It’s time that it revs up its policies and replaces the insipid ones so that 2020 ends in vigour and success and not disappointment. The task ahead is challenging but the government needs to tighten its belt and work for its young generation to make a perceivable change.
Happy New Year!