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Middle of nowhere

Meghalaya is two years short of completing half a century. As the state celebrates its formation day on January 21, one wonders whether it has hopped on the right trajectory of growth. But considering the current state of affairs, it is easy to fathom that the comparatively young state deviated from its course over time.
Most of the major indicators of growth and development in the state are appalling. The economy, which is mainly agrarian but had shifted its dependence on mining for a period of time, has suffered an obvious jolt after a ban on excessive misuse of coal reserves. The mining-based economy has long-term repercussions, even after the demon is tamed. The sudden prohibition led to reduction in revenue as well as added to the already existing burden of unemployment. Private sector is inconspicuous and government jobs are drying up leading to brain drain.
Crime rate has increased over the years and rape cases are on the rise. The rich-poor divide in a once community-based society is ever-widening. Farmers, as always, are at the receiving end of the weakening economy. Most importantly, the political leaders are lacking good intent and unabashed about deep-rooted corruption.
“The state is surviving on central funds and has done nothing. There is no pension for teachers who have dedicated long years to the service. They are starving,” pointed out Pramod Kumar Joshi, a retired teacher.
The multi-tier government set-up – state, district councils, traditional institutions and municipal — has made administration more complicated and development work sluggish. Instead of synchronising their actions, the many tiers are often in contradiction that has affected the common man.
“The councils rush for trading licence. They should give some time to private parties or else they will not do business in the state. And job opportunities will be lost,” Arborlang Kharlyngdoh, a young graduate, said.
The state assembly remains far from inclusive with hardly any non-tribal representation and there is no political will to create level playing field. Leaders with conviction are lacking. There is no accountability for any wrong-doing and many politicians think they are not answerable to the constituents after they win election.
“The state was created carving out two districts i. e, United Khasi and Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills of Assam in June 1970. Our state flourished under the able leaders like Captain WA Sangma, BB Lyngdoh, PR Kyndiah, Salseng C Marak and Purno N Sangma,” Joshi remembered the glorious days.
Meghalaya, which has a large chunk of non-tribal population, had witnessed communal disharmony that was pacified over the years. But the embers were burning and the recent issues of NRC and citizenship act only stoked them. “Due to the present situation of the country our state is facing trouble. The future of the state looks dark,” said Joshi.
But Parag Dutta, a retired professor, sees some order in the chaos. He lauds the “last few governments” for bringing an end to “the curfew era”. He also appreciates the perceptible change in the mindset of the local populace. “The current situation is sensitive but efforts were made to diffuse the situation,” he said.
The former professor of St Edmund’s College also talks about the positive change in educational environment. “It is much better today… the average quality is on a par with other states. Also, government interference in colleges, like it happens in states like West Bengal, is not here and there is freedom,” he observed.
Both Kharlyngdoh and Morningstar Iawrod, a youth from Mawsynram, disagreed. According to them, the quality of education in rural areas is pathetic.
The duo also rue the non-existence of jobs. “I have friends who are unemployed even after finishing MBA and higher studies. The government should try and create jobs,” said Kharlyngdoh, who is a science graduate.
“There should be more skill development programmes to ease the problem,” said Iawrod.
Dutta suggested a change in mindset for the state to grow.
In healthcare too, especially in rural areas, the state is ailing. Most of the villages depend on the nearest community health centre where infrastructure is next to nothing. Sometimes even the basic medicines are unavailable. “If there is any serious case, then we have to take the patient to Shillong,” Kharlyngdoh said.
Forty-eight years have gone by but there has only been downgrading. Encouraging words are only part of celebration day lectures and not for action. So when will the so-called leaders act? The answer, my friend, is blown away by the wind.

~ NM