Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Our love affair with trucks and jams


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By Patricia Mukhim

A cursory look at the caption might raise questions from readers as to the purpose of this article. “It’s banal stuff,” some would quip. Others will swear I have been bought at an auction patronized by our stout and ugly sheikhs from the coal mines of Jaintia Hills. And now that elections are knocking at our doors some might even presume I have sold my soul to the devil for a couple of crores. After all it is foolishness to have political aspirations without the crores decorating your bank balance, right?

But its ‘No’ to all of the above. On Thursday (December 15) I was walking from the office of the Khasi Hills District Council (KHDC) at Garikhana through Lukier Road to the office of the Shillong Times at Rilbong. It never occurred to me how difficult it is for a pedestrian, until yesterday. There was a ceaseless drone of trucks interspersed with tourist taxis on that road. Some were inward bound and others outward. In between there were local taxis, cars and motor cycle riders who were desperate to overtake. The little space left by the side of the road for the poor pedestrian to walk on was also marauded Walking that stretch was a nightmare. It made me angry and also wonder if we even have a government. If we had a government, why would it care only for cars and truck owners and cock a snook at the poor pedestrian who cannot afford a vehicle?

Many have asked why the government, including this one, run by Dr Mukul Sangma is so ready to capitulate to truck owners/drivers which of course are owned by the powerful coal mafia… the lords of the black diamond. They want to know why the Government has suddenly changed the truck timings? They are also curious as to why the environmentally active stalwarts in Jaintia Hills (Facebook types), have not raised the issue as to how coal can be mined on forest land? And have we ever asked ourselves why every NGO is training its guns on cement companies but refuse to say a word on coal mining? Does this mean that because coal is mined by the local indigenous Jaintias ( perhaps some Khasis too) so it is a good activity worth all the state sponsorship possible? And that cement companies because they are owned by non-tribals are bad for our health and that of the environment? Bunkum logic this!

There is not an iota of doubt that coal mining in Meghalaya is illegal. It is done without any clearance from the Forest Department, (which of course is known to collude with all the destructors of forests) by sheer manipulation (showing smaller areas so that permission from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) which is more stringent is not required). The State Forest Department is complicit in this rape of forest land. I often wonder what exactly the Forest Department is protecting and what engages the so-called forest officers? All they do is protect their own turf and their own interests and ego. And here we are grappling with the cumulative effect of reckless mining…. So reckless in fact that nothing is ploughed back to the environment, not even to fill up the abandoned mines!

So our vocabulary today and surprisingly even that of kids is, ‘oh damn trucks …. traffic jam…traffic… traffic …jam …jam.. trucks’. A young lady from Nongthymmai had fixed a date with her boyfriend from Mawlai at 2 pm at a mutually agreed halfway distance at Khyndailad. The boy took all the shortcuts possible; he half walked and half sprinted to reach the rendezvous at the given time. His girlfriend arrived an hour later huffing and puffing. Her explanation… she was driving her own car and oh what a horrible jam it was, that she got caught in. An otherwise pleasurable meeting began with questions and explanations and curses about the traffic jam. I was sitting at a table close by at a coffee joint and mind you I was not eavesdropping but could not help discern the palpable tension between the two young lovers. Caused by what? The ceaseless line of trucks that have been allowed to invade our sacred space in this now accursed city! Funnily no one has any answer. Not the cops; not the seven MLAs representing Shillong city who till date have not met to discuss this oh so disgusting phenomenon; not the NGOs who love to dabble in every issue under the Shillong skies. None of the ministers even wants to answer why the trucks are allowed a 24 hour freeway through a crowded, busy city. Our administrators (some of whom also dabble in the coal trade) are dictated to by the coal mafia who are also legislators today.

Now who do we hold accountable for this goddamned mess? Should this perennial traffic jam not become an election issue? If politicians cannot solve the present traffic conundrum; if in so many years they have only come up with ad-hoc policies to deal with traffic, is it right for them to seek the peoples’ mandate yet again in 2013? What are the legislations they have come up since 2008 anyway? Where is the mining policy? Where is the road management and control of traffic policy? Where is the policy of road expansion in Shillong city? I feel nauseated every time I hear bombastic rhetoric about tourism promotion and blah… blah… blah, when the poor tourist is having a harrowing time, caught in a jam between Shillong and Guwahati for hours together, cold, hungry, tired and thirsty. There should be a travel advisory on the Meghalaya Tourism website which cautions tourists to bring packaged food and bottled water, toilet paper and a blanket, lest they have to spend the night on the GS Road.

HH Mohrmen had indicated in his column that the next election would find many more businessmen and coal barons in the legislature. They will sleep, eat and breathe coal and ensure that no legislation which will curb their illegal business is ever enacted. All this while pusillanimous voters are left sucking their jam-laden fingers. Phew aren’t we in deep shit?

While in the same café I overheard someone dramatically narrating her traffic jam experience… “I dreamt I was taking this 11 am flight from Guwahati to Delhi to appear for an interview the next day. At 9 am I had not even reached Nongpoh. When I reached Guwahati airport the flight was airborne. I woke up in a cold sweat and was glad it was only a dream.” Alas, this is also reality for many.

I am keenly awaiting the State Government’s pathetic answer to Justice Vaiphei’s suo moto notice on action taken to reduce traffic jams. I am sure as hell they have no answer. In that case they are in the docks and have to be imprisoned. By the way who represents the Meghalaya Government? The Chief Minister or the Chief Secretary? Will they go to jail on the traffic issue? I wonder!

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