Sunday, February 25, 2024

Corruption is business as usual in Meghalaya

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By Patricia Mukhim

Meghalaya hosted with grace and quiet dignity one of the world’s leading spiritual leaders and peace activists – the 14th Dalai Lama. The city was caught in a spell and the roads looked empty because no outlandish parking was allowed. I recall the Chief Minister, Dr Mukul Sangma commenting that the Dalai Lama’s visit will put Meghalaya on the global map and since he is given Z+ category security by Government of India, Meghalaya would have to make sure that nothing goes wrong from the word “go.” And indeed the Government of Meghalaya rose to the occasion. The Police must be credited for clearing the roads of all cars meant for the junkyards and for ensuring that the Dalai Lama’s movements worked like clockwork. This indicates that Meghalaya is well capable of hosting world class events if it chooses to.
People who have had the opportunity to listen to the Dalai Lama giving his simple yet profound one-liners said they were touched to the core. Call it mind over matter but many also experienced a sort of aura as the Tibetan monk entered the Soso Tham auditorium. We have all listened to preaching from great saints and from pulpits alike. What marks out the Dalai Lama from others is that his life speaks. He lives a frugal, disciplined lifestyle and spends hours meditating. In a world where temples, churches and mosques are built at great cost the Dalai Lama says, “This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness.” It sounds so uncomplicated yet makes absolute sense because constructing a structure is one thing, maintaining that requires so much money and labour for which those in charge of the structures have to rely on all kinds of donation from all kinds of people.
If there are not enough people patronizing those structures (temples, churches, mosques, gurdwaras etc) and paying money regularly in whatever form for their upkeep, those manning them will be in trouble. Hence the quest for membership with the promise of life eternal! Christians, of all people would know better that Christ had always preached in the open air. He sought out people. Perhaps his single most important message was when he whipped those who sold memorabilia inside the temple premises. Christ recognized that some clever people were making capital out of the faith of the innocent worshippers. I am sure this observation will not go down too well with many, who, while they have dedicated their lives to Christ but spend all their waking hours trying to run institutions without any more time left to do what Don Bosco did which is to search for lost souls.
Religion indeed has become very complicated. First of all you need good clothes to go to a church or temple or mosque. There is no place there for the poor and unwashed. All of these places of worship have become like clubs where like-minded people congregate and go through the rituals of praying for an hour or so and then go back home without an iota of change in their lives. Yet none of us dare question the purpose of our church attendance if it does not make us better human beings. For if we are too look at the churches on Sundays, they are overflowing with people yet we also have corruption thriving very well in this State. All of us who meet and shake hands with each other in the church know how we have made our money, what shortcuts we have taken while building roads and government building so that we get higher profits. Why else would the roads of Shillong have to be repaired every year without anyone being held accountable? Those who have built ostentatious mansions as government servants know how they made their money but they have no scruples and continue to be patronized by different churches. Why? Because they are also big donors so church leaders smile slyly at them almost like saying, “Your secret if safe.” Who are we really trying to fool?
We did not need the Dalai Lama to tell us that corruption stinks. Corruption has created inequalities and is one of the reasons for poverty. What should go to the people by way of good roads for better communication goes to deep pockets. I have said this earlier and will say this again. No Chief Minister in Meghalaya has had the courage of conviction to get a social audit done of the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) in general and the different phases of the Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme (GSWSS) in particular. This schemes has been administered by an electrical engineer for as long as we can remember (over two decades to be precise) because no CM has the guts to remove him. He possibly has a dossier on each one of them and they have nothing on him. How weird is that! If this is not collusion, then can someone define what it is?
Look at some of the road repairs in Shillong city! As soon as the rains come the roads will be washed away. Then next years more money will be allocated. Isn’t this sickening? Who are these contractors that cannot do work that lasts even a couple of years? Should they not be blacklisted? In fact we do need a big shake-up in Meghalaya where corruption has sunk deep roots. Those who see the system being defrauded from close quarters actually feel nauseated but say they can’t stab up to the politicians, some of whom are known for their insatiable greed.
Those in the know say hat the power scenario in our State is grim. We now have power cuts at midnight and in the morning from 8.00-10.00 am. That’s the time when many people need to cook and wash. These days the MeECL does not even consider it their duty to inform consumers about the power cuts. We are not told the full story of the Leshka project the cost of which has escalated by 100 times and the project is still not fully complete. And every time we raise these questions the engineer in charge of that project threatens defamation! Isn’t this the height of audacity?
From confidential sources we are told that the State’s financial condition is precarious. Yet when it comes to buying vehicles for the high and mighty, nothing less than a swanky SUV would do. What dichotomy! What hypocrisy! Then what about the huge hundreds of crores of revenue leakage from the Transport and Mineral Resources Department? Who is allowing this impunity? Why are we allowing this ‘business as usual’ attitude to carry on?
Recently I was told that there is a clear Government of India directive that 20 % of funds are to be spent in the first quarter of the financial year, 65% in the second and third quarters and only 15 % in the last quarter. If this is violated there are consequences. This spending would not be difficult if the budgeting and allocation is correctly done. But this is violated regularly in Meghalaya. Hence people only slog their butts off in the last week of March. For some, that’s the only time they really ‘work.’ At other times they are only attending offices or attending meetings. We are becoming failed state which has succeeded in making a few people extremely rich not only for one generation but for their next and the next one as well. Is this a sustainable model? Do we have a model like ours that has succeeded anywhere in the world? And do we believe that people will continue to take this lying down? We only need a good honest community based organisation (CBO) to create public awareness across the state to bring about a change in the way we do politics. The problem is all of us are too Shillong-centric. A time has come to put things on their head and challenge the corrupt in their home turfs.

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