Wednesday, February 21, 2024

16 years on, legislators yet to get a permanent House


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Futile efforts result in huge losses to State exchequer

SHILLONG: The legislators do not have a House of their own for the last 16 years. This is a clear example of how a project can drag on in Meghalaya, a State known for pending projects and beautiful ideas which romance at the realm of dreams and never become a reality.
It was on January 9, 2001, that the heritage Assembly building was gutted by fire. After the incident, the Assembly session was conducted first at State Central Library and subsequently at Arts and Culture building at Rilbong.
On the eve of the 16th anniversary of the destruction of the old Assembly, Opposition leader Donkupar Roy said it is unfortunate that the government failed to construct the Assembly on time.
“The State should have got a new Assembly, but the government failed to execute the project and it is very unfortunate. There should have been determination on the part of the government to complete the project on time,” he added.
According to the former chief minister, anything the government decides should be executed and there should not be any second thought.
“We should stick to whatever we decide. The case of the Assembly is that there were too many changes in the selection of sites for the construction of the Assembly,” the UDP president said.
With the change in Speaker in the past, the government had selected a new site for construction of the Assembly.
The sites selected were the old spot at Police Bazar, Mawdiangdiang, Barik, Upper Shillong and Tara Ghar, the erstwhile official residence of the Meghalaya chief minister. Several times, designs of the Assembly also changed due to the change of sites.
“Many projects are pending like the Assembly construction and it is a lesson for all of us that we should stick to our decision without any change in the plan,” Roy said.
According to the UDP leader, the delay in the construction of the Assembly building will cost the exchequer dearly.
Moreover, Roy pointed out that before declaring any project, the State government should consider about having adequate funds.
As far as the Assembly building is concerned, it is not only the responsibility of the Assembly Secretariat, but also of the State government, he added.
The government will now construct the new Assembly at New Shillong Township at Mawdiangdiang and 80 acres of land near the building of Civil Defence and Home Guards was allotted for this.
When contacted, Assembly Speaker A.T Mondal said the status of the project is that as many as 13 firms had participated in the expression of interest for the work related to the design of the new Assembly.
“We are in the advanced stage of asking the consultants to make their presentations,” the Speaker said.
According to the Speaker, a few among the 13 participants may not be qualified as per the selection procedures.
The efforts to construct the new Assembly in the past resulted in wastage of public money due to several procedural lapses.
After the fire incident, the then Assembly Speaker E.D Marak and the High Power Committee of 2001-02 allotted the construction work at the cost of Rs 26.62 crore to a firm run by Caroline Pala without calling tender to construct the new Assembly at Police Bazar. The firm also carried out soil testing.
Later in 2004, when there was a change of plan by the High Power Committee to construct the Assembly building at Mawdiangdiang, the same   firm was allotted work at the cost of Rs 20.55 crore, yet again without calling tender and the Assembly Secretariat paid over Rs 2.14 crore to the firm though the entire building was not constructed.
These observations figured in the report of the CAG and the Assembly Secretariat was criticised for the lapses as the tender was called only for consultancy work.
The High Power Committee in 2005 changed the site from Mawdiangdiang to PWD Complex at Barik point following protests.
As per the CAG report, in 2005, the Assembly Secretariat asked the same firm to stop the work at Mawdiangdiang.
The CAG said after the firm submitted a bill of Rs 2.14 crore on March 10, 2005, for works already carried out at Mawdiangdiang, the Assembly Secretariat paid the amount to the firm in December 2009.
Earlier, on December 8, 2006, when the current PWD Minister Martin M. Danggo was the Speaker, the then Meghalaya Governor M.M Jacob laid the foundation stone for the new Assembly building in Upper Shillong incurring an expenditure of Rs 33 lakh in the presence of J.D Rymbai, who was the chief minister then.
The reason to abandon the area was that there were protests from several quarters since the area was an agricultural land.
Later in 2010, the GAD had handed over the land measuring 6.5 acres at Tara Ghar for the construction of the new Assembly, but a PIL by environmentalists resulted in a stay on the matter as the contention was that greenery will be lost once the Assembly comes up at Tara Ghar.


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