By Udita Dutta & Aparna Sivaraman
Meghalaya, also called the ‘abode of clouds’, is one of the fastest growing northeastern states in India and is known for its rich bio-diversity, flora and fauna and abundant rainfall. Being a hilly state with a difficult terrain, it will be interesting to track Meghalaya’s developmental trajectory, particularly with it being one of the states which enjoys special category status.
To begin with, let us take a closer look at the performance of Meghalaya in the overall governance. The Public Affairs Index (PAI) 2018, developed by the Public Affairs Centre (PAC), a not-for-profit think tank committed to good governance, ranks the Indian states from the lens of governance.
PAI 2018 ranked Meghalaya 29th out of the 30 states studied. In all the three annual reports of PAI (2016-2018), Meghalaya’s performance has been below average.
While the state has performed exceptionally well in the areas of women and children and transparency and accountability, it has displayed poor performance in the areas of essential infrastructure, delivery of justice and fiscal management.
Meghalaya follows a matrilineal system where it is believed that women are empowered, mostly due to the traditional and socio cultural set up. In a matrilineal system, women have property rights and have more socio-economic responsibilities.
It is often argued that if a woman is empowered then all the other social sectors like health, education and nutrition will develop on its own. Hence, it will be interesting to see whether we can find an interlinkage between women empowerment and other social sectors in the case of Meghalaya.
Meghalaya has a sex ratio of 1005 which definitely makes it one of the outlier states, other than Kerala, with such a high sex ratio; 82.8 per cent of the women in Meghalaya are literate. However, it is disturbing to see that the percentage of institutional delivery is at 51.4 per cent.
Upon digging deeper, one finds a widening gap between the percentage of institutional births in rural (88.1 per cent) and urban areas (45.7 per cent) of Meghalaya.
On the other hand, the immunisation coverage in Meghalaya is only at 61.4 per cent, whereas in Kerala it is 82.1 per cent.
In terms of nutritional status, the percentage of children who are stunted, wasted and underweight in the state stands at 43.8 per cent, 15.3 per cent and 28.9 per cent, respectively.
The question that needs to alert the state machinery and everyone alike is why is Meghalaya’s performance in these health and nutrition parameters underwhelming, despite being a largely literate matrilineal society?
In a matrilineal society, the status of women is believed to be superior than those who are not part of such a society. However, you will find a different situation, if you study the power dynamics of a woman in Meghalaya.
Meghalaya, being a matrilineal society depicts a low level of participation by women in the public and political domain. Only 54 per cent of the women are a part of the labour force in the state as compared to 77 per cent participation of men.
Interestingly, there is slightly more participation of women in rural areas (55 per cent) as compared to the urban areas (49 per cent).
On the other hand, the percentage of women in the police force is at 4.34 per cent, which is way lesser than the country average of 7 per cent. In the political arena, women are grossly underrepresented. In the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly (2008), the percentage of elected female representatives stands at only 1.67 per cent as compared to 98.33 per cent for males.
While much has been debated and written about the north-south divide and the BIMARU states, very less has been explored on the northeastern states. There is an urgent need to look towards and analyse the development of the states in the north-east of the country.
This is also mirrored in the SDG India Index recently released by the Niti Aayog (2018) that categorises states into achievers, frontrunners, performers and aspirants. Meghalaya has been slotted as a performer with a score of 52 as compared to the national average of 57.
Additionally, there are several other areas of governance namely Infrastructure, Food Security, Environment, Tribal Welfare etc., that can help the state government introspect on the state’s below average ranking in indices such as PAI.
Note: The analysis is based on the following sources — Public Affairs Index, National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) 2015-16, Information Book on Meghalaya Elections (1972-2009)
(Udita Dutta is a programme officer with Public Affairs Centre, a not for profit think tank committed to good governance and was the co-author of the 2017 and 2018 Public Affairs Index. Aparna Sivaraman is a programme officer with Public Affairs Centre, a not for profit think tank committed to good governance)