Human development should be a priority
It is a travesty that Health, Education, Power and Road Communication have never been the priority of pressure groups and hence not that of the government too. Reason being that successive governments in Meghalaya have never listed their priorities but have been pushed to cogitate on issues flagged by pressure groups – issues which are not necessarily representative of the views of a large majority of Meghalaya’s citizenry. Public discourse in Meghalaya is minimal even while the impact of short-sighted policies is universal. Roads are the lifeline of the state and also impinge on the health outcomes of people in rural Meghalaya. Pregnant women continue to die due to the absence of healthcare facilities closer to their villages and their need to travel long distances to reach a hospital. This is the bane of Meghalaya’s health care system. In 2018-19 the budget of Meghalaya stood at Rs 14,101 crore while Health was allocated only about 6.3 % at Rs 852 crores.
The per capita expenditure on health in 2015-16 was Rs 2,223, less than half of other smaller NE states like Arunachal Pradesh Mizoram etc. In 2018-19, almost 33 percent of staff nurse positions and 25 percent of general physician positions were vacant. These include the one-third of Medical Officer posts that were unfilled in PHCs. Almost 60 percent of specialist posts are vacant, which include 42 percent vacancies in District Hospitals. The interminable delay in starting a medical college that was envisaged at least 10 years ago has added to the shortage of specialists as there are no opportunities for higher education and continuing medical education.
As far as Education is concerned the budget allocation in 2018-19 was 6.87% at Rs 969.64. Much of the money goes into salaries and very little in educational innovation and smart classrooms. Ironically, the teachers employed under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan which is intended to bring every child to school are not paid regularly. There is a huge gap between resources needed for the educational sector and what’s available. This gap will show up in educational outcomes in Meghalaya and has already done so if we go by the latest SSLC results where some schools particularly in Garo Hills got zero pass percentage. This led to demand for closure of such schools. But as usual the noise over this issue receded with time.
Roads in rural Meghalaya in all the districts are in very poor shape and even when constructed are not designed to last beyond one monsoon season and that is because the defect liability burden on the contractor is 365 days (one year). This means that if a road is eroded by rain water due to its poor quality after one year of its completion the contractor bears no liability.
It is high time that Meghalaya gets its act together and lists out its priorities and these should be in the area of human development and not just infrastructure creation.