MDA reaching the halfway mark

By HH Mohrmen

The MDA government has crossed the halfway mark on its journey to complete the five year term in office but there is much left to be desired. Till date, there is very little that the Government can show on its report card. This Government has done precious little in improving the existing projects and schemes like road construction, improving education or even health care. The roads continue to be in a bad shape and even National Highways are in a deplorable condition. The condition of the schools has not improved as most schools buildings are in a dilapidated condition and the less we speak about the state of public health system in Meghalaya the better.

The NGT ban on coal mining and transportation of coal since April 2014 which as claimed had affected the economy of the state and the livelihoods of the people was lifted by the Supreme Court, on certain conditions but the MDA government has not been able to bring the change required to allow mining and transportation of coal from the state as expected. The NGT coal mining ban was in fact the main issue that led to the dismal performance of the Congress in Meghalaya in the last election to the assembly and it is also the issue that catapulted the NPP to the fore, yet the election promises are becoming empty rhetoric. When the court finally lifted the ban in the early part of July 2019, the MDA government was found sleeping on the issue even after the lapse of many years.

Justice Ashoke Bhushan and K M Joseph lifted the five year ban with a caveat that the State Government has to comply with. The Court order said that the ban is lifted subject to the State Government’s compliance with provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 and Mineral Concession Rules, 1960. Recognising the unique land tenure system prevailing in the State, the Court ruled that permission from the land owners is also required before mining is done. The Court also stated that the State is to hand over the illegally extracted coal to Coal India Limited which will then make public auction of ‘the supposed’ extracted coal. While it is an open secret that the coal extracted before the NGT ban become effective in April 2014 had exhausted in the first two exemptions allowed by the NGT, the 1.77 lakhs metric tonnes of extracted coal claimed by the coal mining lobby is stretching the limit too far. How can so much of the extracted coal remain in the dumping yard for more than five years?

The truth is that the MDA Government under the leadership of Conrad Sangma is not interested in seeing the issue of mining ban reaching its logical conclusion. If the Government was serious in tackling this issue for good, then what takes it so long to even hand over the ‘extracted coal’ to CIL? Is it because it is difficult to come up with the numbers that have been claimed before the Supreme Court? During his last visit to East Jañtia Hills, the leader of the opposition Dr Mukul Sangma had categorically stated that coal that is being collected is freshly mined and obviously not extracted since before April 2014 as claimed.

Conrad Sangma wishes to be remembered as the Chief Minister who has done so much to protect the environment of the state but at the same time continues to turn a blind eye while coal mining is being done illegally. The Chief Minister did not realise that if coal mining continues then the entire tourism project that the government is promoting will go down the drain as mining will ultimately destroy the environment. Perhaps the Chief Minister does not realise that the Sahksaw tourism project at Chamcham village he visited recently is popular because the water quality on this part of the river Myntdu has improved due to the mining ban since 2014. Many locations which have the potential to be promoted as tourist spots, provide employment to the people in the area and are  sustainable, have come up even in East Jañtia hills but if mining continues to be unregulated then all these efforts made by the people will become a futile exercise.

But what is obvious is the fact that the Government has not been able to even come up with a policy or any kind of document to provide a blue print on how the activity is to be carried out. Nothing has been done to spell out how coal mining in the State will be done in the future. People have the right to ask the Government why this delay is being done on purpose. The current situation is best suited for those in power to illegally transport coal to Assam on a regular basis. It is reported in the media that coal being transported to Assam is not only via Guwahati but through Malidor too.

The illegal transportation of coal is being reported in the media on a regular basis and the question that begs the answer is how can this happen in broad daylight and that too on the National Highways in the state. The coal trucks in the guise of trucks carrying cement and clinkers are transporting coal without any hassle. So the question is  – who are people involved in the business? In Jañtia hills the story that does the round is now only ‘hai lebel’ (the high level) people are involved in the transportation of coal from the coal mine areas. The ‘high level’ people are those alleged to have close connections with those in power. Perhaps this is the reason why this Government is looking the other side while coal is being transported illegally from the state. People who do not have the right connections are being left out. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be in the near future. What is obvious is that the MDA is no different from the NDA because while it receives its power from the people its service is for the rich and the mighty only.

The other issue that troubles the MDA government is the problem of who gets the contract for  Government projects. In the previous Congress-led government, people complained that quality of government work is compromised because there is strong and open contractor – government nexus. Construction of roads, bridges and government buildings are pathetic because of this nexus. However in this Government this nexus is being done away with as the people in the government are themselves contractors. The CM who is the leader of the Government should ensure that there should not be a clash of interests and those who are in the Government should refrain from engaging in such activities. But in Meghalaya the legislators themselves or their near and dear ones are engaged in government contract works.

How can we expect Government officials who are supposed to supervise the work to do their job properly, if the contractor is related to someone in the Government? Sub-standard work in road or building construction is because people in the Government or their relatives are themselves contractors. How can one expect a Government officials to perform their duties well when the contractor is the MLA/ the MDC themselves or are person(s) who have connections with the high and mighty in the Government? Very often officials are forced to toe the contractor’s line to avoid getting transferred to Garo Hills. Take for instance the condition of the Jowai-Shillong road which has been repaired very recently. Why is the road in a pathetic condition?

The other issue that this Government has failed to address is the smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh. The Border Security Force who are supposed to man the borders are now becoming cattle herders too, but the most important question is how did those hundreds of cattle reach the border? How come the trucks carrying these cattle from Assam pass through the highways to reach the border without being detected? Obviously in this case too, the State machineries have failed and the customs officials and the BSF have to bear the brunt.

No doubt last year has been a challenging year for everybody, but the performance of the MDA government in the State also leaves much to be desired.

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