Meghalaya will soon turn 50: Shall we celebrate or deliberate?
By Benjamin Lyngdoh
In 12 months time Meghalaya ‘the abode of clouds’ will reach its 50th year. This is an important landmark and yes it is to be celebrated. However, does it have to be only about celebrations? How extensive and grand shall our celebrations be? Well, the crux of the matter is that celebrations are dependent upon achievements; else, it simply becomes a depiction of ignorance, arrogance and foolishness. Hence, as we continue to tread towards the year 2022 and 50 years of statehood let us all ask a basic question concerning ‘celebration and deliberation’. As we do this, it must be factored that Meghalaya is not only about its bountiful natural resources and rich mineral resources. In fact, inherently it is about ‘the people’. As such, any deliberation should focus on the well-being and development of the people and more importantly this must be the benchmark/standard for deciding on the nature and scale of our celebrations. In the process, we may turn the year 2021 into a year of deliberation on the birth of Meghalaya and the issues plaguing it for perpetuity such as unemployment, minerals mining and extraction, the deteriorating environment, conflict of interests as regards to our law-makers, demand for ILP, border conflicts with Assam, the demand for inclusion of Khasi and Garo languages into the 8th schedule of the Constitution of India, etc.
Some of the issues have been in existence for decades together (like ILP since the 1980s); border conflicts with Assam (ever since the birth of Meghalaya) with no possibility of them being solved any time soon. Nonetheless, it is important to point out that the state GDP has been increasing steadily since the 1970s and with an impressive growth rate of around 10% for the recent years 2015-16 to 2019-20. This is an important statistic as it highlights the socio-economic progress made. Moreover, it also depicts the development of the people. However, in terms of inclusive growth and equitable opportunities to excel in life; there is a lot of inequality and unhappiness. For the youth the reason for this is unemployment and the lack of gainful employment opportunities (underemployment). In fact, for many this is a bigger concern than ILP, the border issues with Assam and the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India. Of course, we cannot expect the government to provide employment for all; but the least it can do is to provide a nurturing environment for business and entrepreneurial activities. Here comes the need for creating effective support systems such as civil infrastructure, business incubators, technical assistance, marketing support and the all important training and development. As the saying goes regarding our villages and their development, ‘Give them water and roads and they will achieve growth and progress on their own’! Yes, this is tried and tested and it works. All we need do is to look at the villages that were connected by roads in the last few years; they have been able to come up meaningfully through their own resourcefulness, determination and hard work. This is one beautiful phenomenon which we must deliberate upon even further.
Continuing from the above, it is true that not everyone can become an entrepreneur. Not everyone has the capacity for that. However, it is equally true that the entrepreneurs provide employment opportunities to the ones who do not have the acumen for entrepreneurial activities. Hence, it is a win-win situation for all. It works like a multiplier effect whereby when one progresses and does well it positively impacts upon the livelihoods of the others. In addition, for dealing with the issue of unemployment amongst the youth, we also have to deal with the issue of trust on the State Government recruitment and selection processes which we all know as the MPSC. Whether the Government likes it or not, the reality today is that the people do not trust the MPSC. They see in it a lot of nepotism, push and pull, job awards and rewards in return for offers and favours. In general, many agree that it is time for MPSC to do away with the practice of conducting personal interviews as it is more of a window for backdoor/backroom arrangements. As an alternative, the candidates must be given a job offer on the basis of their performance in the written test. Now, as far as checking of the personality of the selected candidate is concerned that can be done on the basis of their functioning during the period of probation (be it one year or two years). This strategy is far more effective and workable. Moreover, it is fair! This is because anyone can be pleasing and intelligent for an hour of interview but this is a flawed measure. The real measure is to observe the candidate in question for a whole year or two. Here, we will be able to fairly assess the person and accordingly find ‘the right person for the right job’. Subsequently, and as a result of the above we will be able to improve upon the labour force participation rate of Meghalaya which as of today stands at around 50%. In general, this means that 50% of the working age population (16-64 years) do not find any employment opportunities at all.
Now, if unemployment needs deliberation; then so does the matter of the deteriorating environment. Sometimes Meghalaya looks like a workshop of mining and extraction of mineral resources. As a case in point, just look at the degree of stone and limestone quarrying in the border areas to Bangladesh and now it has stretched up into the areas around Pynursla. Where once we would be able to experience the wonderful greenery on that route; now all we find is huge boulders on the roads with disturbing signs of continued stone quarrying towards no end. In addition, factor the continued illegal coal mining and extraction despite the NGT ban.
Well, the ground reality is that ban or no ban, coal auction or no auction, environmental rules or not; coal mining is still being carried on in Meghalaya. While we may generally see this as a simple case of illegality; in actuality, the crux of the matter is called ‘conflict of interest’. It is a situation where the very people who directly/indirectly own/manage/have a stake in such mineral resources actually make Government regulations and rules (or at least oversee their drafting and implementation) concerning their extraction and business. Then of course, in this situation such leaders will lack the motivation and the will power to do what is right and accordingly see to it that regulations and rules are devised so as to suit their purpose. As such, this conflict of interest is a serious issue that needs deliberation. At best, such leaders/stakeholders that have any interest in coal and other minerals mining and extraction must be excluded from the policy making and framing the regulations and rules. However, does the state government have the guts and gumption to do it?
Indeed, the issues are just too many to fit into one article. Hence, the deliberations may continue by the society at large. As such, as we move through 2021 let us take up the issues that matter and not fall for a distraction called the national games, 2022!
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