Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Meghalaya at 49


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By H H Mohrmen

After reading my article, “This lie has to stop” (ST Jan 25, 2021) a gentleman called to tell me that it reminded him of the story of a big citrus fruit, a pig, a bat and an elephant. The story goes like this. The fruit fell on the back of the pig and hit it like a bolt from the blue; the pig ran helter-skelter and hit the tree where the bat was sleeping upside down. The bat too got the shock of its life and flew without any sense of direction, finally landing inside the ear of the elephant. The elephant was shocked and angry. It raised its trunk and took the bat from inside its ear.

The elephant asked the bat asked why it got into it’s ear. The bat narrated the story that it was peacefully sleeping on the branch of the tree when the pig hit the tree and it fell from down and thankfully it instinctively unfolded its wings and accidently flew right inside the elephant’s ear.

The elephant and the bat then went to the pig and asked why it hit the tree which has shocked the bat and made it fly aimlessly to finally get inside the elephant’s ear. The pig also told its own story and blamed the big citrus fruit which fell on its back and shocked it to the point where it went and hit the tree. The fruit could not speak but even if it did how could  it explain why it fell on the back of the pig.

Meghalaya today is in such a situation that almost everything is in disarray, yet, nobody wants to talk about it. The question that arises is whether everybody is blind to what is happening around or is there an all-pervasive fear to speak up. From health care to education, from agriculture to road construction and everything in between there is so much left to be desired.

As far as the health sector is concerned, very few doctors stay in the CHCs or the PHCs. The excuses are that even basic needs like water supply and electricity are not available in the government quarters and most of the buildings are in a dilapidated condition because of the sub-standard work of the contractors. Unfortunately some PHCs and CHCs do not even have water connection to the building. Hence patients cannot be admitted without these basic necessities in place. The Sub-Centres in many instances are manned by nurses and even Civil Hospitals particularly those in the district headquarters are not equipped. The recent COVID-19 situation brought to light the inadequacies in the health care sector in the State, so much so that even Civil Hospitals do not have PPEs and testing kids not to mention respirators and other life-saving machines. Perhaps it would not be wrong to say that the private health care services are prospering because the state has failed in its duty to provide healthcare service to its citizens.

But healthcare service is not the only thing that’s pathetic. education too is in a shambles and had it not been for the faith-based organisations and NGOs, there would not be any education at all in the state. From the lower primary to the higher secondary level, the best schools are run either by faith-based organisation or NGOs. The lesser we talk about the government schools the better. Except for the schools under SSA, the buildings of the schools run by the government are in a dilapidated condition. In fact it is the decrepit condition of the school infrastructure which becomes a major cause of revulsion of young people towards these government schools. Even at the higher education level, many of the colleges and universities are run by faith organisations and NGOs. The government has done precious little even in monitoring and controlling these institutes of higher education Meghalaya may have a high literacy rate but the claim that Shillong is the education hub of north east is becoming an empty rhetoric. It used to be, but the fame has gradually slipped from the state and it is being taken over by Guwahati. Meghalaya and Shillong in particular  have to work really hard to regain the lost glory of those heydays when merit alone got people a teaching job.

The economy of the state is frail because it largely depends on activities like mining in which only a small percentage of the population are engaged. More importantly, mining is an  environmentally unsustainable venture.  Agriculture and its allied sectors which provide income to the largest section of the population in the State are not given due consideration. It is only recently with the launching of the Basin Programme that the effort of creating entrepreneurs in the sector was started. The Government does not even know where the strength of the state lies. It continues to give more attention than needed to mining. And this is the reason why mining especially coal and limestone still attracts many people to engage in the business and create controversies because it is illegal in the first place.

 In spite of the activity being illegal, coal mining and transportation continues because  Government chooses to ignore and continues to deny the truth. We have read so much about the illegal transportation and even mining of coal in the State. This is happening because the powers that be turn a  Nelson’s eye to what is going on.

The image of the State is going south. There is nothing much to be proud of about Meghalaya today. The incidents that are most shocking are the stories that two retired government officials shared with this scribe. Though they retired as high ranking government officials and had served the State in different departments, the stories they narrated are similar and do not augur well for future of the people and the state.  Both of them were not happy with the way their department operates now. The department is not the same as it was when they joined service more than thirty years ago and they are not proud of what is has become today they lamented.

 The primary reason is that there is too much political interference in the system and officials are not free to perform their duties with due diligence. The entire system is corrupt they said and the reason is because politicians poke their nose in every Government activity. Political leaders are no longer policy makers as they have become politicians and businessmen all rolled up in one. Political interference abounds and is visible in the manner in which the standards of government construction be it roads or buildings are being manipulated. Very few officers have the spine to be honest and stand up for what is right. Many fear that they may not gain favours or that they might be transferred to insignificant postings. There are many officers who are willing to toe the politician’s line than what they believe is right. Those who are courageous enough to stand for what they believe in are punished by the powers that be. They are not happy with the system they leave behind because even honest officials are compelled to toe the politicians’ line and bow before their political masters.

Unfortunately, the other metaphor which best describes the state of affairs in Meghalaya is that of the three monkeys who, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. The public has become blind even when they see, deaf even when they are able to hear and wish to remain silent even when there is so much wrong that is happening in the state. The public themselves are to be blamed for the mess that is happening in the state because the only time that they are engaged in the democratic process is during elections where they become part of the tamasha and where money power plays a very large role in the festivity. In fact this where it all begins because only those who can afford to splurge can buy their way to the assembly. If that is not the case then how come only rich people enter politics in the State? When was the last time we read of a candidate without a big fat bank balance winning the election? It looks like in Meghalaya the fatter the bank balance, the better are the chances of the candidate of winning the election.

This is what has brought the state to the status that many of us are not proud of. If even after forty nine years there is nothing that the people can feel proud of then the blame is on the people themselves. Period

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