Subversive deals on Govt land
Two news items in the recent editions of The Shillong Times has drawn my attention. One is the statement made by Minister, Urban Affairs that the contract for the Marriot Hotel in the Shillong Municipal land in Jail Road has been awarded to a new party and the other is a Possession Notice issued by Punjab National Bank informing the public that the said bank has taken over possession of part and parcel of the land and property by the name of Marba Hub at Police Bazar, which was constructed on land belonging to the State Government.
The question that arises is what really happened to these two projects which were the flagship PPP projects of the State Government at that time. Against concerns raised from various quarters, the Government of the day had bulldozed all objections and forced the Shillong Municipality and Urban Affairs Department to give away these prime properties of the State Government to private players knowing very well that these would be sold off for good. The Marriot project which is under construction for over a decade now in a prime land of Shillong Municipality is a complete failure. God only knows whether the lease rent which the private party was supposed to pay the Shillong Municipality during the construction period, has been paid.
The question of revenue which was to be shared with the Municipality after completion of the project is a lost cause as the project is still incomplete. In all probability the ownership of the private partner has already changed hands and one can only wonder what penal action has been taken by the State Government on the private party who has defaulted on all counts and quietly moved out of the project. Further if the ownership of the private partner has changed, whether Government has given approval to the same. Question also arises as to what will finally happen to the portion of the building which was to be handed over to Shillong Municipality to set up their corporate office. These are pertinent questions and it is incumbent on the State Government to let the public know.
Now the Minister is now talking of a new contract which is really a mystery. I still remember the matter coming up in the State Assembly sometime during 2010-2011 where the Minister of Urban Affairs at that time had strongly supported the move to lease out the municipal land to the private party. It turned out to be a complete sell-off and an incalculable loss to the Shillong Municipality. I wonder what the then Minister has to say today.
Similarly against the advice from various quarters, Meghalaya Urban Development Authority had gone for a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model in the Government land at Police Bazar around 2008-09. Surprisingly, for the default on repayment of loan taken by the private party, the Bank has now taken possession of the Government land and the property standing thereon. The question as to why the Bank should take possession of the land when the loan was availed by the private party. Or did this mortgage of Government land by the private party have the tacit approval of the State Government and whether the same State Government actually stood guarantor? Was such an arrangement legally tenable? Many interesting facts are likely to come up if these matters are dug a little deeper. Now it seems that PPP was a good model to sell off Government land and properties with very few questions asked. Ironically a new sign board for PPP has now come up on the monumental Crowborough Hotel. Hope this is not another sell-off yet again!
Origin of Covid still a mystery
As the second wave of COVID-19 is surging across the world, the mystery about the origin of the novel coronavirus has not been solved so far. The world seems to be confused by the results of the WHO-China joint study on the origin of the virus. True, scientific investigation takes time. On the other hand, unbiased investigation is impossible when there is lack of cooperation from the side of the country where the virus is suspected to have originated.
It has been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit countries around the world. However, the origin of the virus is still shrouded in mystery. Initially many theorists alleged that the virus was lab-made and purposely released into the world as a bio-weapon. However, this theory was rejected because the virus is genetically related to coronavirus found in bats. But some experts argue that a research lab studying bat viruses may have spread the virus.
The WHO released its report on the origin and spread of the virus. The report states that the virus probably spread from bats to humans via another animal but the report does not clarify if the virus then spread from the lab in Wuhan, China. After the release of the report, WHO chief Ghebreyesus said that the evidence was not enough to support the accidental lab leak theory and that Wuhan lab leak possibility needed to be studied again. He made these comments following the accusations levelled at Beijing by the US and 13 other countries of failing to give proper access to the investigators. The WHO’s efforts create the impression that it wants to absolve China of any blame and open up new lines of investigations that lead researchers out of China.
Allegations have been levelled at China of trying to hush up earlier instances of Covid infection. It is believed that the virus was circulating in humans months before the first case was reported. However, the WHO rejected these allegations. It must be understood that the Chinese authorities had tried to silence the doctor who tried to warn about a mystery infection. Some experts are of the view that the virus jumped from bats to humans through imported frozen meat. However, the WHO states that none of the meat from the Hunan market tested positive for the virus. The report also recommends worldwide search in relevant wildlife species to look for the virus since no positive sample has been found so far in Chinese animals.
While China cannot be held responsible for the origin of the virus without concrete evidence, its secretive ways cast suspicion on its role on its origin. It is a fact that China wants to shift the focus of investigation away from itself. It seems that instead of giving authentic information about the spread of the virus in its report, the WHO is eager to justify and exonerate China. This has created distrust in both China and the WHO.