Meghalaya’s socio-economic skid
The NITI Aayog recently released its third Sustainable Development Report based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put together by the United Nations in 2015. The SDGs are a roadmap for achieve a better, more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice amongst others. As per the NITI Aayog Report Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Karnataka are listed as the top performing states while Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya are the worst performers. The three core elements of sustainable development are economic growth based on a sustainable model, social inclusion and environmental conservation. These three important goals are interlinked. One cannot happen without the other. Sustainable economic growth, achieving sustainable livelihoods, living in harmony with nature and appropriate technology are important for sustainable development. Does Meghalaya have these three elements that are key to socio-economic sustainability? The best example of unequal economic growth is visible today. A key indicator of social inequality in a supposedly cohesive tribal society, is landlessness. If 76 % of Meghalaya’s rural population today is landless then that’s one area requiring urgent policy intervention. This is the prime reason for the growing poverty in Meghalaya and the crisis is deepening with the pandemic. What is government doing to address these inequalities? In the first place no government in Meghalaya has had an economic policy that takes into account all these factors.
When it comes to environmental sustainability, another SDG goal, Meghalaya’s rat-hole coal mining, limestone mining and unregulated quarrying have changed the eco-system for the worse; poisoning the air and water. Forest cover has reduced as more and more forest land is alienated for mining or quarrying. The very meaning of environmental sustainability is to prevent nature from being used as an inexhaustible source of resources and to ensure its protection and rational use. Peoples’ lives are intrinsically tied to the environment. A degraded environment cannot sustain life. Environmental conservation implies investment in renewable energy, saving water, supporting sustainable mobility, and innovation in sustainable construction and architecture and contributing to achieving environmental sustainability on several fronts. How does Meghalaya fare in this? Instead of opting for renewable energy the Government is looking at damming a vibrant River Umngot much to the chagrin of those dependent on the river for their sustenance. The SDGs also point to the need for integrating scientific and traditional knowledge which the indigenous peoples of the world are known for. But capitalistic exploitation of nature is not in consonance with traditional wisdom. Community knowledge has been pitted against capitalism and the mad pursuit of wealth. The result is fragmentation of the community which in turn erodes the idea of indigeneity.