Sweeper’s Lane Imbroglio
At the heart of the Sweeper’s Lane mess is the long-standing aberration of Meghalaya not having an elected Municipal Board. Nowhere is a Municipal Board run by the government officials at the helm. The Municipal Board is the best example of local governance as it addresses issues of sanitation, waste management, electricity, water supply and in some cases even primary health and education. An elected Municipal Board would, unlike the Dorbar Shnong, have legitimate funds at its disposal for carrying out civic governance. Election of ward commissioners to the Shillong Municipality happened in the 1960s before Meghalaya became a state in 1972. The main contention against elections to the Municipal Boards is that the powers of the traditional institutions would be diluted. Attempts to hold elections to the Shillong and other Municipal Boards have repeatedly met with stiff opposition from the bearers of tradition. The question is how long can traditional modes of governance serve the interests of citizens in the 21st century when the very idea of waste management itself has exceeded the competence and capacity of traditional institutions to manage.
If the purpose is to conserve the traditional institutions like museum pieces that have outlived their utility and are mere showpieces, then they should not obstruct the wheels of governance which require modern administration and competence. The reason why Meghalaya has an intractable problem in the form of the Sweeper’s Lane/ Harijan Colony/Them Metor is because since Meghalaya was born no one really cared to do an audit of what is happening in the place. The SMB which is run by civil servants has left the matter unaddressed because they know it is like disturbing a hornet’s nest. The British Government had leased that area from the Syiem of Mylliem for the purpose of accommodating the Municipal workers then – the Mazhabi Sikhs. At the time they could not have been more than a score of workers. Today the Sweeper’s Lane houses hundreds of families, many of them not employed by the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB). They include the children and grandchildren of the first settlers who are now working elsewhere but choose to settle in the same place which they have inherited from their parents/grandparents. If there was proper supervision and accountability by a vigilant and elected Municipal Board the problem would not have festered as it has today. An alternative space for these Municipal workers should have been identified at least four decades ago when the congestion had started showing.
Now when business honchos envision a commercial hub in the place and want the sweepers removed, the issue has turned political with the Sikhs flexing their national and international clout to insist that they remain at the same place despite its decrepit condition. If the Government has created the infrastructure to relocate the Municipal workers and their families then there is no reason why they should resist that move.