By Toki Blah.
What ails this once beautiful Hill Station that had at one time earned for itself the sobriquet “Scotland of the East” ? By 1972 I had just crossed my 24th birthday and had lived my entire life in this, then capital of undivided Assam. In recalling those days, images of a simple uncomplicated life flashes by. If one wanted to go anywhere one simply boarded a Shillong Syndicate bus and it charged 25 paise from Iew Mawlong to Happy valley. If one was in a hurry and had to go via a route uncovered by the city buses, one walked or caught a taxi from their stand at Motphran. We paid Rs 6 from Motphran to Umlyngka. It was that simple. Iewduh was a market, decent and clean that lived up to its name by being busy only on Sngi Iewduh. Lachumiere, Risa Colony, Moti Nagar and even Laitumkhrah were considered to be posh localities but even the older localities such as Raitsamthiah, Mawkhar and Jaiaw had typical Assam type houses with large gardens or compounds. If thirst caught anyone anywhere, one simply had to find a Municipal water tap and drink straight from it. Septic tanks were for the rich with large compounds. For the ordinary citizen an outhouse at the end of the garden served the call of nature and these were serviced by a functioning Municipality. The town was clean; civic sense prevailed; rains could last for more than 9 days at a stretch but a flooded road or locality were unheard of; the Wah Umkhrah and the Umshyrpi were gurgling clear streams where people still bathed or fished in. Best was that people lived and enjoyed a happy, leisurely lifestyle where stress or lifestyle illnesses were still unheard of. Elected representatives lived on the same plane as the common man; social pretensions were frowned upon rather than being openly adulated as of today. Only the Governor was entitled the appendage VIP and there were no officious self styled VIPs with flashing red lights and sirens and uncouth road sense to disturb the serenity of travelling along Shillong roads.
All that happened yesterday, in direct incomparability to what is happening today except for one thing, which after 50 years remains the same, and that is the city continues to grow and expand devoid of any sense of direction. Unplanned growth is the rule and every type of governance system that Shillong enjoys, be it MUDA, the Municipality, the Dorbar shnongs or the KHADC, everyone one of them claims ownership over this disorganized and chaotic urban expansion, each suspicious of the other, unwilling to work together, resulting in the ordinary citizen groaning under his increasing everyday urban woes. Take for example the distress and hardship one faces while moving from one part of the city to another. The traffic snarls are growing and it is obvious that if not addressed, the way it should, five years from now Shillong roads will simply become impediments and obstructions rather than the urban arteries meant for smooth and healthy movement of traffic that its citizens rely on. Our stupid solution to the problem – The Shillong Traffic Police!
Let’s face facts. Traffic police are simply meant to regulate the flow of traffic. It is not their job to identify nor plan for urban infrastructure such as parking lots, road widening or alternate ancillary city roads. Planning for such urban infrastructure which is sorely needed is the mandate of a Municipality and there are hundreds of Urban infrastructure development schemes which Shillong has been forced to forego simply because it does not have an elected Municipality, the main criteria for the release of such funding from the Centre. Shillong Municipal Elections however continue to be considered disagreeable, unsuitable and traditionally defiling to the touch. Why so? No one has cared to ask and none have been able to give a satisfactory answer and so we continue to welter and wallow in the traffic muck of our own creation.
Our next urban woe is the increasing difficulty in disposing off the waste we produce be it solid waste or liquid. The arrival of plastic together with its inorganic properties has simply multiplied a hundred fold our problems in waste management. Marten, the landfill meant to handle only the decomposition of organic waste produced by 10,000 households has now become more of a problem than a solution for solving the management of inorganic waste from more than 1,50,000 households. The problem has been aggravated as pointed above by the absence of a functioning Municipality. The Government instead has opted to deal with the problem of waste management through its concerned departments, but frankly speaking that will be simply asking the Department to take care of a job that it is not equipped to deal with. At the risk of being called boring I once again emphasise the urgent need of an elected Municipal Board which will have the wherewithal to bring in relevant technology, funding and expertise to deal with our problem of waste management. We can no longer leave the problem to be solved by Dorbars or by concerned civil society groups and individuals. We have to accept the reality that is happening around us and that reality is that our waste management infrastructure is collapsing. Soon the whole city will be neck deep in garbage. We need a more effective way on how to segregate waste; how to collect it and finally how to dispose it off economically. The Meghalaya High Court has also made an observation on this issue. We can no longer depend on the efficacy of Marten for the job as Marten today in no uncertain manner illustrates the utter failure of our governance system which focuses more on distribution of free goodies rather than delivering services that aim at uplifting the welfare and wellbeing of the citizen!
The next urban woe that citizens of the city experience, especially those living in North Shillong, West Shillong and Mawlai constituencies is the lopsided development as far as education and healthcare facilities are concerned. Most and nearly all the reputed educational institutions and health care centers are to be found in East Shillong Constituency, i.e. Laitumkhrah area. The only healthcare center on the northern side of the town is Robert’s Hospital; that’s it! The main route for these areas to any part of the town, either for education or healthcare purposes or even shopping still depends on the GS Road but the perpetual and increasing traffic congestion on that road makes it harder and harder for the citizens of this area to access the civic and social benefits enjoyed by other citizens of the city. Most experts hold the view that the lack of education and health infrastructure in the areas of northern Shillong is because of the fear that non-tribals have for venturing into these areas. They are identified for their Khasi centric ethnicity which quite usually spells trouble for other communities and so advanced technology through skilled manpower which usually is the domain of non-tribals and the mainstay of reputable educational institutions, has been denied the area. How far this is true is yet to be confirmed but it still does not explain the reluctance of the Government to invest and create this required infrastructure in North Shillong areas which not only houses the biggest constituency in Shillong but also serves as the main entry point to Shillong.
In the end one is forced to come to the conclusion that the misery of Shillong, once renowned as The Queen of all Hill Stations is man-made and is the direct result of a non-visionary political dispensation that has governed the State and the City for the last 50 years. Adding to this wretchedness is the presence of myriad pressure groups who have one foot in the glory of the past and one in the depressing state of governance the state suffers from. No one is willing to think of the future nor to plan for the future. Everyone talks and speaks of a bright future of the forthcoming generations but all seem bent to leave that to providence rather than being actively involved in bringing about the promised bright future for future generations.
Meghalayan tribals, especially those of Shillong city, seem to carry a very distinct hatred and detestation for any sort of planning for the future. I have no hesitation in saying it is the main reason for the urban woes we find ourselves in.
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