By Patricia Mukhim
As we get closer to the D-Day, (Election – 2023) some who cannot but help think of the fate of Meghalaya 20-30 years hence tend to go into depression. Others start writing to express their angst but are still hopeful that we will yet produce statesmen/women. Perhaps in this age when we are expected to be gender-correct it might be better to call them states-persons. This would include all genders including LGBTQ+. Why should politics be the domain of only those who fall into the constructed binaries of male and female. In any case these males and females have let us down for fifty years and we need to encourage diversity in politics as we should be doing in other spheres of activities including teaching where most who don’t fit into the binary box have to remain in closets forever. I would sincerely hope that a few from the LGBTQ+ community enter the Assembly and make legislation a more compassionate activity.
This is the time when we hear politicians talk, talk and talk.. What do they talk about? Those in the government are busy defending their posteriors which we can all see is full of slime but which they can’t see because it’s not possible to see one’s own backside. We are aware of all the nefarious deals, the mansions constructed in Shillong city from money that they will not be able to account for. And worse, even the minions serving their ministerial bosses are now owners of homes in some of the most upmarket localities of Shillong. And they want us to believe they have spent the last four years plus serving the people of the State?
Hence it has become imperative that we audit each of the 60 MLAs and subject those that held ministerial positions to even sharper and stricter scrutiny. We need to know what assets they had when they entered the legislative assembly in 2018 and how much they are worth today. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) a non-profit organisation, gives us this data. But how many know of ADR? Very few. ADR works in tandem with National Election Watch (NEW) to strive to bring about transparency and accountability in Indian politics and reducing the influence of money and muscle power in elections. The wealth ranking of most ministers in Meghalaya and those of their close associates has gone up several rungs. They have the best homes with the latest gadgets; expensive SUVs and huge bank balances. The latter earn by doing sifarish and arranging meetings between businessmen and ministers. This is a good earning avenue.
And no, this writer and others like her who have been concerned about the states of affairs in Meghalaya are not envious of the ill-gotten wealth of these people. We are angry and upset that the resources of the indigenous people of Meghalaya – its rivers, forests, coal, limestone, boulders, sand which were and ought to be community property have now become individual properties owned by a few tribal families. In all these four plus years when coal has been illegally mined and transported, Meghalaya lost over Rs 600 crore annual revenue. All that money went into the pockets of people in the MDA government. And that includes all of them. The UDP, BJP, PDF and NCP cannot wash their hands off this dirty deal. They are all part of the illegal system created by the MDA Government which even claims to be exporting coal from outside the state to Bangladesh. The State Police have been compromised although a few stand out by their ability to perform in areas where they have not been told to turn a blind eye to. Otherwise, coal mining and transportation are “No Go” areas for the police, although a few are part of the loot. We have large drug hauls and we see pictures and also receive reports from the police about the arrested drug conduits. But do we know enough about the drugs trail? Where have they originated from and where are they being sent to and who are the masterminds? Surely there has to be an end to end cycle from origin to destination. The Police need to find out the masterminds. Arresting carriers and middle-men/women will not yield anything except add to the drugs cache.
Ministers are supposed to think beyond their constituencies. They are to have a 30-year vision for the State. However, other MLAs too are elected to think of Meghalaya and not just their piddly constituencies. We need to do an audit of which MLA in the present Assembly has initiated a Bill arising out of public concern, which after due legislative procedure has become a law. Is there a single one in these 53 months? Where is the Mining Policy? Why is it not in place? Why have the Opposition MLAs not raised this matter in the Assembly? We the public demand a white paper on the status of the Mining Policy and why it is not being adopted to ensure that coal mining becomes a legal activity and the State gets the revenue due to it? This revenue could go to paying teachers’ salaries and improving access to both education and healthcare in the State. Meghalaya needs to generate revenue to address the anaemia in women in the child-bearing years. It is pathetic that 56% of women in Meghalaya are anaemic resulting in death during childbirth. Add to that the malnutrition of children and you have a disaster in the making. Unfortunately, this matter too never features in the Assembly. Not even the women MLAs choose to make an issue of this matter of life and death!
The minister holding the PWD (Roads) portfolio must be held to intense scrutiny. Has the PWD Roads blacklisted a single contractor that defaulted on his work? Example: a road developing pot-holes after the first summer showers? Why have the roads deteriorated so much under this Government? What is the status of the Dome crashing report? How long does IIT Guwahati need to examine the reasons for the dome collapse? Would an independent agency have taken so long? And why is the Opposition not pushing the Government to make public the reports into the rice scam, the Smart Meter scam and the Cherister Thangkhiew investigation?
Lets come to the PHE Department. What is the status of the Jal Jeevan Mission? Will the Minister – Renikton Lyngdoh Tongkhar make public as to how many households in the whole State, out of the total designated households, have got piped water? A look at the profile of the PHE Minister as published by National Election Watch (NEW) gives interesting details. He has a total of 20 bank accounts and 17 vehicles comprising SUVs and trucks etc. It will be interesting to see this minister’s wealth ranking in the next election when NEW does a new set of data compilation.
In comparison to Tongkhar who has declared assets of 7,41 crore with no liabilities, Sniawbhalang Dhar’s assets amount only to Rs 6.41 crore and liabilities of Rs 33 lakhs as on 2018. Conrad Sangma had declared assets of Rs Rs 5.33 crore and liabilities of Rs 1,58 crore. James Sangma was worth more than his brother at Rs 7. 94 crore and liabilities of Rs 1.17 crore. It will be interesting to see the assets added by these individuals in 2023 that is if they actually declare what they own and have acquired in these 53 months.
Going by the NEW data, Metbah Lyngdoh is the richest MLA with assets worth 87.26 crores and liabilities of Rs 30.23 crore. In 2018, Dasakhiatbha Lamare had assets worth Rs 40 crore and no liabilities. Dr Mukul Sangma has assets worth Rs 13.59 crore and liabilities of Rs 78.90 lakh. Among Khasis if we try to get to know all these details we would be called “lorni” or someone minding others business. But as voters it is our right to know how our MLAs have acquired wealth; what businesses they do or if there is a conflict of interests somewhere. Unless we do our homework we will miss the woods for the trees and come election time we will vote the same old self-serving individuals.