No Scams in Meghalaya, only Scamsters galore


By Patricia Mukhim

The MDA-1 Government is not the first to have been involved in a scam, except that there were too many scams during its first tenure. We the people of Meghalaya who either are either sleepwalking or are in a political siesta for the most part of our lives, hardly care if public funds are diverted to private pockets which is what corruption does. In fact, the recent elections have proved beyond any shadow of doubt that corruption does not matter. The NPP came back with a resounding victory because the issue during elections was no longer about corruption but about whether a Garo or a Khasi-Jaintia would be the next Chief Minister. The Garos who are known to be astute voters even if they are not educated enough to qualify for many of the reserved jobs on offer in the last 50 years, decided they were going to show the world who will be the next Chief Minister of Meghalaya and voted accordingly. The Khasi-Jaintia people known for their split personalities as far as politics is concerned were shown their proper place. The elections also prove beyond any doubt that voting does not require brains nor intelligence nor reason. Emotions are enough!
Let me now come to the scams one by one. At this point, if any of us suspect malfeasance it is better we approach the Lok Ayukta, not because the institution is robust but because the person heading it, a former bureaucrat, is known to have an unflinching moral spine which he amply demonstrated during his career. During the MDA-1 regime the scams that shocked us were (1) The rice scam (2) The Saubhagya scam (3) The Meghalaya Assembly dome collapse scam (4) The police vehicle procurement and construction scam amongst others. The moment there is a public outcry against any foul play by those in Government the Chief Minister is quick to put up his hands and say he would institute an enquiry into the matter. We, the people of Meghalaya are then lulled back to our political siesta. We don’t think it is important to question as to who are the people in Government who are tasked to hand-pick the luminaries that will enquire into the improprieties committed.
For instance, for the Saubhagya scam some retired High Court Judge from distant Uttar Pradesh was hand-picked. With him were two other former officials of the power sector. What were the terms of reference of the enquiry? Did the Government put it up for public vetting? No, it didn’t and neither did we the slovenly public ask for it. So finally, the enquiry ended and the result as expected was that there was no scam. Satnam Global the firm that was paid an excess of Rs 149 crore as per the preliminary audit done by the CAG in 2021 came out clean as a whistle. Satnam Global had the last laugh and in the end it became a case of just some restless citizens crying foul and the TMC which poked at the government during the Assembly session having to eat humble pie.
For the rice scam we fished for yet another retired High Court judge from distant Madhya Pradesh. How convenient! In the rice scam, fortified rice meant for the poor was diverted into some private godowns in Assam for further transportation into the open market. This is the rice that Prime Minister Modi said would be fortified with micronutrients to eradicate anaemia. A whistle blowing group – The Reporters’ Collective accessed documents that the Union Finance Ministry had red-flagged this scheme because it had not been adequately tested for its impact on human health. India’s leading medical research body had called for wider consultations following “serious concerns,” on the adverse effects of fortified rice on children. But the Prime Minister ignored this warning and the Government announced that it was going to supply fortified rice to over 80 crore poor Indians. Experts aver that artificial injection of micronutrients by fortification is not a long term solution. They propose instead a diversified diet and food that could be accessed by the poor at affordable prices. Fortified rice is made by pounding normal rice into a dough and mixing it with micronutrients. The dough is then put through machines to churn out grains that resembles rice known as fortified rice kernels. One kernel is mixed with 100 grams of rice and supplied through the public distribution system (PDS). Women using this fortified rice complained of it tasting insipid while take more time to boil. They called it plastic rice. This scheme was discontinued in March 22. If this rice was coming to the Social Welfare Department then it can be concluded that the minister concerned had made a lot of money by diverting this rice to the open market.
I had begun to believe that Paul Lyngdoh, Tourism and Social Welfare Minister had graduated into a statesman from the manner he commented on the revised version of the State Reservation Policy and on hearing his views on the State Women’s Commission. Many are in agreement with Paul Lyngdoh when he stated upfront that anyone appointed to head the State Commission for Women should not be a political acolyte of the ruling party but one who understands the working of the Commission and its mandate and can deliver justice to women across the board when they approach the Commission for help.
What was disappointing was Paul’s propensity to defend the Department he now heads (Social Welfare) vis-à-vis the rice scam and to say that all the allegations were baseless. Granted that the former Minister for Social Welfare was a UDP man and that Paul is compelled to defend a colleague in the Party, but, in matters relating to distribution of food grains at subsidised rates which are diverted to the open market, he should be with the people, not the Party. It cannot be a case of the Party right or wrong. Mr Lyngdoh should realise that the UDP as a Party is peripheral to the voters. They voted Paul Lyngdoh the man with the hope that he would provide leadership in governance; not that he would defend a scam.
The Assembly dome collapse case was quickly given to IIT Guwahati to investigate. No one knows what exactly the findings are and if responsibility has been fixed. All the three enquiries into three major scams that rocked Meghalaya during the MDA-1 regime have been given a quiet burial. This in itself is a scam. The public of Meghalaya have the right to know the findings of each of the enquiry committees. The reports should be put up in the public domain. Not doing so means that Government is hiding these findings from the public because there are things that it would rather that the public not see. Where then is the transparency in governance? If these enquiry reports had been put up in the public domain perhaps the elections results of March 2023 would have been different.
Here I am reminded of a quote from Aldous Huxley, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” A scam ignored will lead to a bigger scam. The rice scam is real; so too is the Saubhagya scam relating to smart meters. The Assembly dome collapse must be explained. Thankfully a private citizen filed a PIL on the police vehicle and construction scam and the investigation on this is ongoing.
To tell the informed public that there has been no scam and that all allegations were figments of our hyper-active imagination is to evoke in all of us a cynicism so deep and murky and toxic that it verges on the sin of bearing false witness against reality.
The public must get to read all the enquiry reports as each of the scams involves public funds.