Sense or No Sense – Economics of Meghalaya


By Rudi Warjri

A very compelling last three weeks. I had to go water hunting. The two sources of water supply from the Shnong and from PHE had both failed. I will not bore the readers with the reasons. Mercifully, the rain Gods were kind enough to send a brief spell of downpour plus the purchased water that somehow sustained me and my family. I nonetheless had to do away with some part of my daily ablutions. Having lived in underdeveloped parts of the world across continents, now in my own hometown I have to do water hunting . On World Water Day March 21, the Mukhyamantri had said that Meghalaya would contribute 6% of its water to India. Where will that come from?
The other is the perennial power outage or load shedding. The slight dementia in me has failed to keep track of the number of hours when the lights will go off and when it will switch on. I however recommend that the duty person who religiously switches off the lights on time deserves an award for due diligence . The mantri in charge of power tells us that it is because of the low water level at the Umiam lake . Some other versions say its because of the borrowed power taken from outside sources of supply and the gargantuan loan taken . Only the mantri knows the truth and untruth of the entire story but I give him the benefit of doubt. It may however be reminded that prior to March 2022, media coverage for months assailed the MeECL particularly on the functioning of the then mantri for power that finally led to his exit. The said Inquiry Committee into alleged irregularities in MeECL also submitted its report. Till date nothing is known about what’s in and what’s not in the report. Who knows it may have already died a natural death. One thought that revelations in the report for whatever they’re worth may lead to a series of corrective action, rectification and atonement for any alleged irregularities .
The other day I was trying to get some Xerox copies done. I entered a Xerox vendor only to be told by a sullen looking face ‘bijli nei hei.’ All the while I have already had an earful of grievances from owners of bakery and confectionery , steel fabrication units, construction industry, water vendors, beauty parlours, cyber cafes, restaurants, educational institutions, etc about how they were battling to survive to make ends meet because of unreliable and undependable power supply.
Down to the earth and soil, I had gone to visit my developing farm away from the city. I had entrusted a farmer to take care of it while he also does his own cultivation. I had called him to be prepared with some vegetable crop waste for feeding the pigs. He took me instead to another location where he was cultivating tomatoes. To my astonishment he offered the ‘fit for humans’ tomatoes to instead feed the pigs. He was whining that the market was offering him six rupees a kg which wouldn’t even pay for the transport cost.
I was trying to make sense or no-sense about all this aforementioned sloganeering of Meghalaya becoming a $ 10 billion dollar economy in the next five years. Available data says that the current size of Meghalaya’s economy is under 5 billion dollars and the rate of growth is 8%. It may be reminded that the growth for 2021 – 22 was based on the pandemic period base of minus 23 %. In fact, according to the Reserve Bank of India the Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of Meghalaya in financial year 2021 was 2% while Mizoram’s was 7.9%. God forbid, we have no more pandemic or calamity of any kind henceforth.
The 17 goals of SDG data about Meghalaya can only be obtained from NITI Aayog otherwise one can only extrapolate about other data for Meghalaya from what is available about India. The book, “The Crooked Timber of New India,” by Parakala Prabhakar has a chapter on India’s unemployed, unemployable and unskilled. It says, “although we enjoy a massive demographic advantage compared to the rest of the world, our labour force hopelessly lags behind in skills and training. Only about 5% of our labour force has undergone any formal skill training. Compare that with 68% in the UK, 75% in Germany, 52% in the US , 80% in Japan and 96% in South Korea.” Does the concept of reskilling even exist in Meghalaya if it has to be transformed into an IT hub to absorb the expanding Gen Z as one of the slogans claims!
Some historical analogy to the unbridled profligacy in appointments of Chairmen, Co-Chairmen, Advisers, etc., into all kinds of vacuous high sounding bodies. At last count there were 22 of them. In 1765 the Mughals appointed the East India Company as Diwan for the purpose of collecting revenue. The British exacerbated the system further by granting the rights to own land to zamindars whose authority was to collect revenue from the farmers and peasants; yield or no yield from cultivation. In Meghalaya political fealty replaces revenue. Who cares about rationality or moral rectitude? So the treasury defrays an approximate Rs 4-5 lakhs per month on each appointee on honorarium, POL, house rent, electricity, hospitality, medical allowance, conveyance, furnishings, maintenance, telephone, TA/DA, office staff, newspapers and magazines. Paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, I characterize it as a government by the politicians, of the politicians and for the politicians. For someone like me who as a fledgling teenager participated on September 10, 1968 in the Non Violent Direct Action picketing at the then Assam Secretariat with the risk of being shot, I can’t help but feel bitter at the callous dissipation of public funds. 1968 was when most of the current rulers were still in the realm of the spermatozoa universe.
World Bank to aid Meghalaya to achieve $ 10 billion economy goal, read the headlines . An honour to Meghalaya that the Space Economy Leaders Meeting (SELM) of G 20 was held in Shillong. Besides Shillong had Ambassadors and delegations from Japan , Korea , Germany , US, the European Union visiting to look for investment and cooperation in infrastructure and several other sectors. Coincidentally, the Korean delegation happened to be in Shillong and read about the water scarcity and load-shedding, so they offered their assistance. All this is aimed at growth which is imperative for development in sectors like health and education. And it shouldn’t be like in India where the wealth of Adani grew from $ 8 billion in 2014 to $ 140 billion in 2022 whereas the hunger index of India is 107 out of 121 countries and the human development index is 132 out of 191 countries .
The National Multidimensional Poverty Index Baseline Report 2020-21 placed Meghalaya at 32.75% poverty while Mizoram is only 9.8%. Why not spend some money for authentic economic advice on Amartya Sen or Abhijit Banerjee and Duflo? They were awarded the Nobel prize for their work on development, welfare economics and the poorest in society. Otherwise the scenario makes many people like me feel we are being taken for a cretin and end up without making sense or no sense.
(The writer is former diplomat)