Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Rent seeking economy is fraught


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The Smart City Project appears to be getting nowhere. Like every other project in Meghalaya this too is marred by delays and will not meet the timelines laid for it. The worst part is the road in Lachumiere behind the office of the Directorate of Information and Public Relations which has been in the state of being constructed for months together. The road cannot be more than a kilometre in length yet it remains incomplete. There is in fact no sign of any smartness in this city other than the burgeoning number of vehicles during school hours.
Meghalaya has suffered from this peculiar malaise of projects stopping halfway and contractors packing up and leaving either because they are heavily extorted or because their labourers are intimidated. If those in government, particularly the political class are unable to deal with this persistent malady then Meghalaya will continue to remain the laggard state. Everywhere else and our neighbouring state Assam is a good example, the city of Guwahati has seen several flyovers come up in order to ease traffic movement. One major hurdle in Meghalaya is that of land acquisition. Even when land has been acquired for different projects including the Shillong-Dawki road project, land owners suddenly realise they can hold the government to ransom by demanding a price higher than the negotiated one. This leads to unnecessary delay.
The Dorbar Shnong are supposed to work in tandem with the government in speeding up road projects that cut through their shnong. But sometimes the Dorbar Shnong themselves become the biggest obstruction to the smooth completion of a project – particularly road projects because they become the disrupters instead of facilitators who should be keeping watch that the contractors are not held to ransom by sundry groups whose preoccupation is rent-seeking. Wherever the Dorbar Shnong is cohesive and its members work in tandem with an eye on bringing development to the villages, it is seen that progress is smooth and the villages are well connected. There is also the issue of too many contractors from the shnong vying for the same piece of work and when one wins the bid and the other does not then there is bad blood within the village. Different pressure tactics are used against the labourers of the contractor especially if they are non-tribal labourers. Every contractor looks to make a profit out of the work order. He/she looks for labourers that produce outcomes and often the locals are least bothered about putting their sinews to the task and spend more time idling with their mobile phones but because they are locals, the contractor cannot take action. How long can such differential treatment carry on? A contractor should have the liberty to choose labourers that give value for money; the best masons, the best road laying experts without being intimidated. Will this ever happen in Meghalaya? Meanwhile the state is backsliding.

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