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CM’s silence on illegal betel nut smuggling raises questions

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TURA, April 16: The issue of illegal betel nuts and the upcoming elections for the MP seta for Tura seems to be taking a serious turn with some farmers questioning the silence of the government over the issue.
The issue of illegal betel nuts from Myanmar through Bangladesh has literally shaken the entire Garo Hills with many complaining that the same was affecting the entire trade. Many sections have pointed to the current dispensation being involved in the illegal trade which has affected local produce.
The issue of illegal betel nut smuggling was brought up by one social activist from NGH, Panseng B Marak who had earlier raised the same matter after a huge number of plantations in all parts of Garo Hills complained that most people were reliant on the product for their basic needs. Most families have
Many have contended that the influx of illegal betel nuts is being steamrolled by many in the present government for meager sums. The trade, in fact was being affected by the greed of just a few that despite knowing the hardships being faced by locals, have continued to play the trade. SGH, which was once the hub the illegal import even today, Apr 16, reported a seizure of a huge quantity of Burmese betel nuts from the same district, signifying the illegal acts have not stopped despite attempts.
Panseng raised the question that most have been asking – why is the NPP led government absolutely silent on the matter that could in the next few years turn plantation owners towards taking their lives.
“The issue of illegal betel-nut smuggling has been raised by many people including political parties like the Congress, TMC as well as independent candidate Laben Ch Marak but the NPP and its ministers have kept mum on the issue. Chief Minister Conrad Sangma himself is campaigning for his sister Agatha in Garo Hills but he has not clarified on the issue,” said Panseng, while seeking the CM’s response.
Her along with various farmers from NGH have sent a letter to the CM seeking a stop to the illegal trade as there was literally no market for locally produced betel nuts. They are still waiting for a response from the state government.
“I want the CM to clarify not only for me but for the benefit of the plantation owners and farmers from Garo Hills. If you truly love the Garo community you would have stopped the illegal activity by now,” he said.
A bag of betel nut is currently being sold at Rs 2000/- less than the original price so if the produce is 10 bags then there is a loss of Rs 20,000 to that particular owner.
This is possibly the first year, as per locals, that the local fruit has literally not been plucked as demand for the product is currently nil after the Burmese variety has completely taken over the market.
Panseng pointed out that the situation was not only affecting small farmers but even NPP MLAs and people supporting the party at various levels.
He pointed out that the Deputy Speaker and Resubelpara MLA, T D Shira also has many betel nut plantations and asked if he too was feeling the brunt of the illegal betel nut supply from outside. Another person in the NPP who has a large betel nut plantation according to the complainant, is Bajengdoba MLA Pongseng R Marak, who was also approached by Panseng to request the CM to put a stop to the illegality.
“I personally spoke to the Bajengdoba MLA and urged him to take up the matter with the CM as this is not only affecting a few but many who annually depend on their plantations. However, nothing has come of it so far,” he said.
Reminding that elections were round the corner he questioned whether the NPP was thinking of winning it with mere money power.
“People want to see Conrad Sangma as their leader for his humility and good qualities. The question is does he want to risk all these. I want to remind him that there is still time. If he is really concerned, let him clarify my questions as the issue of illegal smuggling is affecting the voters of the NPP as well,” he warned.
Further the farmer, who is also a social activist, stated that other products in Garo Hills which earlier were huge bread earners for the local populace, have suffered a similar fate in conjunction with betel nut, giving people sleepless nights.
“Other locally produced articles, including black pepper, broom sticks and ginger are also not getting their due amounts. The government needs to check on these as well as all of these comprise the gamut of most plantation farmers’ livelihoods. The government should have been concerned but it seems these are of the least concern for them,” said Panseng.

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