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Meghalaya 47

On the 47th anniversary of statehood, senior citizens & veteran politicians wish for clean leadership that is capable of taking Meghalaya to the pinnacle of growth

Meghalaya will complete 47 years of statehood on January 21. The journey that started in 1972 under the guidance of visionary leaders and later steered by able progenies has not been an easy one. Breaking away from the mother state to establish an identity was a mammoth task. But Meghalaya did make its presence conspicuous both politically and otherwise.

From infrastructure, education, agriculture, social stability to healthcare, the small hill state with less than a crore population has progressed immensely. Being one of the states with high literacy rate, Meghalaya sends out its young workforce across the country and around the world.

“Our children are making a mark in every field. They are being able to prove their worth because they have a strong educational background and it is something that we are proud of,” says Loscan R Lyngdoh, who was part of the non-violent direct action in 1968 as a young student, while talking about the state’s achievements over the years.

In fact, “if we talk about the state’s achievements, the biggest achievement was the statehood itself”, says senior politician Bindo Lanong as he turns the clock back by 47 years.

The statehood movement began in 1957 with the All Party Hill Leaders Conference, a conglomeration of like-minded leaders, upping the ante against the Assam government. Later, as Delhi suggested autonomy, a few leaders including Hoping Stone Lyngdoh broke away from the confederation to form the Hill State People’s Democratic Party that refused to budge from the demand of full statehood. Within a span of 15 years, the hill state achieved its goal.

Considering the size and vulnerability of the indigenous groups in the state, doyens like Prof MN Majaw put in place the land transfer act to safeguard the tribes from the onslaught of migration. This has come a long way to not only protect tribal land but also their identity, culture and language.

Over the years, Meghalaya has added many feathers to its cap and the achievements have come through dedication, innovation and improvisation.

Former legislator LC Momin, whose parents were part of the movement, says poverty and hunger and illiteracy were widespread before the statehood and the fledgling healthcare was the cause of much malaise. “But over the years, the state has shown improvement.”

In fact, Meghalaya has made tremendous progress in eradicating poverty. “I feel the greatest achievement of the state is in terms of poverty reduction,” says Commissioner and Secretary Sampath Kumar as he points to a recent Niti Ayog report where Meghalaya was ranked fourth from the top.

Kumar says MGNREGA, the rural employment scheme, has benefitted Meghalaya to a great extent and 90 per cent of the rural households are getting employment and additional earning of around Rs 18,000 under the central scheme.

“The change cannot be attributed only to a pro-active administration but the village employment councils, or VECs. Meghalaya is the only state which has introduced this VEC structure and this has proved successful. The structure is a mix of traditional and modern structures and even women are part of the councils. Under the structure, people can decide what projects they want to work on as resources are coming to them directly… The money is also used optimally. During my tour of blocks and interaction with VEC members, I find that villagers are happy with the system. They say MGNREGA has brought 108 service to us as roads have improved,” Kumar elucidates.

Another achievement that Kumar lays emphasis on is the innovative idea of convergence of various schemes. “The state has an institutional mechanism for facilitating convergence that no other state has. It expedites implementation of schemes… Departments are not just coming up with routine programmes but they are innovating and that is adding value,” he adds.

Meghalaya being an agrarian state has given much fillip to small-time farmers by introducing various missions. The government has also formed an e-platform for buyers and sellers to exchange ideas and plan tie-ups. There has been a major boost to organic farming and the state is expecting to become completely organic in another two to three years with around 46,000 hectares of land being utilised for the purpose.

The progress of rural Meghalaya can be an indication of a better future. If the trajectory shows an upward trend in the coming decade, one can also expect reverse migration.

 

Failures aplenty

 

As the state basks in the glory of statehood and pats its back for 47 years of achievements, it should not forget that the list of failures is longer. The biggest failure, or one may say time-induced degradation, is the weakening leadership. Several senior citizens, who had witnessed or were part of the statehood movement, whom Sunday Shillong spoke to were unanimous in pointing out the deplorable state of affairs.

Remembering old leaders like BB Lyngdoh, Wickliffe Syiem, GG Swell and HS Lyngdoh among many others, Lanong, who was part of the movement, says politics was “clean, simple and transparent”.

“Leaders then and leaders now are poles apart. In those days, leaders did not think about their wellbeing but about the constituents. Money-making was not in their minds. Even voters did not expect pecuniary favours from leaders. But today, it is all about money,” says the senior leader.

Lyngdoh, who is now 72, echoes Lanong’s views. “There is a moral degradation not only among leaders but also the public. Nowadays, we pray to God for ourselves and not others. Selfishness rules over humanity,” he sounds disappointed.

The ignominy of having a selfish leadership over the years has been immense and impacted the image of Meghalaya. In the present scenario, the nation and the world knows the state by its illegal mines where violations of every form, including human rights, are practised.

Corruption has become an innate characteristic of politicians and the countless scams and delayed projects are testimony to that. There is no accountability and before every election, politicians turn into saints with money on their begging bowls to appease illiterate or half-literate voters.

Lyngdoh also rues the short memory of the people of Meghalaya. “Neither the politicians nor today’s youths bother to remember the great leaders who fought for the state. Prof Majaw was one of the visionaries who gave shape to the state. But no one acknowledges.”

Talking about development, Lanong does not sound impressed as he asserts that the successive governments have failed to ensure qualitative progress and deliverance has been poor. “What progress do we see? Healthcare, roads, education, everything has declined. In short, we have not got the development that we expected and that we were promised.”

Endro Iawphniaw, former MLA and HSPDP leader, rejects the idea of full statehood because “Meghalaya is yet to become self-sufficient”.

“Yes we got statehood but this is not what we meant by full statehood. We still depend on the Centre for everything. Even after so many years, the state is on a wobbly ground on several counts,” says the 79-year-old leader who was actively part of the movement.

Both Iawphniaw and Spiton Kharakor, who has authored a book on the statehood movement, are convinced that the state has failed in agriculture. They are seconded by former chief secretary SK Tewari.

Speaking to Sunday Shillong on phone from Lucknow, Tewari says the state needs to focus on clean industry like food processing instead of cement and mining. “The diversity of fruits and crops in Meghalaya makes it a treasure trove. There are pineapples, jackfruit, cashew, ginger, oranges and any more. The state can develop a strong food processing industry and tap the northeastern markets and neighbouring Bangladesh. It does not even have to look at mainland for selling. But has there been any organised way of achieving it,” says Tewari.

Tewari says during his tenure in 2006 he had suggested marketing jackfruit, which was originally a vision adopted by Kerala. “Now the government has taken up the mission. More needs to be done to tap the natural resources. The cement factories in Meghalaya are not going to help the state. It is suicidal,” he adds.

A senior bureaucrat admits that glitches do exist in agricultural sector, the most important being tapping the market and organising farmers. “We are making efforts to achieve our goals. But there are challenges like connecting to the global market owing to poor connectivity. We need aggregators to bring farm produce together and institution building,” he says.

 

Growth pangs

 

Kharakor says the state has witnessed an “unplanned growth”, especially in the urban pockets, and lacks the vision of the old leaders.

That is visible from the expansion of Shillong where concrete growth has been mindless. There is no urban planning and law to restrict the vertical growth.

The growth pangs can be felt on other fronts.

Momin says despite having several administrative units in all these years, “they have remained structures in skeletal forms only and have not been effective”.

Tourism, which is a major revenue earner for the state, is yet to achieve full bloom, feels Momin. “Also, a lot is desired in the education sector. Shillong was the education hub of the North East and that glory needs to be restored,” says the 62-year-old leader.

Iawphniaw points out the failures in other sectors like power and industries. “There was never any attempt to make power from wind. The state should try to harness this. Also, private companies should have been encouraged to set up shop in the state by giving incentives. But nothing has been done so far,” he says.

“I would like to express my deepest disappointment at the state of affairs and it is disheartening to see that there is lack of attention,” says an exasperated Lanong, adding that deep-rooted corruption has become the reason for weak governance and law and order problems since the middle of 1980s.

However, with all the disappointments and despair, the sinking feeling is yet to set in and veterans still hope for a change. “My only wish is to see a leadership that will selflessly work for the mass and inspire people to not only think about the community but also the state and the country as a whole,” Lyngdoh sounds confident that change will come.

Maybe a young leadership will script another story and show the way to emancipation. “We are hoping that the present government will ensure transparent governance and take the state to the pinnacle of growth,” Lanong says.

 

~ NM

Developmental trajectory:

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