By Avner Pariat
If you visit Mawlai Stanbos on weekdays, just before the office rush hour (10 to 11 AM) you might be in for a peculiar sight. Within the span of 15 minutes, 3 or 4 buses might be seen competing with each other to get in those customers who need to get to Polo or IGP. The conductors can be heard shouting out the routes while the drivers try to find a more spacious part of the road to loiter in before the traffic police inevitably chase them away. Even though I am a regular on these buses, I am still amazed at this sight. Not because of the clamour but because it seems so inefficient. The buses that come in line after the first two almost always have to travel with fewer passengers. Often the very last bus has to go away totally empty-handed. Two buses are more than enough on most days. What a sad lot for the others then. And this situation exists primarily because of the ineptitude of the associations and the unwillingness of the government to guide this sector.
Because we live in a state where anything goes, buses can also stuff in any number of passengers without consequences. People are told to stand along the aisle of the bus while it screeches away through the neighbourhoods. Can’t these standing passengers be accommodated in another bus then? We seem to have so many lying around in Mawpat and Mawblei. Also why are there so many buses arriving in such a short span of time? Buses in Shillong it would seem do not have to work by timings and on a bus schedule (which is a logical thing to have). Now if you bring this sort of criticism out to the concerned government officer, the usual response is: “you know some buses stick to a schedule, most don’t; it’s chaos out there, ya”. Excuse me, but why are you in this job then? What exactly is the need for government officers to hold posts if they can’t fix problems?
The previous government, led by Mukul Sangma, decided in the last few years to essentially privatise the bus service in Shillong and the state. Now ostensibly that sounds good. After all, more self help groups (SHGs) being involved in running the JNNURM buses is supposed to mean that more employment is generated and therefore a little more money is circulated within the economy. This is the logic behind most privatisation efforts. However, it is important to remember that the regulations which are in place to ensure the smooth running of the system are often very loose and are frequently set aside. This means that all the contractors who procure the tenders for running the buses can do whatever they want. The government’s only involvement in this whole mess is to lease out the buses, nothing more. They don’t consider it a priority to have a smooth and efficient system that turns over a profit for all involved. The buses and cars might break down, which is a normal thing to expect, but no one takes up the responsibility. The SHGs/contractors say the government is supposed to assist them in this regard but the government in turn insists that such things are not its responsibility. And who loses out in the end? We, the public, of course. The same case as usual.
The terrible traffic situation in Shillong is a direct result of the type of capitalism we have chosen to adopt. Mind you, when I use this word – capitalism – it is not the sleek, aerodynamic capitalism of the First World. There are no Gordon Gekkos, or Mike Milkens in this place. Not yet anyway. It is more apt to think of the current economic situation in Meghalaya as a chaotic pool filled with piranhas, each fighting and climbing over one another to grab mouthfuls of offal. The largest fish are the chamcha contractors who support the politicians and pressure groups, the rest of us, like sucker fish, subsist on their left-overs. Look at the way these big fish traipse through traffic jams in their SUVs. Do you think these people care even a little bit about the tension and anxiety the people endure as they sit inside stuffy cars in the 2 PM gridlock? They don’t care, period. When you have selfish, ignorant leaders this is the best you can expect.
Did the leaders ever stop to consider if car loans needed to be regulated? No, and do you know why that is? Because the politicians own car showrooms! Do you think that people who do business in selling (private) vehicles, will ever want to encourage a good and efficient public transportation system? Hmm, let us think a bit on that one. In addition, do you think bringing in regulation of various sectors will fascinate these people? No, because if there is clarity in terms of paperwork, the corruption will be much easier to spot. These systems have taken years to evolve into their current toxic states, and a real leadership would seek to rectify them.
Which is why, I totally agree with the Meghalaya state Congress when they said that the Conrad Sangma-led government is just old wine in a new bottle. Sure it has only been a few months but I look and see the same faces from the last government and I think to myself – nothing is going to change. The corruption and gross mismanagement, which some in the current government committed under the Congress flag, cannot be forgotten, and, unless Conrad comes down hard on them, nothing will change. And newsflash, I doubt that will ever happen.
Most people think that politics is so “easy”. Especially the rich ones who control our democracy. That it simply involves elections and that is about it. This is terribly wrong. The type of politics we choose, which is directly related to the type of government we put into power, influences every single aspect of life within a society. So if one day, for whatever reason, a government starts prioritising KFC over local food products, we might end up with high rates of childhood obesity. Conversely, if a government starts a fellowship programme for local artists, we get Velvet Underground. Ok, maybe not Velvet Underground but the point is that we need the government, and we need it to work well, and to work well for us. Not for the chamchas and the money-givers who all get a piece of the pie while we lick up the crumbs from the floor. We need a new type of government and a new politics centred on the needs of the many, not the few.