GS Marak, a resident of Tura, West Garo HIlls district has written an open letter to the Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on Sunday.
The letter read:
The recent Covid-19 pandemic bringing along with it economic and financial stress for Governments and Policy makers globally is something that only time can predict how long it would take for the economy to recover, however in this gloom and doom there is hope for the citizens of Meghalaya as there is surprisingly COVID19 opportunity and valuable critical lessons and eye opener for the Chief Minister and his MDA allies provided they are willing to read the signs and give priority to the people of the State instead of personal petty politics.
There is no doubt the pandemic will cause a serious financial meltdown as it will take time for Governments and Business to readjust the way the economy will behave post COVID19 which is predicted to continue for a couple of years.
The immediate lessons that we learn after 67days from COVID19 since 25th March 2020 lockdown is that the State Government along with the Opposition have a COVID19 opportunity to take real BOLD decisions to STOP wasteful expenditure and put in place real transparent social audit process so that there are checks and balances on critical revenue leakages and unproductive institutions and departments that may put states in serious debt.
Numerous possibilities and opportunities in cutting wasteful and unproductive expenditure is now in the open glare of the citizens of Meghalaya as review for amendment of the Sixth Schedule is at its final stage by the MHA, the question here is why is NPP, UDP, PDF, HSPDP, NCP, KHNAM, BJP and Congress, all fooling the voters of the State.
In Garo Hills the MDCs the GHADC are hardly wanted or remembered and the same would apply in Khasi and Jaintia Hills. We now have a full fledged Tribal State and this institution called District Council has been used and abused in the name of protecting the “identity of the tribals” if it was so important why is the delivery mechanisms of the District Councils so pathetic, GHADC and JHADC has no website while KHADC which has a website does not have the names of the villages headmen under their jurisdiction, they have not learnt how to issue licenses online. If the Sixth Schedule was to protect the Garo, Khasi and Jantia tribes how is it that today there are non-tribal elected MDCs in GHADC while KHADC had two non-tribal elected MDCs in 1972.
If there is a transparent social audit one can reduce half the employee’s of all the three ADCs can the ruling MDA and Congress explain how GHADC has 2000 employees where recently they sought assistance of 80 crores to pay salaries for 17 months, Garo Hills has 24 MLAs and 30 MDCs, while has JHADC also has 1700 employees with only 7 MLAs and 30 MDCs and KHADC has about 700 employees with 36 MLAs and 30 MDCs. All three ADC can function with a bare maximum under a department with a VRS option as the above data prove unnecessary staff with the ADCs.
The recent Covid19 has thoroughly exposed the continued irrelevance of the District Councils in Meghalaya as throughout the State the District Administration effectively dealt with the crisis of the COVID19 pandemic disaster with the active cooperation of ONLY the traditional Chiefs namely the Nokma, Syiem, Dolloi, Lyngdoh, etc along with the Village heads such as the Nokma, Rangbah Shnong, Waheh Shnong, Sardar Shnong, etc. There was no requirement or need of the District Council or their representatives called MDCs to deal with COVID19 all that was done by the MDCs with 10 lakhs and the MLAs with 25 Lakhs was to distribute essential commodities to their constituents as done by NGOs.
Hence the question continues to prop up do we still need the ADCs a majority of the less informed will scream at the top of the voice that it is necessary to retain it as it represents and protects our identity and culture. Since there is high pitched false emotions generated by vested interest it would be necessary to have an informed transparent analysis of the actual relevance of the ADCs given the fact that the COVID19 crisis has revealed that when it comes to facing such crisis one requires the Village Heads, why because there is this huge large State Government machinery called Deputy Commissioner’s Office and head of Districts of all Departments in 11 Districts of the State and Block Development Officers heading the 46 C& RD Block along with 690 Gram Sevak through out the State. This huge government machinery itself cost us a huge amount of money.
Why are we bluffing ourselves. One glance of the subjects under the District Council below will reveal that there is total duplication and wasteful expenditure for example Forest and Education these subjects have been taken over by Central and State legislation hence is there still a need for such officers in the District Councils? Any additional output by having these officials in the ADCs. Similarly on the subject of “Development” one quick view of the development schemes implemented by the District Councils it will reveal that they are implementing exactly the same developmental schemes which are being implemented by the MLAs and through the MGNREGS via the “Village Employment Council” under the C&RD Department of the State additionally various Departments of the State also implement department specific developmental schemes such as PHE, PWD, Border Area Dept etc.
District Councils have very few Markets while more Markets are under the Tradtional Institutions who have managed their affairs and Markets relatively well infact if any support is required by Markets it is the Elakas which need help in creating proper infrastructure. On the subject of Information and Technology the less said the better, similarly Art and Culture we recall the Monolith Festival of the Khasi which was embroiled in allegations of corruption. The subject of Health and Sanitation has been pathetic and all three District Councils after over 30 Chief Executive Members each since last 68 years the rivers and streams of Meghalaya have become the most polluted and ugly sites to visit.
Labour, Taxation are departments which already exist at the State level why to duplicate these activies. The subject of Building ByeLaws has been totally neglected by the MDCs and the District Councils of Meghalaya, that is how we have unplanned villages, sanitation, Markets, shops all over the place due to the sharks called rent seekers, no implementation of commercial and residential zones in all Cities of Tura, Shillong or in the Towns such as Williamnagar, Nongstoin, Jowai, Bagmara, Tikirkilla, Bagendoba, fortunately The Meghalaya Building Bye Law 2015 is already applicable throughout Meghalaya thankfully for the Meghalaya High Court ruling, what is now required is the proper application of this Byelaw. On this subject all the State Government needs to do is ensure that the Byelaw Authority either under the State and reporting to the Traditional Institutions to ensure compliance, why the need for the District Councils to create another white elephant under the ADCs. Again on the subject of Town Committees this has never taken off in Meghalaya as earlier attempt to initiate Town Committees and Municipal Elections led to widespread agitation in 1988 and 2000. Similarly the subject of Sports & Youth Affairs is also replicating the activities of the already existing Department of Sports & Youth Affairs at the state level. On the subject of Water Resources the same Department exist at the State level.
On the contentious subject of the “Trade” which is basically a Regulation for issue of Licenses for Trading by Non-Tribals, the regulation and the rules are quite clear there is no need for rocket science for such issue of Trading Licenses it is infact the corruption in the District Councils which has led to the unnecessary communal conflict, infact there is a lot of allegations among the political parties over the constant increase of Trading License every time a new Executive Committee takes over. If the State was sincere to to settle this matter of conflict between Tribal and Non-tribal in the State they should take over this subject and adopt the process similar to issue of Passports where human interaction is now totally eliminated and corrupt practices stopped and has been a relief to the citizens of the country.
Another subject is Revenue Collection – they collect deduct Professional Tax from all government servants, collect tolls in the name of the Sixth Schedule but for what purpose? Its an irony that Fisheries is a subject under the District Councils, after 68 years of ADC we still import nighty nine percent of Fish from Andhra Pradesh. Infact today the present Executive Member who is an MDC of the Khasi District Council has just been allotted the Fisheries portfolio and he is himself a well known Fish merchant of Shillong.
Finally there is Elaka Administration which deals only with Village governance on proper scrutiny one will find in GHADC there are Village Councils with village headmen and that the Chiefs the Nokmas the traditional institutions do not take appointment from the GHADC, there are Rangbah Shnong or Sordar Shnong in a Village (Dorbar) in KHADC and JHADC. They also have the chiefs of the traditional institutions of Syiem, Lyngdoh, Sirdar, Dolloi who administer the Village headmen. If one were to reflect on the agitation by the Village Headmen of Khasi Hills against the orders of the Meghalaya High Court it would reveal that the MDCs had not done their homework which was to legislate (codify) the role, function and responsibilities of the respective Elakas and this is pending since 1952.
Inview of the above we urge the Chief Minister, the MDA allies such as NPP, UDP, PDF, NCP, HSPDP, KHNAM, GNC, and Congress to take this COVID19 Opportunity to discuss, review, restructure, and bring real MEANINGFULL change to the District Councils in the State through the upcoming Sixth Schedule amendments.
It is public knowledge that the three ADCs, the NPP, UDP led MDA State Government, which includes all State Political Parties namely the NPP, UDP, PDF, HSPDP, NCP, KHNAM, BJP, and Congress have proposed cosmetic amendments to the Sxith Schedule which will not empower the people. The recent visit by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sixth Schedule which visited Meghalaya recently has no idea what so ever of the ground reality as there study visit to Meghalaya was a one hour meeting with the State Government and stakeholders which was just a formality as they totally relied on the recommendations of the vested political parties who wanted the stalemate to continue with the three ADCs in Meghalaya. Why is the BJP at the center acting blind to this misleading situation?
The BJP Government at the Center must take this COVID19 opportunity to make genuine change for the larger good of the people of Meghalaya as the NPP, UDP, PDF, NCP, HSPDP, KHNAM, GNC are not willing to bite the bullet. Just like operation Article 370 the Center will get more popular in Meghalaya if it can bring genuine real change to restructure the three ADCs through the upcoming amendments of the Sixth Schedule.
Hence from the above one can see that COVID19 has clearly shown the State Government of Meghalaya that there is no relevance of the District Councils in Meghalaya if they will continue in their present structure. Secondly, if the false emotions continue that the District Councils and Sixth Schedule are still needed then it would be a matter of common sense for the political leadership of Meghalaya to restructure the Sixth Schedule in such a manner where instead of the Political MDCs the Parliament should replace them by inserting the representatives of the Traditional Institutions such as the Nokma, Rangbah Shnong, Syiem, Sirdar, Lyngdoh Dolloi, etc., who have proved their worth in effectively assisting the District Administration during the recent COVID19 crisis, and are the real stakeholders at least this approach if taken would produce some output from such a huge wasteful expenditure. Include a few nominated seats for women.
As far as Judiciary is concerned it is the cry of the common poor citizens that the District Council Courts should be urgently put under the Meghalaya High Court so that swift disposal of litigation is done expeditiously. If one were to check the number of cases pending in the three District Council Courts one will understand the total collapse of the judicial system in the ADCs. Infact the former Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court has observed the poor judicial progress in the ADCs of Meghalaya.
On the other hand there are other opportunities for State Government to save Funds and cut wasteful expenditure immediately such as de-notifying all the 150 odd political appointees costing the exchequer 5 crores annually.
Another area which requires biting the bullet is abolishing the MLA schemes (2.5 cr annually x 60MLAs) which will save 150 crores, abolish the MDC schemes (2crs annually x 90 MDCs) which will save the exchequer over 180 crores, not to forget the Chief Ministers Special Rural Development Fund (CMSRDF) of 15 crs annually and the Chief Ministers Youth Development Scheme of 10crs annually all together the savings would be to the tune of 355 Crores annually which if properly untilised can uplift and save economic activity in Meghalaya.
The MLA, MDC, CMSRDF, CMYDS, developmental schemes are all over lapping the departmental developmental schemes, infact what would be more effective would be for the MLAs or MDCs to submit their vision and plans for the respective constituencies to the related departments who should mandatorily prioritize their schemes based on consultation and recommendation from the respective MLAs. The quality of MLAs and MDCs would immediately improve were Meghalaya will get MLAs or MDCs who invest and spend more time to deliberate on government policies, debate and pass legislation etc., then only can we hope for a new Meghalaya led by true leaders of the people.