(1. Sep.  2010)

People and their agenda

[ Tongam Rina ]
The centre’s detour on Vedanta’s bauxite mining project in tribal inhabited Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa comes at a time when centre and state governments are mercilessly pushing developmental agendas undermining environmental concerns.
The centre’s decision came after Forest Advisory Committee submitted the NC Saxena report which cited violations of environment clearance given to Orissa Mining Corporation in 2008 including non-compliance with the provisions of the Forest Rights Act.
As we debate whether centre’s stand on Vedanta project is a sign of environmental consciousness or political agenda, none the less it has come as a big relief for indigenous communities fighting to save their land from those agencies, including state governments, for whom revenue generation is top on the agenda.
However the center’s decision on Vedanta, though it managed to bring a certain Rahul Gandhi to the site who glorified the decision, is no sign that it would go slow on power projects among others in Arunachal.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has already said that power projects will go ahead in Arunachal and that there was no room for no dams/projects debate.
On the other hand, even as we concluded that Arunachal Pradesh Package of Roads and Highways was for the people of the state, as we look deeper into the road projects, it is rather ensuring a smooth drive for power projects in the state. In a recent meeting on road projects in North East where Arunachal figured prominently, the ministry exclusively talked about linking those areas in Arunachal with roads which had a power project!
But since we are not the questioning kinds, the ministry will have its way. It does not make sense to the centre or the state government where the road comes up as long as it leads to a power project.
No one really bothers if the people from nearest village will have to walk for some kilometers to cover the distance from their village to the highway, located somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Talking of violations of environment laws, as state government carry out projects, it does not make much sense either.
Violation of Forest Laws in the state is rampant given the fact that almost all road projects comes within the designated Forest land. But then when the Recognition of Forest Rights Act, has not been implemented properly in the state, it is just matter of time that these projects will come up without any meaningful resistance.
As centre and state takes a step forward on developmental activities in the state, someone called up yours truly to inform about villagers felling trees so that they could avail forestation schemes from the centre! This obviously was carried out in full consultation with the district administration!



(8.Sep. 2010)

Living a monitored life

[ Tongam Rina ]
Imagine living in a state where we need a third party to check and monitor corruption! For a state dependent on tax payer’s money for every possible need, it’s no mean achievement.
Corruption has reached such a sickening level that state government has to keep aside .5% from total project cost to ensure that projects are implemented.
The state government on Sept 2 made it public that based on consolidated Monitoring report submitted by North East Development Finance Corporation Ltd. (NEDFi) for East Siang district for SPA funds 2008-09 suspended BDO Mebo for alleged embezzlement of funds.
If records are not twisted, the BDO Mebo officially finds his name written in the record books as the first victim of the monitoring system.
Many more will find its name in the records book soon if the reports are read carefully by the government. But given our short memory and shorter vision and selective performance when dealing with cases of corruption, it is unlikely we would see many more names.
On the other hand, the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for the year 2009 is another predictable yet engaging copy to read. If one has the time to read 176-page report, one would seriously want another third party monitoring here too.
If reports of the departmental performance are put in, yours truly would be accused of being repetitive. Added burden would be unlimited abusive phone calls, threats and finally tempting offers! Fortunately or unfortunately the Report is a public document hence the hands at this side of the table are tied!
Well, the lexicon is all too similar year after year. Embezzlement of funds, doubtful payment, wasteful expenditure, undue benefit to the suppliers, poor planning, violations of guidelines, and the list goes on.
Yours truly is just grateful that we don’t have to face taxpayers directly.
It would be too humiliating a time if at all a system comes when taxpayers demand a direct explanation from us how their hard earned money is being spent. We would not know where to look leave alone explain.
One must appreciate the patience of the tax payers and centre for letting us get away with such daring misdemeanor!




Democracy it is!

[ Tongam Rina ]
Given the fact that our state had vibrant village democracy till it was diluted by Panchayat Raj system and politically appointed Gaon Burah, sometimes it’s surprising that we don’t have any space for dialogue and discussion.
It’s a sad reflection on our society but one thing that’s conspicuously missing in our state is debate and discussion.
We always seem to arrive at a conclusion without ever looking for a way out through discussion or a consensus.
The decision to give permanent residential certificate to communities from outside the state is one glaring example. The mess could have been avoided had the government tried to inform beforehand of its intention to give PRC. Citizens do understand that we elected them to take decisions on our part but at the same time we expect that they will not take such sweeping decisions where citizens are forced to ask questions. Not that anyone will actually listen. Worse part is there is not even a space for them to ask questions.
Since there is lack of space, citizens do come up with their own way of protest. One example is bandh. In most cases, organisations call a bandh when they want to make a point, not necessary valid. Reasons for calling bandh vary. Some want to announce their arrival, which most of the time will begin and end with the space they get in newspapers while at few times, there are genuine points.
No matter whatever the reasons citizens gleefully play along.
Whether we agree or not with the cause, at least the residents of Capital Region never misses a chance to enjoy the breaks the recurring bandh brings along.
The bandh call the other day by some unknown organisations demanding the resignation of Chief Minister managed to shut down the Capital Region. Was the total shut down any endorsement of the demand or was it an indicator of our total lack of concern and utter laziness?
No matter what ever may have been the reason, it was just another example that we don’t have a faculty that’s capable of questioning. The situation is compounded by lack of debate and discussion.
Yours truly recall two incidences.
A few years back, a group of scholars of repute were stranded in Gohpur because some of us refused to let them inside Arunachal because we did not agree with what one of the scholars had to say in a private email on Inner Line Permit. The private mail was thoroughly circulated and that was the end of it. The seminar never happened.
One more incident happened in Assam where representatives from Arunachal were invited for a regional consultation. Among the invitees were Chakma refugees. Some members who were part of Arunachal delegation walked out when the Chakma refugee representative started speaking. This time platform was the problem. It was beyond our dignity to share the same platform as the refugees.
Today with grant of PRC to non APST, there is a question mark on relevance of ILP. Refugees have found their names in the electoral list. To borrow a line, today when a Chakma refugee sneezes, their lobby around the world catches a cold. So much so that India will sit up and prescribe a medication. Unlike us, the refugee community has been successful in sharing what ails them.
Our response would be a state wide bandh. Predictable that will be called a democratic protest! Democracy it is!



(4. Aug. 2010)

The opt repeated Govt recipe

[ Tongam Rina ]
Even as the state awaits justice for Late Jumchi (Tachi) Nguso who died at the hands of State Police on July 15, there is yet another report of police brutality that resulted in a death. This time it was Miti Mepo, a father of four children who died after being given the infamous Police treatment last night at Roing.
Allegedly, he was beaten up so bad by the IRBn personnel that he died within half an hour after he was brought to the hospital.
The citizens took on from there. Frustration, anger and despair drove the people to take out their anger at public property.
Time and again when the justice fails, it is only matter of time people takes law into their hands because they know unless they use force nothing tangible is going to come out. Be warned that this is just the beginning.
The People First government and its Home Ministry need to answer to its citizens. It needs to look beyond opt repeated recipe of announcing compensatory money, a govt job for the victim’s family and suspension of the erring personnel in uniform and enquiries that takes ages to complete. The recipe so often used by the government to legitimise these heartbreaking deaths is almost laughable and it borders on absolute apathy.
Going by the precedence, it looks like government is contemplating to create a department that would exclusively dish out compensatory money for those at the receiving ends of the Police brutality.
Is the government daring its own citizens or are they on a mission to test the patience of the people?
IRBn has for long been associated with violence. These young boys who are barely out of their teens instead of being upholders of law have been in news for a long time for taking law into their hands.
Intriguingly the government has legitimised the brutal actions of these mindless young boys by refusing to do anything substantial. It’s about time, government take control of these boys before citizens start acting.
And going by the Naharlagun and Roing incidents, it’s only a matter of time, citizens decide for themselves what they want to do to ensure public safety. Gone are the days, when people accepted whatever they were given.



(18. Aug 2010)

The border

[ Tongam Rina ]
“Should you sit upon a cloud you would not see the boundary line between one country and another, nor the boundary stone between a farm and a farm. It is a pity you cannot sit upon a cloud, wrote Khalil Gibran.
Allegedly, 1951 one man Boundary Commission demarcated the Assam-NEFA border sitting upon a patch of cloud. It sounds more fiction than fact, but the revered Gopinath Bordoloi, according to the grapevine sat down in his room with a couple of government officials, armed with a map of Northeast demarcated the boundary of Assam and NEFA based on plains and hills. Thus the fate was sealed.
On 10 February 2006 the Supreme Court granted three weeks to the Centre to decide whether to set up a Boundary Commission to resolve the boundary dispute among Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
The Commission was set up. Nothing much has happened over these years because the states refuse to agree to a point. It is unlikely that the hearing scheduled for August 23 in Arunachal by Local Boundary Commission constituted by Supreme Court would come up with anything substantial. What has so far happened is hearing and objection. The façade will continue while the people residing at border continue to bear the brunt of encroachment after encroachment.
But Supreme Court constituted Commission has come as blessing in disguise for our politicians. Whenever an encroachment happens at Gumto, Likabali, Shimhokho or Kamkuh Russa, Kimin, we are promptly reminded that states should maintain status quo.
To add to the woes of the citizens residing in border areas, border skirmish, which often results in violence among the NE states is not a big enough problem to grab the attention of the centre. The lack of concern is for all to see.
As if to validate the indifference of the centre, respective governments in Arunachal have been rather silent when it comes to borders. To take an example, in some portions of West Siang, people pay land revenue for their agriculture land to Assam government. Interestingly these phenomena started much after the Arunachal attained an entity of its own.
Apart from few mentions here and there, border areas and the people living there hardly figures in the schemes of things. Heeding to public outcry, Border Management Cell was created. But that was it. The department in an effort to maintain status quo seems to have forgotten why it was created at the first place. While the people living along the border fight for their land and property, it is about time government takes the issue seriously. A onetime reinforcement is not a solution. It must come up with a tangible solution even if it means give and take. Or else everyone at the helms of affairs might as well give up and let the people at the border decide how they want to take forward the issue.
But the fact remains that we are not sitting upon a cloud and there are boundaries that need be fenced properly.



(27. Aug .2010)

The defining moment to PDS in state

[ Tongam Rina ]
The arrest of former chief minister Gegong Apang in
PDS scam is a watershed in the contemporary political history of Arunachal.
There is a lot of talk on the streets regarding the timing of the arrest, the manner in which it was carried out and even about possible motives behind the overdramatized unfolding of events.
As due respect extended to a senior statesman, was the sanctity of the process of justice upheld, was it law of the land that was followed or the law of the landed few? These are questions which perhaps time and the court will answer.
The manner in which arrest was done left a lot of bad taste in the mouth. The way it was executed made Bollywood plots and sensationalist news channels look unintelligent.
To see this happening in an honour-bound tribal value system was hard to swallow- after all age does need to command respect.
If we step back and consider the core issues in the entire episode somethings remains unexplained. Why does a PIL filed in 2004 regarding the PDS in the state of Arunachal raise its head only in fits and starts and that too in well timed moments? That needs explanation.
But the timing of the arrest could not have been more perfect and it deserves accolades as it managed to divert the attention from some issues. The media in the state had a field day as the events unfolded. What more, the Assam based media houses so far busy fuelling tension in Assam and Arunachal on boundary issue too was distracted. Devoid of media intrusion, at least people along the boundary are talking peace!
On the other hand, Apang was to meet the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Aug 25. The meeting was seen important by Congress watchers given the fact that Congress party elections are just around the corner.
This is not the first time that the Congress party has seen such a crisis prior to party elections in the state.
Perhaps a mere coincidence but in Dec 2007, Wangcha Rajkumar, a contender to the party leadership in the state was mercilessly killed.
The arrest also has brought to the fore many questions regarding the functioning of PDS in the state.
Even though the government would like to believe that PDS have been overhauled in the state, citizens continue to bear the brunt because of poor delivery system. The Food Corporation of India is not too enthusiastic at taking over the PDS in the state even at the request of the government. As the drama continues people are at the receiving end.
Even as FCI and state government figure out what to do with PDS, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar informed the Parliament that delivery is off track. Apart from poor delivery of rice and other items in the state, there has been almost 100% diversion of wheat!
The centre has threatened to withdraw allocation of wheat and has raised serious question mark on the delivery system. These are larger issues that the government needs to take in account if it is serious about PDS in the state.
Even though we are made to believe that state does not have a hand in arrest of Apang, arresting him obviously is not the final solution to the problems confronting the PDS in the state. One could just hope that the arrest is a catalyst to book all the guilty as well as rectifying the crisis that continue to hit PDS in Arunachal.




Badge of honour

[ Tongam Rina ]
Anyone who has worked in media in Arunachal would vouch that after a point, nothing rattles us. We have faced it all. Intimidations, law suits, threats of law suits, physical and verbal abuses, which are often on a daily basis, are nothing new. We take it as professional hazards and get back to work. Sometimes the causes of these threats are so ridiculous, we often discuss it among the fraternity and have a laugh or two.
But there are times when it not only amuses but shock us too. The other day, a gentleman walked into this office. He pulled a chair and sat down very comfortably. Before I could ask what it was, he says, “I met you at the Police Station”.
Some two years, we had indeed visited the Itanagar Police Station when an uncle was killed in a road accident at Bank Tinali. Some citizens had come forward and helped us during those difficult times. I presumed he was one of them.
But his next sentence took us by surprise. “I am out on bail and you know what it means” he said.
Truly at a loss of word, I asked him if there was anything we could do. As he took out a copy of previous issue of the daily, his chilling response was “I could go back to jail again if you don’t stop publishing this”. He walked out as unceremoniously as he had walked in.
Here was a man flaunting his trips to jail as a badge of honour!
Apart from the fact that he was a coward, this despicable act made me wonder where we have come as a society. It’s a reflection on our society which has no respect whatsoever for the laid down rules and our deafening silence when things go wrong. As citizens, we don’t have the courage to stand up when things go wrong. Except for some villages across the state where traditional village councils still have a say which ensure that citizens not only follow the dictate but strictly abide by it for the common good, in urban areas individuals often call the shots. Who cares what happens to the society as long as you have the right connections, muscle power, political interference and money.
When we should be bending down and still have a say, we crawl. End of the story.
Look at Itanagar-Naharlagun. After so much of hullabaloo by the media, we got the zebra crossings. But drivers will not stop at the designated zebra crossings even if there are tens of pedestrians wanting to cross. If there is an accident, we refuse to go the police stations or insurance company. We would rather ensure that unlucky one not only dish out money as compensation but pay for mending the car too.
Apart from what happens within the demarcated roads, that look more like river banks, it is likely that you would end up in someone’s house, once you step off the road. That’s the beauty of this city. And they say widening of roads, beatification of the city and action against illegal encroachment is on. But how would one possible take action when the entire areas have been encroached upon and converted into one shapeless concrete jungle? Responsible ones are the high and mighty government officials, politicians and moneyed ones. Almost all the government quarters have been encroached upon. Even the spaces at ministerial bungalows are not spared. Forget about responsibility towards the state and Capital Region, going by the records, they are busy being responsible to their greed and upkeep of their families. That’s a reflection on our society. We have very conveniently kicked our tribal habit of self righteousness. Instead of just harping about our tribal identity, where justice was the name of the game, except in few cases, it’s about time we decide as a society what we really need.



(21. Jul.2010)

Arunachal Pradesh Police versus the citizens

[ Tongam Rina ]
Unlike other places in North East where Police and Army personnel are epitome of everything that can possibly go wrong in a civil society, in Arunachal they commanded some kind of respect. But that came crumbling down on July 15 when APST Bus conductor Jumchi (Tachi) Nguso died a death no one deserved.
If we believe the media reports, the Police categorically said that he jumped into the car with an intention to commit suicide. Yours truly might sound as ridiculous as the Police but anyone in their sane or insane minds would choose other ways of committing suicide rather than walk on a road specifically targeting a vehicle belonging to Chief Minister’s Security cell to come hit them.
Speculation apart, the fact remains that Nguso was denied medical attention for two long hours. Even in bad road conditions, BTM Hospital and Niba Clinic is mere three minutes drive from where he was hit by the vehicle. The Naharlagun General Hospital is mere ten minutes drive. Rather than medical attention, the officer took him to Police station setting a perfect bad example of inhuman treatment and violation of very basic human right.
We would never know what exactly happened at the Police station unless the Police come forward which is almost next to impossible. Today honesty is not something we associate with the law keepers.
Despite SIT, Magisterial and independent enquiries, it is unlikely that we would ever get the details of what happened in the last hours of Late Nguso’s life.
The public outcry after Nguos’s death was unprecedented. Despite our common Arunachalee heritage, hardly have we come forward for a common goal. But on July 15, led by students, irrespective of their affiliations, tribal and non tribal came out in open against Police. This should be a message for the Arunachal Pradesh Police. When law keepers do not respect their profession and wear their uniform with pride and responsibility, citizens will not go out of their way to tolerate them. There may be good men and women out there in uniform but when the department is subjected to such public humiliation, something must be terribly wrong.
A couple of months back, the Home Minister Tako Dabi had Arunachalees squirm in acute embarrassment when he proudly announced on a prime TV channel that it was okay for Arunachal Police Personnel to have a drink or two while on duty.
Later on the Minister went on to become a hero when he campaigned for the cause of eunuchs by writing to the Home Ministry that they be included in Police forces.
Yours truly would hope that he campaign for an Arunachal where Police takes an injured to a hospital and where common citizens could walk on the road whenever they want to, devoid of any fear and intimidation.