(28. Dec .2011)

The need to fix responsibilities

[ Tongam Rina ]
In October alone, 21 people lost their lives and numerous others were left maimed for life following collapse of two bridges in the state.
On October 2, six people were washed away when a wire rope suspension bridge over Tawang Chu connecting Gyamdong village collapsed. According to reports, two wire ropes snapped from the anchor bolt of the bridge. The bridge was under the care of Jang PWD division. Shrouded in mystery and secrecy, no one exactly knows the status of the bridge as yet. If finished, why did the bridge collapsed and if it was under construction why the people were allowed to use it?
The conflicting report emanating from within the authorities is clear indication that no one wants to take responsibility.
While the state was still trying to figure out what went wrong, 16 precious lives were lost when an old wire rope suspension foot bridge over Kameng River at Seppa snapped on Oct 29.
Imagine the plight of a mother
who sent her child to the bridge to collect Tari so that they could share the delicacy for dinner only to be told that the child will never came back alive.
Who takes the responsibility for the lifelong pain of a mother whose child was so cruelly taken; a husband who lost his wife, a sister who will never see her brother again and a friend whose life will never be the same again?
These citizens paid with their lives because of negligence from all quarters. Government departments can’t put the blame on citizens alone and escape from responsibilities.
In case of Seppa, the authorities had put up a warning that only six persons will be allowed to cross the bridge at a time. Did the authorities take any other step to keep people away from the weak and dilapidated bridge when it was for all to see that the warning was being overlooked?
Seppa and Tawang tragedies were avoidable. And tragedies like this will continue to happen, unless we fix responsibilities.
Apart from an arrest in Tawang, none of the officials of the PWD have been taken to task thus giving these officials a license to kill with their carelessness and inefficiency. Heads need to start rolling.
While we try to let go of the anger, pain and frustrations, there is yet another report of a bridge collapse over Deopani in Roing. Thankfully, there was no human casualty but the latest incident reflects the fact that bridges in the state needs a thorough review.
Just putting together few rods and cements over a river and leaving it to sustain itself is akin to handing out death certificates to the citizens.
All central and state government departments including the PWD, which has handed out two killer bridges and contractors need to start learning the technique of building bridges that are worthy of use.
Apart from going back to technical schools to learn a thing or two about how to build a bridge that are safe enough, these engineers and the departments need to oversee safety measures at regular intervals.
When it comes to precious lives, lack of fund or inadequate knowledge or for that matter any anything else should never be an excuse.
Perhaps, the first lesson the departments should start taking is memorising the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’ where it states that
“Wood and clay will wash away,
Bricks and mortar will not stay,
Iron and steel will bend and bow,”
Tragedies do not announce their arrival but to a large extent it can be prevented, more so when it is manmade disasters.
As the New Year approaches, yours truly wishes everyone the very best. More than anything, let’s just hope that every one of us is safe.



(21. Dec .2011)

A fabled land!

[ Tongam Rina ]
In absence of strong media and civil society organizations and other supervisory bodies in the state, things go unnoticed, unreported and many of us do get away with lot of things.
A very good example is the fees levied for obtaining information under RTI Act. Rs 10 is charged per page, which is highest in the whole country!
Where else in India could we possibly witness such audacity by the government?
The rate enhanced from Rs 2 to Rs 10 per page of information was officially notified by the state Govt vide AR-99/2010.
Under Section 27 of RTI Act, the states have the power to fix rate of fee and cost payable by notifying in the official gazette. Expensive Arunachal did not miss that chance!
RTI Act, anyways in the state is grossly misused and has ended up becoming a tool for the unscrupulous to make money. Today we have a whole section of society making a living by misusing the provisions. This only explains the depth of corruption at all levels.
Those who use the RTI Act know where to extract money and the corrupt part away with ill gotten money.
Perhaps one of the few exceptions have been the recent case where few of the candidates who appeared for AE (civil) examination conducted by the Arunachal Pradesh Civil Service Commission unearthed some interesting facts using the Act.
We are yet to know what course the Commission will take to rectify the errors but none the less we got some insight into the workings of authority in charge of the searching talents for the state and what the RTI Act, if used in right earnest can achieve.
But sadly, we seem to have missed the bus here too. With few exceptions, we have not been able to make use of something as powerful as RTI Act which can alter the course of the state.
On the other hand, yours truly can’t help but marvel at the contradictions and workings of various organizations in the state.
Somewhere in a research paper; it was written that Arunachal has the second highest numbers of registered and unregistered organizations in the whole country. Uttarakhand with some 13000 organisations was at the hallowed first place! If memory serves right, we were trailing by a few hundreds.
But this does not come as a surprise since we have a tradition of achieving dubious distinctions in almost all fields. To name a few, we are a state where a person consumes upto 24 kg of iodised salt per month and a bike carries at least two quintals of rice per trip.
To be lenient, organizations, more so community based organizations including students wings, in Arunachal are a nuisance.
To think of, media too need to pull up its socks. Perhaps we should make use of RTI Act more often but then people in media including yours truly have a habit of blaming others for all things wrong and when we are unable to deliver. And Arunachal Pradesh State Information Commission, by not protesting the government decision to raise the rate gave us a golden chance to make an excuse of not using provisions of RTI Act.
But then ours is a fabled land indeed where nothing is bizarre anymore!



(30. Nov .2011)

Arunachal and its boundaries

[ Tongam Rina ]
There is a beautiful saying that “you can’t see politi-cal borders from space”. But the tragedy is that it’s confined to space and perhaps with changing technology the saying would soon be a thing of the past.
For long, we have lived amidst disputes along the borders. Facts and fiction related to border with China has almost become part of the folklore so has boundary with Assam. Unfortunately all we get to read and hear are stories of skirmishes resulting in displacement and sometimes death.
With the state precariously located along the international border and with a greedy neighbour like China, it is understood that our state will always be the bone of contention.
However it is not only China that is cause of constant tension.
The British found us but as India gained freedom, we became part of it and since then have been involved in avoidable wars with our own.
After independence, a subcommittee headed by Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi was appointed by the Constituent Assembly of India to recommend the future pattern of the administration of North East Frontier Tracts.
The Committee recommended that govt of Assam take over. However this recommendation was overlooked and centre administered North East Frontier Tracts as “excluded area” through the Governor of Assam.
Subsequently, according to available documents, Balipara and Tirap Frontier Tracts, Abor Hill and Mishimi Hills Districts were transferred to Assam. In 1951, the units of the tracts were however reconstituted. After the introduction of the North East Frontier (Administration) Regulation, 1954, it was designated as the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and brought under the administration of Ministry of External Affairs. In 1965, NEFA was brought under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs. This continued till it attained the status of Union Territory in 1972.
As India reorganized its states, there have been problems as allegedly the division was done taking into account the plains and hills!
After ugly squabbling, Supreme Court intervened in 2006 which led to setting up of a Boundary Commission by the centre to resolve the boundary dispute among Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
While the Boundary commission goes on at its own pace and the states sticking to its point, it is unlikely that we would see solution yet but the citizens more so in Arunachal have faced repeated dislocation and threats from Assam often resulting in conflicts.
Interestingly, the root causes of such problems are not the people themselves. Often it has been the handiwork of the government officers and disgruntled politicians who had a score to settle. Never the less, the government of Arunachal needs to act. Apparently, there is a Department of Border Affairs. Now yours truly don’t know the composition of the department, but it would save a lot of heartache if it acts on time instead of just showing its presence after atrocities have been carried out.
The recent boundary skirmish in Sango village of Papum Pare district is yet another reminder that government really needs to act and initiate talks instead of waiting for the Local Boundary Commission to give a decision. People can’t be made victim because of indecisiveness of those who are authorized to take decisions. Status quo is too repeated a word to be respected.



(23. Nov .2011)

Extended wait

[ Tongam Rina ]
Amidst unparalleled violence and high drama, Nabam Tuki took charge as the seventh Chief Minister of Arunachal on Nov 1.
After two long weeks, his ministry was formed. However, the wait is not over yet as even after completion of 22 days; Arunachal unfortunately is yet to see a functional government as the allocation of ministries is yet to be formalized. Even if the Chief Minister is efficient enough to oversee the whole of the departments in absence of full functional ministry, the delay is certainly worrying for a geo-politically sensitive border state.
While the AICC and fickle politics drag on, there are reports of skirmish along the border areas in Tawang and Anjaw. Everyone predictably is quick to deny any such occurrences all in the name of national security. One would perhaps never know what kind of a national security we are talking about.
While everyone including the media choosing to maintain a stoic silence, with financial year almost closing, one wonders whether the state would actually be able to meet the deadlines. It’s for all to see that apart from few inaugurations, this government is yet to move an inch.
Under such trying circumstances, one is bound to question All India Congress Committee for the delay. While state capital burnt and rest of Arunachal watched in horror, the party high command kept quite. The silence of the party was broken only after a youth lost his life and citizens moved out of the Capital amidst unprecedented violence.
If we recall, AICC did not step in for four long months while the Congress party in the state was divided in two camps forcing a halt to all developmental activities. One group was locked up in Chief Minister’s official bungalow while the other group was in Delhi.
The collective silence of all the 60 representatives sure was a lesson for the people of the state. They say a state gets a media it deserves. Perhaps it’s true even for our elected representatives.
To put it mildly, they don’t deserve another chance to represent us in their life time.
While the Congress MLAs fought at the cost of peace, security and development of the state, the rest of the elected representatives were mute spectators.
While we and their money decide who represents us in 2014, it is worrying that Arunachal does not figure in the agenda of the Congress or the UPA government.
For those who follow the workings of the Congress party, it won’t come as a surprise as AICC usually do take longer than necessary to decide for states that does not have the requisite numbers and the resources. For us in Arunachal, the recent happenings were good testimonies about where we figure in scheme of things. A state dependent on centre for all its funds and to make matter worse with just two mute MPs, we are a lost case.
In the meantime as Buddy puts it, people of the state alternatively look Delhi-wards and heaven-wards for answers.



(05. Oct .2011)

Congress versus Congress

[ Tongam Rina ]
The joke making the rounds in the state capital is that one has to go through AICC in order to get in touch with the Congress legislators from Arunachal.
The joke is not devoid of truth. The power struggle within the party is so overwhelming that everyone is left wondering what exactly is happening within the party that calls itself a “family”. It’s so divided that one camp is in New Delhi while the other camp is in Itanagar!
Both obviously are out of touch with common citizens.
Even when some members of the other camp turned up from New Delhi for the Legislative assembly session, they camped at a hotel in Naharlagun. The other camp too was not far behind. They choose the Chief Minister’s residence as the meeting point.
The drama did not end there. As the legislative assembly session ended, citizens learnt that a minister was “kidnapped” and an MLA “abducted”.
Bizarre and incredible it may sound, but all these happened within the warring two factions of the Congress party.
In some other circumstances, we would not be bothered what happens to which camp but situation is such that we are left wondering why the party would not even try to figure out the differences for the sake of the citizens and the state. But then citizens never really figured in their schemes of things and it would be too romantic to even start thinking that they care about us.
In absence of an inquisitive media in the state, one has to read newspapers published from New Delhi and Guwahati to know about the political drama and power struggle in Arunachal Pradesh. More we read about allegations and counter allegations; we are left wondering why we elected a bunch of people who not only disrespect themselves but us as well. They are not only making a fool out of themselves, in the process they are dragging the whole of the state.
While the two factions ridicule themselves and us with one antic after another, one is pained at the absolute absence of governance. While yours truly respect inner party democracy within the Congress party but not at the cost of the people. It should not supersede the functioning of the state. We are today caught in a situation where the Congress’s supposed inner party democracy workings are affecting the governance and administration in the state.
As of now, it is unlikely that the All India Congress Committee will intervene. With the party facing one crisis after another at the centre, Arunachal obviously does not figure anywhere. Even if AICC does intervene, it is unlikely that we would see any change from what the state is currently undergoing.
On a lighter note, one must thank the Congress party in the state for giving us reasons to laugh because of their antics.
While we make a feeble attempt to laugh, yours truly is also pained at the same time at what is happening at the state because of the infighting within the “family” who we gave mandate to decide for us. Though some organizations and individual might make the most of the situations because of the problems within the Congress party, there is absolute and total disregard for the common citizens.



(14. Sept .2011)

The state of affairs

[ Tongam Rina ]
After the death of Late Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu the state particularly the Capital Region has witnessed many incidences which have pained many of us. Some instances could have been avoided had there been some kind of proper communication channel and respect for common people. But with all those who take decision for us remaining adamant and sticking to their grounds unwilling to move ahead, there is an uneasy calm.
The recent All Nyishi Students Union sponsored bandh call on Teacher’s Day in protest against Times of India report about Nyishi community saw violence and destruction of government properties and files. While the rest of the state celebrated Teacher’s Day, the students Union decided to show their respect and reverence for the teachers by calling a bandh in Capital region. It is reported that main function held by the state government to honour teachers was allowed to go ahead but many schools had to postpone their celebrations. While it is for the students to ponder amongst themselves on their choice of dates for the bandh call, the action of the state government was questionable too. It provoked those in support of bandh by announcing the deployment of 2500 personnel through the media.
The government should have known that the citizens of Capital region might not respect anyone but past experiences have shown that it respect bandhs more so if it is on a Monday. After the provocative action, the government had no idea where to look when supporters of bandh indulged in violence. There was no police deployment in vulnerable targets instead Police is being accused of using unparliamentarily words while dealing with a group of protestors. No matter how provoked, violence in any form by either Police or protestors is condemnable and it calls for strong action.
On the other hand, Times of India issue refuses to die down even after passage of so many months. One wonders whether enough effort was put by the state government and Nyishi Elite Society to resolve the issue. War of words using the media is acceptable but atleast it was expected that apart from verbal bashing accusing the other of betrayal, a logical conclusion was drawn respecting the sentiments of the people of the state. The standoff continues. Given the situation, it will continue for a long time unless those involved in finding a solution respect each other and keep the communication channels open. Till now, it looks more like confrontation rather than finding an amicable solution. For the well being of the state, it is expected that at least some forward steps are taken.
One more shocking incident was the violent attack on a Law Professional Taba Tagum and his family and alleged retaliatory attack at the residence of an office bearer of Itanagar Market Welfare Association. The Police seems confused as it yet to make any arrests in the cases and act on the FIRs lodged in police stations by both sides.
Tagum allegedly was attacked for taking up a case. One is forced to wonder whether the home ministry by not taking any action so far against his assaulters is justifying the attack on a lawyer who carried out his duties. For the record, the department is yet to act against those responsible for the attack on the IMWA office bearer’s residence as well. Have the Home department left it on to the people to settle their own scores?
On one hand we expect some actions from all concerned, one is forced to question the absence of some Congress MLAs holding important positions within the government from Itanagar for so many months and frequent trips to Delhi by those who choose to stay in Itanagar. Yours truly know that the party is fiercely defensive about its affairs but citizens who elected 42 Congress MLAs deserve to know what is exactly happening. We need to know why a section of govt offices is being run by legislators sitting in resorts in Gurgaon and why those who choose to stay in Itanagar is silent on all issues. Perhaps we will never get an answer but it is about time we see some developmental activities in the state.



(27. July .2011)

Disaster and management

[ Tongam Rina ]
The perennial flash flood and landslide causes large scale destruction in the state during monsoon season almost every year. This year too, the story is repeating itself and citizens in many parts of the state are already facing the consequences.
With onset of monsoon, the Capital Region too had its share of destruction and deaths this year. Four deaths were reported while dozen more were injured. Hundreds of homes and major portion of road infrastructure were destroyed because of landslide that hit the state capital and essential services thrown out of gear. As usual the ill prepared state government and Capital Region administration was caught unaware this time too and it had no idea what to do.
It is ironic that District Administration sent out a warning note asking citizens to move to safer places after the landslide had already caused considerable destruction. The administration also suddenly realized that rampant earth cutting was the cause of such large scale destruction and in typical ‘we told you so’ tone, it brought out an order banning earth cutting. It was not too long back that administration had issued a similar order. But then no one took note of it and earth cutting went on unabated. This time too once the rain stops, rampant cutting will start again. An order after all is just an order and it really does not require much of our attention. The ones who took out the order will forget about it until the next tragedy strikes and ones for who the order was taken out too will forget it. Collective amnesia till the next tragedy.
On the other hand, when the new state government had taken over, it launched an ambitious disaster management programme to face any eventualities. But apart from announcing assistance after the recent landslide, nothing much was witnessed. One wonders whether the programme itself need rescue from being a disaster.
They say disasters and nature’s fury do not come announced. But the recent destruction due to landslide was a tragedy that was waiting to happen. We knowingly extended our invitation to it. It’s a different issue that we forgot about the invite all together.
To a large extend such tragedies can be controlled if the government and its people are serious about it. But greed knows no boundary. In Capital region, it is unlikely that there is any plot of land that has been spared by the government and the people. All of it has been encroached and almost every one of us is dealing with the consequences. As the population increase, we are leveling more and more hills. We are even diverting the flow of rivers and streams according to our wish. The end result is for all to see.
Capital region will see many more tragedies and the magnitude will be much more bigger. And people at the helms of affairs need to take disaster management and preparedness seriously. Yours truly would not want to elaborate on what need to be done since everyone is well aware of it.
But to start with, it is advisable that administration shift people from dangerous locations to safer places. Easier said than done, but somewhere a start must be made before the next tragedy strikes.



(22. June .2011)

RTI Act and Arunachal

[ Tongam Rina ]
During a government sponsored workshop on Right to Information Act for Public Information Officers and Assistant Public information officers, the participants were almost unanimous in their opinion that the Act interfered with their work and disturbed the pace of development and was being used as a tool to blackmail officers! The reactions were understandable given the fact that culture of secrecy has always been a part of government establishments. Till the coming of RTI Act 2005 which overrode all existing Acts, Laws and instruments, the Official Secrets Act 1923, an archaic British law ensured that there was no transparency in government dealings.
While elsewhere in the country, RTI Act has been used widely to curtail culture of secrecy and fight corruption but the same cannot be said of Arunachal.
Accept in few cases where it has been used to fight corruption and unearth perennial problem of illegal appointments in government departments, the citizens, civil societies and media have not been able to affectively use this very powerful tool.
The Arunachal Pradesh State Information Commission Chair said that only 10 percent of the applicants seriously make use of the Act. This says a lot as there have been many instances where officials have been harassed and blackmailed based on the information received. But citizens alone cannot be blamed. If the officers and departments are clean in their dealings, such problem would not crop up at the first place.
With vicious circle of corruption so deep-rooted in every walk of life in the state, unlikely even RTI Act would be a redeemer.
One would have liked that the Act which has been so successfully used even in neighbouring Assam made some impact in Arunachal too. Sadly it is the other way around. Today it has become a very lucrative business for many and it is being widely used as a tool to extract money and favour.
Even the countable few, who have tried to make use of the Act, with whatever motives, are at the receiving end.
On the other hand, even the appointments of APSIC members including the Chairpersons have not been made according to the laid down rules in the state. It is mandatory that at least one month notice is given prior to the appointments to enable the citizens to take part in the appointment process.
On the other hand, the fee for per page of information is Rs ten. We agree that the money we have today is not necessarily hard earned but at least a chance should be given to all to procure information without having to spend so much.
However despite loopholes credit must be given to the APSIC that, today it is regarded as one of the most effective commissions in the country. It is a pity that the citizens have not been able to make full use of it.
While we hope that some of us would take the responsibility, yours truly is reminded of an incident involving a citizen. The gentleman dropped a thick folder containing information received under the Act. For a lazy journalist, such files are god sent. The editorial desk was excitedly going through the report, when a phone call interrupted the proceedings. He told us that we could not use the information. Even before we could photo copy, the folder went back to the rightful owner of Information! There was another phone call to confirm whether the folder has actually been taken back by the information seeker. We don’t have to tell our smart readers who made that second phone call!



(25. May .2011)

A comment and our rapport

[ Tongam Rina ]
Many were taken aback when a Delhi based journalist declared that Nyishis do not share good rapport with other tribes of Arunachal. One can’t help but admit that some people have in them the capacity to come up with such sweeping generalizations. After initial anger and disbelief at the journalist, frustration set in.
As a fellow journalist, yours truly is left wondering how a journalist could possibly write something as unpleasant. Individual differences apart but dragging a whole community is in extreme bad taste that deserves condemnation from all. A class one student would know that though we elect our representatives, we have no say in who becomes the Chief Minister. The Nyishis or any other tribes do not elect a Chief Minister. It is the elected representatives that decide who they want as a leader of the state.
Reactions were bound to happen and anger of the citizens of the state was justified too. But then how and where it happened left yours truly saddened and disgusted.
No matter how hurt we were with the comments of a person who seemed to have picked up a wrong profession, taking out anger in Itanagar for what someone sitting in Delhi wrote is uncalled for.
A media house was vandalized on May 8 as a repercussion to the news item and related issues. It is yet to hit the stands and it is unlikely that it will soon. How does one justify such angry outburst?
Media in Arunachal is used to such bullying tactics but than what is utterly disheartening is the total silence by the self serving civil society organizations, community based organizations, which more or less has communal agenda and government and the students including the Arunachal Pradesh Students Union and North East Students Union. Does their silence mean that they justify violence and deliberate chocking of the media?
After repeated assault like this over the years and deafening silence that follows, one must admit that it is foolish to expect any support from any quarters.
On the other hand, ANSU which have been spearheading a movement against the journalist have taken up the issue at the right earnest. Though the Union has taken up the issue but the approach it has adopted has diluted the issue itself.
If an FIR has been filled either in Delhi or Itanagar, law will take its course of action. It is just a matter of time that the journalist in question will be arrested. Union need to put efforts to ensure that law which walks on a snail pace is made to hurry up.
But then demanding the shifting of a newspaper out of Nyishi dominated area and Capital complex, for whatever reason and calling a bandh is questionable and absurd.
The journalist in all probability must be basking in glory in the fact that Itanagar is burning and every Arunachalee that read local newspapers know who he is and where he works.
While the issue continues to make headlines, the politicians and political parties have maintained stoic silence. Not that we expect much from them since they are much smarter than we think they are, but there are times when we wish that they show some leadership quality and come out and take a stand. As someone said with power comes responsibility but than our trust and their responsibility seems misplaced.



(04. May .2011)

Unexplained Realities

[ Tongam Rina ]
For some reason, it appears that India and Pakistan inexplicably share the same fate-if we see the sequence of events in the last one week.
The United States of America (‘God Bless America!’) came and virtually over-shadowed Pakistani forces and annihilated perhaps modern world’s most wanted figure, while during the same time, India could not trace a Chief Minister of its most strategically located state who has been missing for the last four days. Both countries are apparently unaware of what happens in its own air space. Indeed an uncanny fate.
Even after four days, we don’t have any clue where the Pawan Hans chopper that flew our Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, his security officer and three others is. And we live in a country that takes pride in its satellite technology and defense capabilities! The last 90 odd hours have shown that at least for the people of this state, these so called prides are heavily misplaced.
Questions abound. Rumours outdo them. Yours truly is left wondering what or who to believe and what or who not to. Bottom line is that our Chief Minister is untraceable and we seem not to be able to do anything about it. Each passing hour scares our hopes. How we wish that search operations are successful.
Have we acted responsibly? Unverified ‘safe landing’ reassurances by none other than the Governor of the state, a former Army Chief, coupled with sheer lack of information and coordination by the state government perhaps tell us that we did not act responsibly. The non-committal press conference by central and state ministers after four full days was no comfort either. Is it too much to expect our government to tell us where our CM is? Or, in this time of uncertainties, it is too much to expect anything at all?
Arunachal perhaps has never seen more difficult times. One expected that with a missing Chief Minister, search operations would be of the highest priority level. Is it? One can never say. All that yours truly knows is that “the sentinel of the east” has questions that no one seems bothered enough to reply.
To its credit, people of the state have shown incredible courage and resilience so far by not burning down the Pawan Hans hangar or anything as stupid. However, considering the wide spectrum of delayed or missed action, one cannot be faulted to expect that it’s time for heads to roll.
But then our heads are so hidden in our little toes and literally it never rolls.
In the meantime, what we are left with are stories of hope and faith. We believe, perhaps naively, that the many unnamed defense personnel, flight pilots and concerned citizens will bring back our Chief Minister.
Yours truly can only empathize with what the families must be going through. At times like this unspoken concern perhaps works better than spoken sympathy and action.
In Pakistan, there was a closure of some kind. Can we expect ours? The state, in the meantime, waits.