(05. Dec.2012)

Let’s talk

[ Tongam Rina ]
SSA teachers in the state are on an indefinite pen-down/tool down strike demanding regularisation of services at one go of some 550 teachers recruited in 2003. The government, on the other hand has threatened to impose ‘No work, No pay’. Confrontation is inevitable as both seem reluctant to budge from their respective positions. Needless to say, thousands of students will suffer because of the adamant stand of the teachers and the Education Department.
Many of us are sympathetic to the cause of the teachers as they are unsure of their future even after serving the state for close to a decade. It would be asking for too much if we expect a worried teacher to serve the society.
The Education Department on the other hand is cash strapped. There seems to be no way out for the department unless state government comes to the rescue with requisite financial help.
Despite 80-90 % funding from the centre for all centrally sponsored projects, on many occasions, state government has been rather indolent when it comes to pitching in its share.
Credit however must be given to the government that it has considerably raised the salary of the SSA teachers amounting to more than Rs 180 Cr per annum. Now it’s a different matter that monthly salaries sometimes become quarterly.
In such a situation, where teachers and the department are on a warpath, no one is a winner. But we for sure know who loses out in the race. The faith of the poor parents and students must not be broken. The teachers and the department concern should come together and chart out an amicable solution. Let ego subside and get to the negotiating table. Priority must be given to the future of the children. There has to be a way forward for their sake.
The education department has already said that services of the SSA teachers would be regularised in due course of time and that a committee has already been constituted. The Committee formed in February reportedly met in Nov this year to decide how to go about regularisation of SSA teachers of 2003 batch! The teachers off course need to keep a tab and ask how long it would take to reach the ”due course of time”.
On the other hand, teachers, however hungry or angry have to show the way since they have chosen a profession where they have to lead by example. Remember children learn from their teachers more than they do from their parents. Teachers would certainly not want to teach their students how to extract deals by choosing the path of confrontation.
A one day token protest is loud enough.



(28. Nov.2012)

Amidst lawlessness

[ Tongam Rina ]
The recent arrest made in the Arunachal Pradesh Rural Bank robbery case and nabbing of assaulters of Echo of Arunachal journalist has come as a relief to the people of the state capital who are helplessly witnessing the gradual break down in law and order.
While most cases go unreported and brushed aside as personal disputes, there have been several cases that reflect the general lawlessness and absolute disrespect for the law of the land.
While browsing the newspapers of the recent weeks, yours truly was left astounded at the number of assaults not only in the Capital but elsewhere too.
A young member of the Arunachal Pradesh Civil Services was assaulted in a remote corner of Kurung Kumey, a district where even government officers dread to go- and now we seem to know why. After much hue and cry, two persons are reported to be arrested.
In another case, two Police officers are assaulted in West Kameng. So far there are no arrests made.
While the police struggle to figure out growing cases of mayhem, Itanagar and Ziro were completely paralysed as All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union started its election activities. The students have said it’s not responsible for the extortion and subsequent shut down. However, the denial did not stop extortions, forcing us to wonder what the future leaders are up to. Extortionists using the name of a student organisation to extort business community and government officials are bad enough and it calls for the students to seriously retrospect.
On the other hand, the shutter down in Capital town was another sign that individuals have to ensure their own safety. Despite flag marches, the shops remained closed sending a clear message to the administration, police and the state government that common citizens, business communities do not trust the state machinery. If law and order were in place, we should not have felt the total sense of insecurity in the first place.
And Media has been the favourite target of assaulters. In one month alone, two senior journalists were assaulted and office of the Echo of Arunachal was vandalised. Though the city police have arrested those responsible in vandalism of the Daily, it remains to be seen what punishment are meted out to the perpetrators of crime and most importantly how long it would take the police and law to hand out justice to the newspapers. From previous experience with other cases, one cannot expect much.
The esteemed readers are aware that there have been five instances of attack at the office of Arunachal Times since April this year. And police have not been able to do anything apart from few cursory arrests. What does it say? It’s a message to the trouble makers that they can do pretty much what they want while police will do what it does best in Arunachal; blame the lack of facility and human resources.
One can only imagine what happens to others if such repeated attacks are meted out to organisations and individuals who at least have a space to share what they have been forced to undergo.
While we silently watch the horrid assaults and threats, it would be so much better if the Chief Minister gives more attention to the Home department.
The Parliamentary Secretary Home appears to be otherwise occupied with a legal battle concerning his election. Perhaps someone with lesser problems could assist the Chief Minister and help bring in some amount of stability.
And to top it all, the police department today doesn’t have a DGP yet! That’s the ultimate icing on the cake for the lawbreakers.
The government must remember that however stupid and nonchalant citizens may appear, after a point, they will not be satisfied with assurances alone. What will happen then is anybody’s guess.



(13. Sep.2012)

Green Pioneers in A Garbage City

[ Tongam Rina ]
The stench along one part of the normally used National Highway connecting Itanagar via Holongi acts as a prelude to the dirt that welcomes visitors to state capital of Arunachal.
Urban Development department responsible for the upkeep of the township dumps the waste along this high-traffic route; ironically very near a garbage treatment plant that is under construction for the last many years. Adding more to the innovation, the department burns the garbage, destroying the vegetation in the area and leaving an unmistakable “welcome” stench for first-time visitors.
Unlike most of us who adds to the garbage problem by littering at every possible place, a group of citizens organized themselves through a social networking site and took up the responsibility of cleaning the city.
The Green Pioneers, comprising of people from all walks of life and all age groups have symbolically cleaned up many landmarks in the city instead of depending on the undependable dept. It was expected that this would be a wake-up call to all concerned.
Sadly, the garbage grows by heaps and bounds in the city despite such efforts by the citizens. Two problems stand out dramatically. We as residents of the city do not think of cleanliness beyond our doorstep. As long as we drop the garbage at some point elsewhere, we are okay. And to top that, we are yet to learn from what district headquarters are doing in segregating types of garbage for proper disposal. So how does one ensure cleanliness and prevent littering?
Now, we can’t expect the Green Pioneers to clean up every week! One solution is to encourage adoption of locations or stretches of road by institutions, businesses, NGOs, numerous sector groups and students who can organize a clean-up every week. In addition to keeping the city clean, it will also give the adopting institution a lot of goodwill!
But that is just one part of the story. Would the administration be kind enough to pitch in? Yours truly was truly amused to read a news item about the Capital administration organizing cleanliness drives on Bandh days! With Bandh happening almost every alternate day, maybe it’s not a very bad idea!
With the Holongi route closed to traffic for a massive road re-building program, one was of the view that “welcome” stenches were a thing of the past. Only to be reminded of reality near the block point at Karsingsa – that our Garbage City needs green pioneers!



(08. Aug.2012)

Coming Back To What?

[ Tongam Rina ]
How does one begin? By saying many thanks to uncountable well wishers and friends whose prayers have stood by me and my family in the time since that evening of 15 July, or by screaming out loud in anger and frustration?
One thing is for sure; life will never be the same again.
It is disturbing and miserable for me to be lying on a hospital bed for days on end, unable to do anything by my own – depending on people even for small, everyday things like having a glass of water.
I keep thinking about what has happened to me. Can’t figure out why I am here. I don’t ever ask ‘why me?’ but rather why something like this should happen at all. Why would someone just come and shoot at another human being, not in anger, not in the heat of an argument, but in a cruel planned manner.
The fact that a young person, with no fear for his own life, would do this and strike without any known motive has shaken me. For someone who has always believed in communication and communicating, yours truly is deeply saddened.
What is on the surface a cowardly act for an individual to shoot an unarmed and defenseless person, is to my mind alarm bells ringing for our tranquil world. We can’t ignore what happened that quiet Sunday evening and ask what does that say about our society.
Where have we gone wrong? Where have we failed? Why does our society, at one time in only recent history the perfect example of solidarity and peace, today allow such things to happen? Why have we begun to give breathing space to these elements who are out only to spread terror? Where have we as a government and as elders and parents failed, where today our young, the ones who will lead the State in the future, do not hesitate in doing such things.
I then realize that these fringe elements who go around shooting people, burning buses and vandalizing property thrive and feed on our fear. The moment we as a people come out and stop acknowledging their presence and stop being afraid- they will disappear.
That said, one must also point out that there is the other side too. It is only a few young people who are out there destroying lives of others and their own. But, a greater blessing is that there are many more who are shaping society, giving voice to reason and truth. When I see pictures in the newspaper of young people in protest marches, their faces passionate with a quest for justice, I see there is hope yet.
Many have asked me where do I go from here and when do I come back? I really don’t know. Writing is too much of a passion- you don’t just let it go of it.
One last thing. When my father was informed of my shooting, he turned to my mother and told her that while we go with hope, we must be prepared for the worst too: “…we may bring back only her lifeless body.”
If there is anything I ask of god or anyone today, it is for no mother to be ever made to hear the finality of these words.



(04. July.2012)

Summer woes of a town

[ Tongam Rina ]
Capital Town of Arunachal is not a very nice place to live in any more. Unplanned growth, earth cutting at every possible inch encouraged by the blind administration, bad roads, erratic power and water supply and sky high prices of vegetables are just few examples that are adding to the woes of already harassed common citizens.
The roads are unsafe with potholes every half a metre and lack of drainage system has resulted in flooding of roads and sectors. Situation has gone from bad to worse since the rain started but no attempt have been made to mend the roads.
Notwithstanding bad roads, since the 2009 elections and with easy loan options, the numbers of vehicles have gone up drastically and traffic has become unmanageable with vehicles of all shape and size jostling for space. It’s a nightmare for pedestrians. To make matter worse, the VIPs in their expensive SUVs and most of the young bikers are always on a rush and have their own traffic rules. It would be a good idea to have a separate lane for them when the touted Trans Arunachal Highway comes up to decrease the nuisance and accidents on the roads.
The sector roads within the twin township are another cause for concern. It’s so congested that in an event of any disaster, relief and rescue vehicles will never ever reach.
As if the problems were not already overflowing, bandhs have come as a chief tormenter in the state capital.
One remembers a time when bandhs were few and far in between and only the odd political party or pressure group would call and enforce one. Then we slid into mayhem. At present they are going as rapidly as the seasonal raindrops- too many and too rapidly.
Consecutive state govts have been reduced to alternately appealing against them and then issuing notifications of their illegality. In a sense any organisation, however small or big, recognised or not recognised or even individuals seem to hold a right to call a bandh. And bizarrely, no one has a right to call a bandh.
So what is the status of bandhs, really? The law holds them illegal, the constitutions in its solemn misty reality gives space for it as a way of protest and citizens have a love-hate relationship with it. For sure, two categories of people love it- errant govt employees and lazy school children who celebrate it as a holiday. Two categories of people surely hate it- daily wage earners and overworked police personnel.
So do bandhs succeed only because of these reasons? Not really. A complex web of political machination, self-promotion and underlying agendas ensure that they do. This leads naturally to the next query- will bandhs ever end? They might. Only if we as citizens come out strongly against them, regardless of the fairness of the issue, and show our objection to this form of protest by coming out on bandh days and going about life normally. There definitely is a fear for physical safety in this, but there really is no other way.
A chapter in this can be taken from the example of Guwahati that at one point in time was a bandh call paradise. But today, most bandhs called in that city go unheeded as people, tired and frustrated with them, go about living their lives with all its worries. But of course, one thing must be said- Guwahati does not have adjacent safe jungles where bandh callers and their paid “volunteers” can run to and hide in after pelting stones at unfortunate motorists!



(28. Mar .2012)

A conversation

[ Tongam Rina ]
There was a time when many of us sympathised with the cause of the Naga freedom movement. Unwittingly, we even gave space to the factions of NSCN to operate in our state. Though these organisations continue to operate in our state, the time has come for us to actually understand their presence today.
Though the world and govt of India continues to take them seriously, one wonders why we would entertain a bunch of confused people who do not have an ideology whatsoever.
Yours truly might have to eat her words, but the fact remains that Independent Greater Nagalim is a lost cause. Today it has been reduced as a fiefdom of few.
But the sad fact is that much importance is attached to these organisations, which have effectively lost their standing because of their own doing, by people in power.
The politics is such that they survive and thrive because of few people among us. It’s a complex business of power, violence and money. With such deadly combinations, it is unlikely, there would be any endings. To ensure power, the flow of violence and money would continue for a very long time and we don’t have dearth of takers of such games.
No matter what or how we wish for, NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) remains active in Tirap and Changlang and newly created Longding, the homes of Other Naga tribes. And intriguingly, these organisations literally run a parallel government in these three districts. Even though Tirap and Changlang have been effectively declared as insurgency affected areas. India continues to entertain the two factions. While we watch the drama enacted by the governments of Arunachal and India, people in these three districts are not so lucky. Caught between the intimidating presence of ultras and Army, citizens live in constant fear.
Respective state government have been silent. Apart from few sweeping statements, none of the Chief Ministers have been strong enough to take any concentre step to reassure the citizens. One would want to know from the state government how many Arunachal Pradesh Police personnel are posted in these districts and what policies have been adopted to rehabilitate the young people who have given up arms. We need not go any further.
During a recent visit to these districts, yours truly met up with few cadres of both factions of NSCN who agreed to speak. Though they were disappointed that the ‘reporter’ was not carrying a video camera, none the less they agreed to talk. Most of them spoke passionately about a Naga homeland. But what stood out were issues of livelihood and security. More than the freedom, these young people spoke about insecurities and lack of opportunities. With limited and unproductive education, their options are easy; join security agencies in India or get absorbed in either factions of NSCN.
While yours truly teased them about the lost cause, their fake Nagamese accent and guns, in return they incessantly teased about the reporter who had no camera, but what was saddening was the fact that while I go back to the comfort of an office and family, their options were few.
We parted ways but not before one of the boys told me the difference between the IM and the K. Apparently the former is called Mama (Uncle) and later Kokai (Brother)! Sadly, both of them have a stake to claim.



(21. Mar .2012)

We Didn’t Start The Fire

[ Tongam Rina ]
Due apologies to Billy Joel for this line from his 1989 release of the same name, but perhaps no other song carries more meaning for residents of capital complex presently. In the last week we have seen the forest fires that burnt on tirelessly as the state administration and fire services watched on helpless, unable to do anything because of the near impossibility of the situation. Numerous reports and enquiries have revealed, as expected, that the fires were caused by human greed and in the following of the traditional practice of jhum (slash and burn cultivation) carried on by communities since “time immemorial” and even to this day when settlements have come up around the periphery of the capital complex, adorning its ridges like an embellishment.
The government, to its credit, has been making the right noises and has set up work groups to look into the causes and remedies to the problem. As a matter of fact, even as yours truly is shaping these lines, reports of govt action are already coming in. Predictably, there is talk of aerial surveys, sensitizing programmes and even the ‘nabbing’ of 8 offenders and booking them under appropriate forest laws. All of us wait with bated breadth and earnest hope that these, and the other actions initiated, do bring fruit at the earliest.
And yet there is a persistent afterthought about two things- about the practice of jhum cultivation itself and about these “offenders” who have been nabbed.
Numerous agriculture scientists and researchers have worked on how jhum is a practice that is best abandoned for purposes of soil and eco-system health. And yet, these same researchers accept that it is almost impossible to abandon the practice given the circumstances. How do you eradicate, only on the strength of laws and punitive action, a practice that has traditionally been taken up by communities- more so when there are no viable opportunities being offered?
This brings us to the issue of the “offenders”- people who have been forced by circumstances to leave the security of their ancestral lands to seek settlement in an already crowded and difficult place like Itanagar. Is it because there are not enough opportunities for growth and livelihoods in the rural areas that we see such a large-scale migration of people to Itanagar? And when they do come here, and find life even more challenging and equally without opportunities, what option do they have left but to take recourse to what they know best- cultivate for a living.
Issues are many. Weaning people away from jhum and sensitizing them about it definitely is foremost. But equally important is for the need to create livelihood opportunities for people where they live- if at all we are to control the migration to a capital already bursting at the seams with the problem not only of forest fires- but fires of many kinds.
There is a strong need to understand why people are leaving their homes and to find a solution to that. There is a need to assess if Arunachal’s much-touted “growth-trajectory” is only about growth in its towns, or equally in the last reachable villages?
A word also about the fire services department that has been attempting bravely to fight these forest fires as well as colony fires. Plagued as it is by almost-obsolete fire fighting technology and equipment and limited manpower, the unplanned town layout with the narrowest of roads and no fire hydrants to speak of makes their difficult job impossible too.
To come back to the chorus of the song, there is a lesson hidden there too when it says “No we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it”.
Have we really?



(14. Mar .2012)

A blanket state?

[ Tongam Rina ]
Winter seems to have passed us as the heat and rains are setting in. Yet we in Arunachal seem to be wrapped up in blankets of many kinds as we move to the financial year ending on Mar 31.
First there was the much discussed gift of blankets to state awardees at the recent Statehood Day celebrations. While done in all good intent, one was just unable to understand why recipients of a prestigious award like the state award was conferred blankets and not the traditional shawl or even a jacket. If nothing else, carrying them home must have been quite cumbersome!
Then we heard news of the blanket of smoke that enveloped the state capital as Dariya hills burnt away for few days. While weaning away people from Jhum cultivation and towards settled agriculture is a task that successive governments and scientific committees have struggled, the fact that this happened in the doorstep- rather in the courtyard of the flagship capital comes as a point to ponder.
When we are unable to dissuade people from burning forest right under the noses of the state administration, what can we expect in far off districts and circles?
While, we need to introspect on the issue of jhum cultivation and livelihoods, we also have to take into the account the blanket earth cutting that is going on in the state capital. As the rains settle in during the monsoon, yours truly can only shudder and imagine where all the loose earth and slush will go and what it will mean for the ordinary citizens who will be blanketed with blocked roads and drains.
As if these were not enough, we have been witness to the defiling of the statues of no lesser than the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi and that of the father of Panchayati Raj in Arunachal, Daying Ering- at a time when we talk loudest about grassroots democracy.
What causes concern about the incidents of the decapitation of the statues of these luminaries was that these happened right in the centre of town, supposedly under the security blanket of this oldest town of the state that only last year celebrated its centennial.
Speaking of security blankets, yours truly is also reminded of the much hyped incident at Borduria village where there was a gun-fight between the warring factions of the NSCN, when in true Hollywood fashion, the Honourable Speaker of the Legislative Assembly was whisked away to safety in a helicopter, I presume leaving behind a blanket of dust and fear in the other citizens who could not be airlifted and have to live their ordinary lives, covering their ears with their blankets to shut off the sound of gunfire.
The only proverbial silver lining in the dark cloud is that the blanket industry must be doing very well in Arunachal these days, as we citizens await the next metaphorical blanket to buy.



(04. Jan .2012)

The politics of power

[ Tongam Rina ]
Apart from the Chinese interest in Arunachal, one thing that has kept us in news is humongous amount of Hydro electric projects (HEPs), ranging from few Kilowatts to thousands of Megawatts. With some 132 projects amounting to more than 28000 MW, Arunachal has been projected as answer to India’s power need. Experts say Arunachal is capable of generating some 50000 plus MW of power.
What these experts don’t tell us is amount of environmental destruction it is going to cause us apart from massive influx of workers from outside, dislocation of indigenous communities.
Even if these facts are hidden from us deliberately, there are already ample examples in the state to learn from.
Before someone accuse those raising voices against power projects of being anti development, let us take a look at three examples that the government of Arunachal and centre must not forget.
The Chakma and Hajong communities in Arunachal, who are unwanted and unwelcome refugees, deprived of basic facilities, did not pop out from nowhere just like that. These communities were displaced because of coming up of Kaptai hydropower project, which subsequently led to internal conflict including communal riots forcing them to flee from Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Closure home, 2000 MW Subansiri Lower Project is one example. For those of you who have been to the project site, it is for all to see, how absolutely nothing has changed for the common people. Apart from few contractors who have made huge sums of money, most people continue to live in abject poverty.
During a visit couple of years back, yours truly was told there were just three children from nearby villages in each class at a central school somewhere in Gerukamukh. The school anyways was very intimidating with barbed wires across its boundary. It’s a good example of corporate social responsibility.
Another example is those living downstream of the Ranganadi Hydro project. In villages near to Kimin, Sher, people live in continues fear. More so in summers since they never know when the water is going to be released from the dam. The water dramatically dries up in winter and there is deluge in summer. To add insult to the injury, the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) actually served a notice to the villagers some years back stating that it would not be responsible for human and livestock casualty in case of excess release of water.
If it was anywhere else in the world, the project would have been asked to shut for good the day notice was made public. The dreadful and unimaginable happens only in this state run by greedy politicians and spineless technocrats and bureaucrats who are such a waste.
Governments have come and gone but every Chief Minister in this state has in unequivocal terms have come out in support of power projects in the state. Off course we understand the need of power projects but the question is how big? So far there is no opposition to minor projects which is a clear indication that people do agree to the fact that the state need power to sustain itself.
The recent statements by politicians including an MP regarding alleged funding of anti dam activists by China and Maoists support was another indication of how desperate some people in power are when it comes to HEPS. Given the fact that these allegations pertains to national security, we would want to know what steps the centre and the state takes to counter such threats.
It is easy to brand anyone but who is going to address the real concerns of the people set to be affected by mindless power projects?