(17, June, 2015)

Questionable status of higher education

[ Tongam Rina ]
For a long time, many people have been raising questions about quality education, rather the lack of it in Arunachal. But most individuals and organisations have been quiet on the topic. Perhaps too many stakes are involved in speaking out. So the revelation by Dr Nani Bath, a highly regarded academic in the state about the dismal conditions of the private universities in the state have thrown open many questions. The factual details provided by Dr Bath are compelling and therefore must be addressed and dealt with by the competent authorities.
It is a fact that the State Legislative Assembly, in absence of strong oppositions have been able to do what it pleases in placing and passing bills without little or no debate at all. The hurried decisions on establishment of six private universities in the state, all of them with questionable credentials have to be re-looked into.
The state government passed the Bill pertaining to establishment of Indira Gandhi Technological and Medical Sciences University (IGTAMSU) in 2012 despite being given negative remarks by the Advocate General of Arunachal Pradesh Nilay Dutta. And the High Power Committee led by then RGU Vice Chancellor Prof. K.C Belliapa with Dr. T Basar and Dr Joram Begi constituted by the state govt in 2008 did not give positive remark on the proposed establishment of the private university. These are just two of the many instances where the legislators have overlooked expert advice.
Apex Professional University, Pasighat has been under the scanner too after its Chancellor was arrested.
The Chancellor, also the founder of Amritsar-based Apex Education Group, was alleged to have been running over 500 study centres across the country which facilitated the admission of thousands of students to the troubled CMJ University.
Arunachal University of Studies, Namsai is not devoid of controversy either. Those at the helms of affairs are accused of procuring fake mark sheets of various technical and non-technical courses from private universities of Chhattisgarh.
But the problem is that red carpet has been laid out for these same people and institutions in our state.
It is true that Arunachal needs institutions of higher education as Rajiv Gandhi University is unable to provide for thousands of students seeking admission each year. Many students have left the dream of pursuing higher education because it is simply unaffordable outside the state. Only those who belong to the crème de la crème of the society can think of getting into course and the institution they wish for. One would have wished that these Universities share the burden of Higher Education in the state instead of becoming problems themselves. Press clarifications or denials of allegations are not going to set these universities right or improve the facilities. One must not ruin the lives of thousands of young lives in pursuit of monetary gains leading to irreparable commercialisation of education in Arunachal.
More important perhaps is for all the stakeholders in the state- the govt, students and their many organisations as well as parents work collectively towards a mechanism that can monitor and evaluate these Universities, so that the ideal of higher education is not lost in the glitter of higher economic gains.



(10, June, 2015)

Resurgence of NSCN (K)

[ Tongam Rina ]
The resurgence of Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (K) in North East has brought in a wave of violent attacks in Arunachal, Nagaland and Manipur. Since walking out of ceasefire agreement after fourteen years in March this year, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN led by the Myanmarese Naga rebel leader S S Khaplang has carried out deadly attacks against the Indian Army.
The most recent one being a week ago in Manipur’s Chandel district where 18 soldiers were killed in one of the worst attacks on the Indian Army.
Considered very close to the Indian Army at one point, the sudden change in attitude has certainly triggered much discomfort within the Army establishment.
What is worrying is that along with the NSCN-K, Paresh Barua led ULFA and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) are reported to have come together along with six other organisations from the region to form United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia few years ago for a separate country consisting of North East Region and Naga dominated areas in Myanmar. This certainly is worrying news for the government.
Security experts believe that after the NSCN-Khaplang signed a ceasefire with Myanmar in 2012, it has heavily consolidated its position using the time to restructure the group.
The NSCN (K), an offshoot of NSCN after it was divided in 1988, for a long time has been active in the state with many of its recruits being local Arunachalees from Tirap, Changlang and Longding. The three districts have witnessed ugly turf war between the Khaplang led group and NSCN (Isak-Muivah) which has often resulted in bloodshed. And now with the Indian Army out on a full offensive against its one time friend, there will be more news of death and destruction. One can only hope that the common citizens will be spared the pain and agony. But it is unlikely that common people will escape the battle as the Indian Army will do anything under its power to subvert the attacks by the rebels, even if it means infringing on rights of the innocent civilians.
Perhaps the answer lies beyond the border. Myanmar will have to be a major player and made a partner if Indian Army has to succeed. One must not forget that the Naga freedom movement is nearing its 70th year and enjoys a good support base even though many accuse those heading the movement as extortionists.



(03, June, 2015)

Beefing it up

[ Tongam Rina ]
Scores have died due to heat wave in the country and with rain belying Met department’s prediction, there seems to be no respite from heat in many parts of India including the national Capital.
Killer heat that has claimed more than 2000 has been relegated to the corner and talking point in media and corridors of power being beef, India’s latest and likely to be a very long obsession. The controversy on beef started at around the same time BJP came to power last year. Though ban on cow slaughter have been in place in many states for so many years, the debate has reached its feverish peak after the Hindu Nationalists, who sometimes seems forget that India is a secular country, came to power in the country.
In April this year, BJP president had to face the heat at Shillong when a beef party was organised to welcome him in protest against BJP’s move to impose ban on cow slaughter. The message was clear and loud; don’t tell us what to eat. But then in a country where 80% of the population regard cows as sacred, the voice of the 20% does not make much of a difference.
The Constitution empowers the states to legislate the “prevention of slaughter and preservation of cattle”. Arunachal, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Lakshadweep are the only states that have no legislation on cow slaughter.
The latest to be caught in the beef controversy is Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju. Twisted or not, now the nation knows that beef is not something he will pick. It is rather unbecoming in a secular democratic country that one of the most powerful voices in the Modi govt has to give a clarification on his eating habits. This speaks a lot about the health and future of the secular values of this country.
Of all the things we value, we can only hope that we have the right and freedom to choose what we eat and how we dress and we don’t have to defend it.



(15, April, 2015)

A horror named AFSPA

[ Tongam Rina ]
It appears that it was not only the common people who were shocked with centre’s sudden decision to impose the dreaded Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to 12 districts bordering Assam. The centre managed to shock the Chief Minister of the Congress-ruled state as well who seems to have had no idea what the Home Ministry was up to.
Clearly upset Nabam Tuki in a meeting with Union Home Minister termed the centre’s decision unilateral and called for review of the dubious move. The decision obviously was not taken in consultation with Arunachal and media houses got the copy of the notification faster than the oblivious government.
While, the centre and state shift blame on the lack of security measures in the state in the wake of alleged penetration of militants in the border areas, the fact that the Minister of State for Home affairs is from Arunachal is not lost on anyone.
Meanwhile, according to the Home Ministry notification, the reason that led to imposition of the dreaded law is presence of Nationalist Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB (S), three factions of NSCN, ULFA, Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and rise of left-wing extremism along the Assam-Arunachal border.
The Act already applies to Tirap, Longding, Changlang and areas falling within 20-kilometre radius in Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam.
NSCN, ULFA, NDFB have been active for a long time and have used the soil of Arunachal.
The three factions of NSCN have made Tirap, Longding, Changlang as their area of operation and runs a parallel government. It is for everyone to see how successful the Army have been in dealing with the terror groups in these three districts. While the Army and the factions of NSCN play hide and seek, it’s the common people who are caught in the middle.
When the centre rejected the Jeevan Reddy Commission Report which had recommended repeal of AFSPA in the North-East, no one anticipated that it would be in such a hurry to impose it on Arunachal, dubbed one of the most peaceful states in the country.
Now, even as the Home Ministry says that it will review the decision, the centre has left the state government with no option but to listen to what it dictates. The weakness of the state government is palpable. The centre knows very well that Arunachal do not have the resources or the power to deal with security issue as huge as this.
Arunachal already is one of the most heavily militarised zones in India but the people of the state have always been receptive to the presence of the Indian Army so the centre’s decision to put the state under the cover of AFSPA is not only baffling but disrespectful as well. How does one begin to explain why a law that legalises the blood in the hands of the Indian Army is imposed in the state?



(08, April, 2015)

Dependent yet extravagant

[ Tongam Rina ]
Arunachal is a poor, dependent yet extravagant state so there is bound to be financial problems. For quite some time now, the state has been dealing with staggering debt, cuts in welfare schemes, non payment of contractors and government employees on time. Clearly, the state and its people have no idea how to get out of the mess.
The fact that utilisation certificates, the mantra for getting more funds from the centre have not been submitted on time speaks a lot about the financial management by the people at the helms of the affair.
All the schemes that are implemented in the state are centrally funded with little or zero contribution from the state. The people of the state are witness as to how these schemes are being implemented.
The government is yet to table the report of the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) at the floor of the house even though it was submitted to the government on March 9 during the shortened budget session of the Legislative Assembly.
If there is nothing to hide and if at all it is financial constraint as claimed and not mismanagement, the people of the state have the right to know what the report says.
As if whispers on precarious financial position of the state were not enough, the government have landed itself in a very embarrassing position after the former Finance Minister and seasoned politician Kalikho Pul was expelled from the Congress Party. One of the longest serving Finance Ministers, he is someone who knows the inside story. And according to him, all is not well.
With the centre tightening the purse strings, there is nothing much the cash strapped state government can do other than manage with whatever funds comes from the centre and borrowings.
Perhaps, lessons will have to be learnt from the current mess and government have to be more responsible financially. A large chunk of funds is utilised as salaries and perks to the pampered state government employees and members of the legislative assembly every month. Austerity measures shall have to be implemented strictly sooner or later and it has to start with those running the state.
As expulsion of the ambitious senior Congress leader has been the talk of the town and bombshells he has been dropping since then about the financial position of the state, yours truly asked a senior Congress leader whether there indeed was possibility of a formation of a new government in the state. “Someone has to be really brave or very stupid to take over the reins at the moment because there is no money with the state and the centre is very tight-fisted” he said.
Bravery or stupidity, in an event of change of guard, which is rather unlikely at the moment, it’s going to be the same people who will run the show so there is nothing much to look forward to.



(11, March 2015)

An eye for an eye

[ Tongam Rina ]
The recent murder of a man, an alleged rapist by thousands of people in Dimapur has made headline news across the world. Many of us were left horrified at the deliverance of quick “justice” by the mob, very akin to ISIS way of execution. The man, an outsider, never had a chance in front of thousands of barbaric young people, out to get him with full force. There are no crimes as horrifying as rape and murder and both acts are despicable but the sheer crowd violence was maddening. A crime occurred and law of retaliation followed; a slap on the face of judiciary and policing in India. Though mob violence is not new in this country, there are lessons to be learnt from Dimapur.
Home to various Naga tribes and the Dimasas, today it has more and more non natives coming in to make a living. Till that day of atrocious violence, it was seen as a forward looking town, a fashionable commercial hub of the North East.
Connected with air and railways, ILP is not enforced in Dimapur, unlike the rest of the state. As the city opened up, more people from outside the state has gained free access and many have chosen to settle down. Half of the total population consists of outsiders today and one need not be a local Naga to buy land in Dimapur.
While all appears alright from the surface, there is massive unemployment of local educated youth. Most menial jobs are not picked up by locals but lapped up by outsiders, many Bangladeshis. Majority of the business and financial activities are controlled by outsiders. Under such circumstance, there is palpable tension, triggered by control of economy by outsiders and perceived socio-cultural tensions. Perhaps the pent up anxiety triggered Dimapur violence.
In a few years time, the scenario will not be too different in our state if there is no tighter control on who gets in and out of the state, unless we are ready and able to accommodate all. But by the look of it, we will not be able to tackle the pressure of migrants and cheap labours as massive construction work is about to be rolled out in the state to develop the basic infrastructure facilities. Other than cultivating fields, most young people in our state consider it below their prestige to pick up boulders except perhaps the Buddhist community habiting some pockets of West and Upper Siang, Tawang, West Kameng. In such cases, outsiders, mostly the Bangladeshis will fill in the gap. They come in hordes and they come cheap. We have to have an effective governance and system in place. A system where we will not require the services of vigilantes. A basic example is young people rounding up people without ILP in the streets of Itanagar and elsewhere in the state. What does it say?
The Dimapur mob violence will stay in our minds for a long time and it has thrown open lots of questions. What if we had an effective justice delivery system and better policing? Was it a case of reverse racism?
Hopefully, sooner we realise that an eye for an eye is not the solution. Meanwhile, let us hope that the girl is rehabilitated and supported so that she is able to come out of this numbing double tragedy.



(25, February 2015)

A visit to ponder on

[ Tongam Rina ]
It’s not every day that a Chief Minister is left squirming in his chair by the guest who he personally invited.
The tormentor was the Prime Minister Narendra Modi who thundered, “pai pai ka hisaab dena hoga” at IG Park, while addressing a massive crowd on the occasion of 29th statehood day celebration 2015. The comment drew huge applause from the packed Park, sending a clear message to the politicians and bureaucrats, technocrats and contractors in the state to behave themselves and not misuse public money.
Who cares if the boss himself was warning all to be careful with how and where they spend money? The mere mention of public money makes many drool in this state. Old habits die hard.
To make it worse, the Prime Minister did not announce any financial package for the state. But given the fact that most of the projects worth Rs 10,000 crore announced by the then PM Dr Manmohan Singh in 2008 are actually yet to take shape, it is understandable that centre is bit reluctant to shower special packages.
Other than Civil Secretariat building, Railway connectivity and bits and pieces progress in Trans Arunachal Highways, Itanagar Water Supply Scheme, most of the 20 points projects are yet to take off in the state.
The Prime Minister did not bother to respond to the 15 point demand placed by the Chief Minister, which included continued support for the special central package.
The days of easy money and lavish spending in the state are gone. But it is rather worrying that centre should be so high handed with poor and unproductive Arunachal. Given the fact that the government will not be able to salvage itself from financial misery nor submit the much touted and needed utilisation certificates, the hard days have just started. But if the centre is pushing for a change in political setup, while depriving the Congress government of any financial assistance, that would be rather unfair.
Prime Minister meanwhile took a complete U-turn on tapping of hydro power potential in the state. He made a fervent appeal to the people of the state to exploit the hydro potential like Bhutan and Nepal have done. One was left wondering whether he was the same person who said before elections that people of the state will decide for themselves when it comes to hydro power development in the state. Let the people decide what they want to do with their land, rivers and resources.



(04, February 2015)

Power of protests

[ Tongam Rina ]
The government’s decision to install Pre-Paid Energy Meters and Automated Remote Metering (AMR) in Itanagar have been met with protests and more protests, with consumers out in street objecting to the proposal. Almost every sector entrance is adorned with a banner opposing the installation in Itanagar forcing the Department to put on hold its plan.
The Pre-Paid Energy Meters and AMR meters were first introduced in November in collaboration with Udaipur-based Secure Energy Meter Limited, which is the implementing agency. According to power department, the pre-paid meters were to be fitted at the homes of about 32,000 consumers with a total cost of Rs 85 crore, including maintenance charge for a period of five years. The main motive behind the introduction of these metres was to save power leakages, which is rampant in the Capital, mostly due to illegal power connections.
The clandestine approach adopted by the department to install the meters perhaps triggered the massive protests across Itanagar. People had no clue what it was all about till the department employees landed up at the doorstep with the equipments. In a state where the Aggregate Technical & Commercial power loss is slated to above 60 percent, this was a wrong move.
At Rupees 4 per unit, many household will find it difficult to foot the bills as we still do not have the habit of switching off lights. Many still think that electricity is a necessity which one need not necessarily pay for. With the state government harping about power potential and dubbing the state a power house, these consumers should not be blamed for presuming that one need not pay for consumption of power.
The best approach for the department is to make people realise that they have to pay for electricity and that stealing power or not paying on time are not option at all. For these, continuous massive campaigns as well as disconnection of unautho-rised power connections must be carried out. If the department is serious about revenue generation, it must also learn to strictly control revenue loss incurred by power theft and non clearance of bills on time. The department should be given some time to relax so that they give us a viable, better and cheaper option.
In the meantime, the state capital will witness another bandh call, soon after we applauded the young civil service aspirants led by Ujum Perying for putting forward their grievances by adopting hunger strike; a non violent and non interfering form of protest. It is beyond understanding of yours truly, how calling a bandh is going to solve any of our problems. Taking up a cause is praiseworthy but it should not be done by restricting movement or choice.
While the power department is struggling to make people understand the need to save power and pay on time, the Education department in a recent notification has banned tuitions by government teachers. Now, what teachers do in their spare time is no one’s business. If they have the energy and time to make some money in exchange of teaching the students, no one should have any problem, whatsoever. With parents, especially tribal, hard pressed on time, educational qualification as well as patience, these teachers are ultimate saviour for many students.