(09, September, 2015)

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Garbage and Our Dying Rivers

[ Tongam Rina ]
While launching the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a national Clean India Campaign on Gandhi Jayanti last year at Rajghat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seen sweeping the road. The image captured the imagination of millions, including Arunachal. For the next few weeks, this daily was inundated with pictures of people, mostly VIPs with brooms. Even Itanagar/Naharlagun, the twin towns of garbage, for a change, looked a little less messy. But sadly, the euphoria did not last long. Soon, people got tired of cleaning up or even posing for pictures.
But the Campaign showed us that if we are sincere and come together for a cause, perhaps there is a way.
More than ever, there is acute need of putting our acts together to keep Arunachal, a state blessed in abundance by nature, free of toxic litters. Thankfully, there are no big industries to pollute the state but non biodegradable bags, wrappers and bottles remains our greatest challenge. You find them all over the state; lofty Sela Pass, in the hills of nature’s manicured Ziro and blessed Mechukha. Even our rivers are not spared. We have been so reckless that we have turned our rivers into septic tanks. The worse victims are perhaps Pachin in Nahalagun and mighty Kameng River that flows by Seppa Township.
One can’t sit by these Rivers without being afflicted by agonising stench, forget about finding solace.
Rivers and streams, more so in Towns are clogged, because we don’t have the reverence for the precious nature’s gift anymore. In Itanagar and Pasighat, the streams within the township are unrecognisable. They just appear like extension of an open drain. If not for ourselves, we owe it to our children that these rivers and streams, which were the lifeline once, are not only cleaned up but allowed to flow free.
So, the recent call by Governor J P Rajkhowa on garbage problem as well as disposal in the state has to be acted upon by the government agencies as well as common citizens. There has to be concerted effort as well as shared responsibility so that we dont have to step on and jostle with garbage. The twin town leads when it comes to dirt. Itanagar Municipality has failed miserably in its responsibilities to collect and dispose the garbage. There should not have been any excuse for funds, as we have been fed since for so long, because it can raise funds, if it wants to.
The government agencies, perhaps the biggest culprits for not doing enough when it comes to garbage collection as well as disposal need to retrospect. Municipal Solid Waste Management Plant nearby the seat of the government has been lying defunct. End result is dumping of waste along the highway leading to Hollongi, worse still burning all kinds of waste, which is a health risk.
To start with, sorting out garbage is essential. Dry and wet or organic and non-biodegradable waste needs separation for proper disposal. This can be achieved by involving households and sectors.
Perhaps, the long term approach would be privatisation of collection as well as disposal, because the government institutions have failed completely. Organisations like Ngunu Ziro, an initiative of few citizens in Ziro, Green Pioneers, consisting of netizens in Itanagar and Environmental Protection Society in Tawang have shown us the way with their consistent effort to keep spaces free of litters.
Others than these organisations, perhaps it is time for few enterprising individuals in the state to come forward to ease the problem of garbage. Many will be more than willing to pay to ensure that garbage is collected and disposed off, the way it should be.



(02, September, 2015)

Roads that take us home

[ Tongam Rina ]
The other day yours truly got ticketed for wrong parking by the Chief Estate Office near a health clinic on a busy and crowded road in Itanagar.
Though deeply embarrassed, it gave some amount of satisfaction that laws are being implemented in the town known for its bad traffic management. The contentment did not last long as it was soon found out that other than disfiguring the already grubby car by putting an ugly sticker; the officers did not have the power to impose fine.
But things might improve in the long run if the government, as it proclaims, is serious about improving the roads and empower Traffic Department with human resources as well as adequate funds.
Following the directives
of the Supreme Court, states have set up Road Safety Council to control road accidents.
Arunachal has one of the worse road safety records in the country and tops the North East India states with highest number of deaths per Lac population. The record is not surprising given the fact that state’s road network is patchy with extremely poor conditions. Added to pitiable constructions are uneven terrains. But even when we know these realities, we are far from being careful. Most drivers/riders think that they are not only invincible but bring in their set of rules with a very good knack for uncontrolled speed ready to mow down anyone that comes on the way.
Heart skips a beat as young girls and women wrap a duppatta instead of helmet. Boys and men who refuse to grow up are worse, baring their tattooed bodies; without helmet or riding gears. It is common sight to see young parents with their small children on bikes with no protection. One can’t help but say a prayer for safety of all. With lack of trauma centres or highway ambulances, it’s the ill-equipped Police who are first responders, with no medical kits or health workers. It is time bare minimum facilities are introduced to prevent casualties as most deaths are preventable if there are medical teams as first responders.
In a state notorious for seeking compensations and imposition of fines, it is rather strange that the citizens as well as the state continue to be so reckless. VIP convoys, unmindful of congested roads, are not only a bad sight but is a major nuisance too adding to the chaos. Because of bad road, people who commute by public transport pass gas. The roads are that bad. Arunachal must be the only state without traffic lights or even zebra crossings. With absence of public facilities, people pay literally in the form of “fines”.
Some samples of how things can terribly go wrong after an accident.
A young man on a bike collides with a car. Both speeding. Rider is knocked down and hit a parked car. He dies on the spot. The relatives refuse to register a case but seek money. If compensation not paid, warned of dire consequences including packing up from the town. Fine paid.
A rider is injured following a collision with a car. The driver of the car is a bureaucrat. Apart from paying for medical expenses, the officer is asked to give a job to the injured or Rs 15000 every month.
Bikes collide. One dies at the spot while the other is taken to hospital with serious injuries. The doctors are not allowed to treat the injured patient. Three agonising hours later, he dies.



(26, August, 2015)

Urban chaos and Smart Cities

[ Tongam Rina ]
Even before he was elected the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi had put bringing back black money allegedly stacked in Swiss Banks and building 100 Smart Cities in the country high on his agenda.
Among the two, selection of Smart Cities is on the roll. In few days time, centre will short list 20 cities in the first phase, from across the country under its ambitious project to strengthen existing facilities in cities as well as make it ecologically responsive, technologically integrated with reliance on the use of information technology.
Overall some Rs 98,000 crore has been approved for development of 100 smart cities and rejuvenation of 500 others across the country with the Cabinet approval of Rs 48,000 crore for Smart Cities Mission and Rs 50,000 crore for Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation. With Rs 100 Cr earmarked for each city, the centre expects the states to pitch in its share as well as bring in investment for development of Smart Cities. This is rather worrying for a resource begging state like Arunachal.
On the other hand, controversy revolving the technical recommendation of Pasighat as a probable Smart City candidate has rather been unexpected and High Powered Committee obviously did not anticipate that there will be opposition to it.
But setting up of any institution or implementation of schemes has not been without any controversy in the state. And setting a bad precedence, the state government have always bowed down to the pressure including deviating from original plans. The NIT currently at Yupia was forced to be set up in Capital after massive protest by Itanagar based organi-sations to previously proposed site at Bhalukpong. Within Itanagar, the prime example is the Greenfield airport. Supporters of Kharsingsa and Hollongi were at loggerheads for a long time. Now, after so much of chaos and tussle, it looks like it would take another decade or so till we get an airport, thanks to issue of compensation and land management.
Students vocal candidature for a smart city consideration comes across as more emotional, than technical. For one, it is a fact that Itanagar has nothing much to offer today, except for the sheer reason that it is the capital. As People from all over the state continue to flock the twin towns and nearby villages, and the government having absolutely no plan on how to handle this, the city increasingly becomes unable to provide even basic necessities to its citizens-be it water, roads, garbage management or something as basic as effective traffic control. Harsh as it may sound, it is perhaps beyond repair.
This is why it is pertinent that development projects, educational, health institutions are not only shared and distributed equally all over the state, but also created in locations that yet have a space for course correction and adaptation. Our twin town is frankly beyond repair and even the scope of strengthening the few existing facilities, as envisioned under Smart City are going to be a mammoth task as it has turned into an extremely unplanned concrete jungle.
Deep down, the issue today is not if Pasighat is the right candidate for the smart city project. The bigger question remains – is Itanagar?



(19, August, 2015)

Where have our engineers gone ?

[ Tongam Rina ]
The Engineering departments in the state should consider themselves extremely fortunate that people of Arunachal never ask them uncomfortable questions. The day people start asking questions, these departments will have to come up with rather very good excuses, because physical achievements are close to nil. But than what can we expect from the state where top engineers are known more for financing candidates, if not sponsoring wives and siblings to stand in elections.
PWD, RWD, PHED and Power department have 18 Chief Engineers combined. PWD alone has 8 Chief Engineers, a case of serious overcrowding in a state like Arunachal. The numbers can’t be ignored anymore because the output is pathetic, to say the least. The capital road, if we can call it roads is one example of just how seriously rotten the system is.
A point has come where no amount of explanations, statistics, and facts and figures from the department and its contractors is going to make sense anymore. The politicians are not bothered. Their worry is to win elections and that necessarily do not amount to being worried about the state or the welfare of its people.
The only few meters of road worth calling a road and have withstood the rains are the ones leading to Raj Bhavan and Chief Minister’s bungalow. The case is same everywhere else in the state. There have been instances where people dreading the lack of quality work have downrightly rejected PWD in the state. Do we need to say more?
Roads, water and power are basic necessities for citizens. If we can’t get it without demanding so vociferously, there must be something seriously wrong somewhere. We can’t be forever blaming the rain for bad roads, the soiled water and the electric poles that seems to fall off so frequently.
The works department cannot afford to be so sluggish for so long. Enough time and resources have been provided and blame game need to stop. If the departments cannot guide the contractors to come up with quality work, it does not reflect on the contractors. It shows utter lack of accountability and responsibility on the part of those signing the cheques.
Like elsewhere, people of this state deserve provision of bare minimum necessities like road communication, power and water. Even in a state where people have not learnt to ask questions as yet, the departments seriously need to introspect where they have gone wrong. Perhaps the answer is going back to basic engineering and being more responsible to the job assigned and to the people. Road network worthy to be called a road, drainage, pedestrian paths, taps with running water and bulb that at least flickers is what the people of this state deserve, if not respect from these government departments.



(12, August, 2015)

An accord veiled in secrecy

[ Tongam Rina ]
The recent “peace accord” between the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah and Govt of India, termed historic by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been welcomed with caution. Details/clauses of the accord have not been made public as yet even after passage of a week so it is rather premature to comment but anything veiled in secrecy and intrigue never did anyone any good.
The first round of strong dissent has already been witnessed with Chief Ministers of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur making it clear that they were not informed or consulted about the peace accord. Such conceited behaviour by the centre is sure to rub everyone the wrong way and sure it did. Over the years, one of the main demands of NSCN (IM) is integration of all Naga-inhabited areas including those of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. The demand is deeply opposed by these three states. On the other hand, Nagaland Assembly has endorsed the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas under one administrative umbrella many times, the latest being on 27 July 2015.
Now, if indeed this particular demand is included in the clause that is being worked out between the centre and NSCN-IM, there is going to be heavy repercussions. If the centre and NSCN (IM) is really keen on lasting peace, the states that are bound to be affected in one way or the other must be made partners, forgetting political affiliations. Unlikely but not impossible.
The Naga movement itself have not been devoid of contradictions and bloody factional fights with everyone wanting to play the lead role but with little or no success.
The fierce turf war between NSCN-IM and the NSCN-K led by S S Khaplang since their acrimonious split in 1988 has been deadly. More than anyone, the centre should know from its experiences that despite ceasefire with these two leading factions in 1997 and 2001 respectively, the factions have continued to indulge in inter-factional killings. And the fact that Khaplang abrogated the ceasefire this March cannot be ignored. Though reported to be ailing, he continues to have strong support base in Nagaland, Arunachal and Myanmar and the group is not going to stay quiet given its recent violent activities in Arunachal, Nagaland and Manipur.
The people of Tirap, Changlang and Longding have seen the turf war up and close and continue to suffer, caught between the warring groups as well as the Indian Army. The coming days are not going to be any easier for the people of these three districts, even if they are not willing to be party to any of the factions.
Under such circumstances, Centre which seems to be in extreme hurry should not forget to listen to all concerned. If it has to be fair to the struggling yet divided Nagas, it must be fair to the unarmed but struggling other people too.



(29, July, 2015)

Last Night A Star Dropped From The Sky

[ Tongam Rina ]
Last evening at around 8, a fellow journalist from Delhi asked whether the news about President APJ Abdul Kalam’s passing was true. Must be another hoax, I responded reminded of an earlier instance when the president himself had to clarify that he was well and alive.
But sadly, this time he did not come around to clarify.
Dubbed the people’s president, I rather liked this unassuming, humble giant of a person. I will always remember how he completely de-mystified the hallowed image of the President of India and unshackled the Presidency as well as the Rashtrapati Bhavan from what have always been considered shackles of forced bureaucratic awe. He was able to re-cast the very idea of the Rashtrapati and was for the first, and to my mind, the only time when India’s people loved their head of State, not just kneeled in reverence.
Driven by a highly refined scientific temper and providing an iconic leadership of a fresh kind, he was a real hero for children, who loved meeting him and interacting with him.
In many ways he was a closer uncle to them then even Chacha Nehru who was always this hallowed, glorified uncle framed within the paperback covers of school textbooks, read a text message from my buddy as we exchanged messages on a life well led.
Perhaps he was one person that united this great country because he gave us a reason to dream and aspire. A boy not born in wealth rose on to become the President of India by the dint of sheer hard work. The student who was not successful in becoming a pilot ended up as the missile man of the country!
Many will forever cherish the man with the electrifying smile, whose unkempt hairstyle became almost a metaphor for the way he led the nation- with an aura of zen-like confident non-chalance, a quality that greatly endeared him to student and teacher alike.
For a long time, we will remember him for the manner he bid goodbye to us- on stage, addressing students and dying doing what he loved most- inspiring young people. What a way to go, Mr President.



(01, July, 2015)

Haunted Borders

[ Tongam Rina ]
It does not say very much for our state’s destiny seemingly cursed as we were, made to be born with border disputes on both the national and international border. The recent events at Radhaso in Papum Pare and the persistent, almost parrot like Chinese claims on our lands are painful remainders that there indeed seems to be apathy to our reality. What else can explain the complete lack of empathy that not just the friendly neighbourhood Assam government but even the centre seems to be showing?
Almost all the states bordering Assam have seen bloody conflict because of issues of encroachment, notably by Assam Forest Officials. The Nagaland-Assam boundary skirmishes have been the bloodiest with many lives lost and property destroyed as both sides refuses to budge an inch from their respective stand. Meghalaya-Assam and Arunachal-Assam boundary too have seen stressful times and bloodshed.
Most often when there are clashes along the interstate boundaries, Centre have been clueless and unsure. All it does is throw the burden on Boundary Commission with instructions to state governments to behave.
Under the direction of the Supreme Court of India in 2005, a boundary commission was consequently set up to settle various inter-state boundary problems in the Northeast. Till the Commission submits its final report, all the states are to maintain status quo. But with burgeoning population in the region, there is fight, which will increase with time, for resources.
The centre really needs to intervene as the stubborn state governments will not do much to protect the interests of the people living along the boundary. The first step would be to facilitate an acceptable settlement. Tough but it is not unachievable if all the states put in a sincere effort. The Boundary Commission clearly need to step up its work and the state governments should not end up as stumbling blocks. The recent Indo-Bangla border settlement should act as an example to emulate where the two countries swap territories and allowed thousands of people living in border enclaves to choose their nationality.
While the Boundary Commission, centre and state government figure out what has to be done next, people to people contact along the boundary should increase. Most of the cases of violence and tension on the boundary have been the handiwork of bored government officials, often looking for recognitions from their native state. It’s a tricky situation when for personal interest, peace is compromised, but an effort must be made to build mutual trust and understanding. As the states and the centre, hopefully embark on a mission to find lasting peace, it would be crucial to involve the people at the ground who know the best about the situation- and frankly, whose children’s futures are most at stake.