Ghost villages of human greed

Monday Musing

[ Amar Sangno ]
They say that when greed takes over one’s conscience and sense of responsibility, corruption is inevitable. The Trans-Arunachal Highway (TAH) compensation scam is a classic case of human greed overwhelming responsibility and conscience.
In order to put my argument in context, I have devised a mathematical formula of two nouns that are synonymous with one: compensation + corruption = curse (C3), which has been corroding the bases of all developmental projects in Arunachal. Numerous projects, ranging from hydropower to the TAH and the greenfield airport, are being stalled due to incompletion of the land acquisition process. Thus, C3 is a jinx that our state has been fighting to break out of over the years.
In the literary world, the word ‘jinx’ can be traced back to American folksong writer William Lingard’s work called Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, written in 1868, as suggested by Barry Popik of the American Dialect Society.
In Arunachal, the jinx in the form of C3 can be traced back to the land acquisition process for the TAH (National Highway 13) project in 2010-11. It has been a decade; we wasted our time and energy because of the compensation issue, and yet the TAH is yet to take off in many areas. The greenfield airport project in Hollongi is faced with the same fate.
I doubt if the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, would ever have imagined that it would take a decade to implement something as basic as a highway project in Arunachal Pradesh.
After the land acquisition process for the ambitious project to connect every district headquarters of Arunachal, from Tawang to Kanubari, was started, we saw the mushrooming of villages with zero population along the proposed alignment of NH 13.
On the Nechiphu-Seppa stretch of the TAH, several structures came up alongside the road overnight between Nechiphu and Khuppi and between Khuppi and Ramda, solely for the purpose of claiming compensation. The structures are spooky to look at during a night drive on the road – villages with no one living in them.
Similarly, haphazard structures were erected along the 407-km length of the Potin-Pangin stretch of the highway to trap the authority and force it to inflate the compensation amount.
The district administration, which had the responsibility to be vigilant against such activity, turned a blind eye. A few government officers turned out to be partners in the crime and ended up in jail over the unexplained anomalies. Phew! It looks like human greed knows no limits.
Incidentally, this unsettled and messed up compensation issue is limited to a few districts, most of them in the western part of Arunachal; therefore, it should in no way be considered a pan-Arunachal issue. In the other districts, especially in the eastern part of Arunachal, the development of the highway is faster as the compensation amounts were reasonable and genuine.
Appalled by this greed for compensation, it is said, the state PWD has decided to incorporate a clause of ‘No roads or highways for no free land’.
It means that if a locality demands a road and bridges, the residents must first give a written collective undertaking/affidavit before a court that land will be given free of cost to the government before the fund for the road is released.
Indeed, compensation is a curse to a young state like Arunachal, and also an inconvenient truth that everyone wants to dodge. Many individuals who have responsible roles in the society are also dipping their beaks into this scam.
The student organisations, irrespective of any particular community, that often come out strongly against the authority over several other issues have surprisingly remained silent on the compensation issue over the years. Perhaps for them compensation vis-à-vis land and infrastructure is no longer a major issue.
Compensation is now having a cascading effect on small projects in the villages as the villagers have also started demanding compensation for small projects like rural connectivity roads.
Human greed has no remedy. However, an effective administration, a strong political will, and active participation of civil society and likeminded organisations in fixing the responsibility on the officers concerned are the only ways to at least contain this menace.