SHILONG, June 13: Four persons, mostly women on Saturday died after a tea-shop was buried in a landslide resulting out of heavy rainfall that took place at a village in East Jaintia Hills (EJH) district.
The four deceased comprise three women and a man who lost their lives when a landslide hit a tea-shop at Ratacherra, a village along the national highway-44, police said here.
SHILLONG, June 13: If translating the Srimad Bhagavad Gita into the local Khasi language can be termed as a great achievement, perhaps it is more so when considered that the person who has done this is not even Khasi.
Prabhat Kanti Paul, a resident of RR Colony, Shillong has published his work in the form of a book for which the Foreword has been written by Padmashri Dr. Helen Giri.
Paul was born at Sohra (Cherrapunji) and learned Khasi as his second mother tongue. After his retirement from active service as a Civil Engineer in the Government of Meghalaya, he dedicated his time to writing.
The National Human Rights Commission has started looking into the affairs in Tihar Jail in Delhi. Reports have appeared about lawlessness in a prison which had been considered the best in the country. The Supreme Court is hearing a writ petition on the state of affairs in the jail. The need for reforming prisons in India appears to have acquired urgency. The condition of prisons holds a mirror to society. Kiran Bedi’s good work in Tihar Jail has been set at naught- such facilities as meditation sessions, educational opportunity, vocation activity and sport have more or less gone away. Tihar Jail is corrupted by rampant torture and sexual abuse. Crimes are plotted in and outside the prison.
There is no denying that even convicts can demand improvement in the state of the prisons. They have the right to do so. The majority of those in prison are under-trials- 67% in India as against only 20% in the US. As a result, prisoners live in unhygienic conditions. Young people accused of minor offences are sometimes at the mercy of hardened criminals. Prison reforms should be part of a broader move to tone up India’s criminal justice system. The number of under-trials can be brought down if existing laws are strictly enforced. Bail is a rule and not an exception in the case of such young under-trials. At the same time, hardened criminals should be punished appropriately but they should have a chance to reform and learn new skills instead of generating more criminals in the country.
– Darrell Jonathan Kharsyntiew
College life is an exuberating experience of freedom and independence which every budding soul feasts upon. Gone are the days when parents dictated the lives of young and mindless children; gone are the days when distant relatives are all agog to discover and scrutinise one’s academic performance and, gone are the days when school marks were all that mattered. Yes, it was liberation from the crutches that had students sulk in despair and enmity – the treacherous fiend that had enticed students to reach momentary glory and happiness, and to do it all over again.
But has the weight of this cacodemon really been lifted off the shoulders of our youth? Or has it altered itself to better fit us? Surely, things cannot get easier as we age and mature through the inevitable time. Growth is ineluctable for the adolescent stepping into the life a young adult. Young adults seem to face the world in a way that is distinct from their adolescent days. The school examination was the only yardstick that tested them – excelling or passing was their only priority. While college effaced this notion, it did not rid it altogether. Examinations still persist but it is no longer the only determinant for success. In a cut-throat competition where the best vie for triumph, students have to excel far beyond the classroom. College has not lessened the brutality school jabbed on students, it has only aggravated things. But how many students have actually realised this?
School, with all its blemishes, was a blissful time devoid of complexities that any college student could swear by. It was a time when one need not have worried about the impending future – the only concern was the matter at hand. However, this particular aspect of a person could only be detrimental when carried forward into his college life and further. No longer are we children to be guided and instructed by our parents. We need to realise that our actions solely construct the future that we want for ourselves. This is the challenge that college life presents towards its students. But not everyone perceives this. This could be ascribed to the fact that hardships rarely abound when one’s education is entirely spent within the tranquillity of familiar surroundings. Thus, it trudges upon how much of an impact a college and its location has on its students. While one could argue and say that it does not impede the ability of a person to attain success, this is only partial true. Academically, there are no distinctions between the colleges at home and those away. While the curriculum and level of teaching can be commendatory of one over the other, it boils down to the student’s eager desire to excel or not to excel. But as stated earlier, success is not restricted to just one’s academic performance. It’s an amalgamation of sheer determination to excel and reach greater heights.
The opportunities that metropolitan cities have over smaller ones are incomparable. These opportunities when grasped by an individual can lead to a positive change. It is improbable for one’s outlook to take a turn if one’s life is a constant cycle of everything that he’s familiar with. Growth and development can only occur when one is subjected to unfamiliarity and adversities. Such adversities are hard to come by if one has the comfort that has cushioned him for his entire life. He must venture out to gain perspective as an individual and in society. Students who relocate in diverse locations just to colonise and commune with each another exemplify a lack of social skills. As long as students continue to exist within the surroundings that they are most accustomed to and as long as they continue to interact with familiar people, the purpose of studying away from home becomes redundant. A higher number of students flock to different locations but only few can actually assert that it has reshaped their attitude. It’s futile and inane to travel across the country seeking education when as a matter of fact, you are not really receiving any. Our outlook, aspirations and desires can only be further moulded when we loosen ourselves from the manacles that confine us in this obliterating sphere.
Moving to a new place and making the effort to meet people can be a pain, but that pain builds character. A new identity emerges within the psyche of the individual that relocates himself to entirely new surroundings. He develops a propensity to be more independent. He gains a new perspective through the diverse crowd that he associates himself with. His ability to manage himself better is attributed to austere times he has confronted alone. The diverse social life will bear positive influence on his level of comfortability in interacting with unfamiliar crowd. However, there are times when people face the ruins of their lives by living outside their hometown. Distractions abound when one lives away from his home. With the absence of parents to monitor, there is no interference on one’s individual liberty. He is free to behave and do things as he pleases without his parents ever having knowledge of his activities. Thus, many a youth often exploit the confidence parents have in them. They take advantage of the circumstances that are before them. Choosing to study and live far away from parents should not be the reason for living a licentious lifestyle away from the prying eyes of parents. The freedom and independence that a youth enjoys away from home should account for more responsibility.
Life is an on-going process of introspection and the most rewarding forms of it are given to the ones who venture out. College is a time when we should discover and ignite our passions and ambitions; a time when we learn to step forth and be ourselves. Can we discover the purpose and meaning of our existence if we continually hold ourselves back?
The unfamiliar road that’s less trodden may seem apprehensive but the experience gained along its way enriches the mind and soul. The series of experiences one comes across develops the character without one realising it. Changes, deep and profound, occur within the minds of individuals – to seek the attainment of their maximum potential and to realise the opportunities that are at their fingertips. In the words of Terry Pratchett, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving”.
(The writer is pursuing his studies at Hindu College, Delhi).
Apropos the letter by Micheal N Syiem about naming of the Cherrapunjee Marathon (2nd Sohra Marathon), Run Meghalaya Association promoted the 1st Sohra Marathon held last year to basically get the feel on the prospects of promoting the Marathon in later years. There were 218 odd participants out of which only one was from outside the state who travelled here to run. The humble experience last year gave us the motivation to go ahead with the 2nd Sohra Marathon 2015 with the aim of organising professionally managed Marathons targeting runners from outside the state and the country. In fact, we started our branding with Sohra Marathon and associating the place with running in the rain and the mist. Unfortunately, this branding did not go well with the registrations by participants and sponsors since ‘Cherrapunjee’ has more branding coefficient than Sohra in the national and international perspective. For practical reasons we thought it was therefore appropriate to use at this stage the well known name of Cherrapunjee. I may mention that in my almost 36 years in the Indian Foreign Service , I have served and travelled 25 years abroad in practically all the continents of the world. Numerous times I was asked which part of India I belonged to. People looked blank when I say Shillong, Meghalaya or even North East India. Whereas most of them show signs of recognition when I tell them I live enar Cherrapunjee because most of them have invariably heard or read of Cherrapunjee the wettest place in the world in geography books.
This year out of 500 registrations so far, close to 150 are from all over India including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Assam, Tripura, West Bengal, Manipur and countries such as United States, Kenya, Poland , Denmark, Qatar, Great Britain, Nepal, Singapore, to name a few.
It is our innate desire nevertheless to promote the name of Sohra permanently . Our banner and logo already have the name of Sohra wherever applicable. Based on commitments and preparations already in the process we are using the name of 2nd Sohra Marathon also side by side . We hope for next year 3rd Sohra Marathon, the name of Cherrapunjee will not have to appear at all. Among other things we will have cultural activities along the way so that participants will never forget the name of SOHRA and also carry the memories with them and share with others .
I fervently appeal to all those who have expressed their sentiments about the name Sohra to cooperate fully with us this time . Also I would like to thank those who have even offered to contribute financially. Next year we can work together for an even bigger 3rd Sohra Marathon and bring in elite international professional runners and put the name of Sohra in the international Marathon Calendar. Please accept that we are also in the learning curve.
( President , RUN Meghalaya),
This has a reference to Mr J.D. Marbaniang’s letter to the editor under the caption “Unfair extension of Service” (ST June 9, 2015) in your esteemed daily.The construction of Myntdu – Leshka Hydro Electric Project (MLHEP), despite many problems was completed in 2012-13. This is an achievement and a blessing to the State; and the people involved in it should be proud of it. MLHEP contributes nearly half of the energy supplied by the Meghalaya Power Generation Corporation Ltd to MePDCL.
The induction of MLHEP in the power system has changed the power equation of the state. Today the State is back to ‘surplus’ position and, is in a position to even surrender the costlier sources of power from outside. It appears that some people who do not appreciate this achievement have taken upon themselves to ensure that the MLHEP and the people involved in it are put in bad light before the public.
As on today, the project is working well and as per design. The cost and the expenditure of the project which was based on the estimate of 1999 has escalated. However, these costs have been monitored/checked/verified and audited by various Nodal institutions/Agencies like the CAG, the Internal Audit of MeECL, etc. Recently the Government of Meghalaya had also constituted a Technical Committee which included NT, Roorkee. The report which has already been submitted had clearly stated that the cost of the project is reasonable and is comparable with other projects recently completed or going to be completed soon in Himalayan regions which are known for complex geology.
The details of the construction and implementation of the project has been placed before the floor of the house in 2014 as demanded by the Opposition, who had also made on the spot inspection to verify its functioning. In all of the above reports the charges of the so called ‘misuse of power’ by the undersigned, which resulted in 4-5 times increase of the cost is unfounded. The statement of J.D. Marbaniang that the undersigned had misused his financial powers in Leshka Hydro Electrical Project which resulted in 4 to 5 times increase of the original estimated cost is, therefore, ill intended and unfounded. Therefore, since the statement has put my reputation before the public in poor light, I demand that J.D. Marbaniang come out with established facts that attribute the increase due to my misuse of power or he must tender public apology within 7 days, failing which the undersigned will press legal action against him.
Lumjingshai, Short Round Road,
SHILLONG: The Meghalaya Government is planning to sign a peace pact with the United A’chik Liberation Army (UALA) within 10 days.
UALA, a breakaway faction of ANVC-B, was formed by Norrok X Momin alias Singbirth Marak.
An official-level meeting was held between senior officials of the Home and Police departments with the UALA leaders and interlocutors from Garo Hills at the Police Guest House, Golf links on Friday.
“The talks are at an advanced stage and we wanted to explore the ways and means to sign an agreement with UALA at the earliest,” an official source said, adding that a formal agreement is expected within a week or 10 days.
The source added that the current strength of UALA stood at 72 as claimed by its leadership.
The official neither disclosed the demands made by the UALA nor mentioned anything about the financial and other packages to be provided by the Government once the UALA cadres are rehabilitated.
According to the source, it was for the first time that a high-level talk was held with UALA as the outfit had earlier held negotiations with the church leaders from Garo Hills who were appointed by the Government as negotiators.
Several rounds of talks were held at Tura in which modalities for laying down arms and officially joining the mainstream were discussed.
On December 15, the ANVC and its splinter group, the ANVC-B, had laid down arms and signed a peace pact with the State Government.
A police official said that the meeting was very confidential and hence the details of the meeting were not shared with the media.
Media persons were not even allowed to enter the venue where the closed-door meeting was held on Friday.
However, it was evident that UALA members escorted by police entered the guest house in three vehicles and discussed various issues.
Sources informed that the meeting was so confidential that only CID Chief S.K. Jain along with some police officers was present while many senior officers were not even aware of the meeting.
After UALA was formed in February 2013 by Norrok who was the action commander of ANVC-B Novembirth Marak, a former self-styled general secretary of GNLA, joined UALA as its chairman in October 2013 to strengthen the outfit.
Novembirth was arrested twice – one in November 2010 from Siliguri and again in June last year from a hospital in Guwahati.
Novembirth along with other senior leaders were present during the meeting on Friday.
Besides boasting of a strength of 72, the outfit has a sizable number of weapons including grenades which were taken away from ANVC-B camps before they formed the present organization.
UALA had also recruited several Garo youths from Goalpara to its fold in the past.
Soon after its formation, the UALA had declared that they will also fight for the cause of the Garos living in Assam.
Police had confirmed the involvement of UALA in the killing of seven people, six from Rabha tribe in Goalpara on November 3, 2013 prior to the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council elections. Nine persons were injured in the incident.
Intelligence reports said that UALA was also allegedly involved in Garo-Rabha conflicts in the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC) area of Goalpara and the neighbouring Kamrup (Rural) district. The militant outfit had opposed inclusion of Garos in Assam in the RHAC.
While police and the administration in the past had pointed finger at Norrok, who was with ANVC-B, as the mastermind behind the attack on Williamnagar jail in February, 2013 in which two jail officials – Assistant Jailer Neil Warjri and Warder Sarai Singh Thabah – were dragged out and shot dead in cold blood, the ANVC-B had denied the charges.
The initial suspicion of the police was on GNLA. However, the magisterial probe into the incident did not name any militant outfit and wanted the police to further investigate the matter.
Four candidates remain in fray
SHILLONG: Considering the vulnerability of Chokpot, eight companies of Central Para-military forces will be deployed for the June 27 by-poll.
Chief Electoral Officer P. Naik on Friday said that additional forces will be deployed to ensure a free and fair election.
Out of the 46 polling stations under Chokpot constituency, a majority of them has been tagged as hypersensitive due to the presence of militants especially the GNLA.
The deployment of additional forces was necessitated as the existing forces will have to concentrate general on law and order duties.
The number of contesting candidates have now come down to four after the nominations of Daewish S Marak was found to be invalid and another candidate Secondson A Sangma, an advocate, withdrew from the fray.
Nominations can be withdrawn till 3 pm on Saturday.
Ban on exit polls: The Election Commission of India has imposed restriction on conduct of any exit poll and publication and dissemination of result of such exit poll by means of print or electronic media or dissemination in any other manner between 7 am and 5:30 pm on June 27.
The Election Commission has also prohibited displaying of any election matter including results of any opinion poll or any other poll survey, in any electronic media, during the period of 48 hours ending with the hours fixed for conclusion of poll for the by-election.
SHILLONG: In yet another case of high handedness of the Dorbar Shnong, a resident of Umsaw village in West Khasi Hills District was allegedly ostracized by the village Dorbar.
Police informed that 67-year-old Maksingh Wahlang of Umsaw village was tortured, threatened and ostracized by the village Dorbar after he was accused of practicing witchcraft.
The Dorbar also demanded Rs.20,000 from the victim who was not permitted to enter the village.
The victim has filed a police complaint in this regard.
LAMA outfit behind kidnap of Assam traders in Garo Hills
TURA: The military chief of a newly created armed group called the Liberation A’chik Matgrik Army (LAMA) which was one of the main groups behind a string of kidnappings of Assam traders inside Garo Hills has given himself up to police at Ampati on Friday evening.
LAMA outfit chief Cherang D Shira who was known in his former outfits of GNLA and AMEF as Goran, Janat and sometimes as Jankrikra Matgrik, surrendered before Ampati police with an assortment of weapons.
He handed over four handguns – two 9mm pistols, a .32 pistol and a Japanese pistol along with five empty magazines.
The wanted militant also deposited four crude bombs, a walkie-talkie handset with battery, 6 rounds of 9 mm ammo along with a GNLA ID card with the name Merakpa K Marak and ten demand notes of AMEF outfit.
The militant leader who hailed from Arenggre village of Betasing was earlier with the GNLA but defected with Jack Marak to form the AMEF. After Jack Marak was killed in a police encounter in North Garo Hills in May this year, Cherang left AMEF to form his own group and began operating in the Ampati region.
His group was allegedly behind several kidnappings of Assam traders from the Ampati region.
The recent kidnapping and murder of a 65-year-old cashew trader is believed to be the handiwork of the same group. The victim’s 12-year-old grandson remains untraced.
The surrender is believed to be due to sustained operations by police against the group. Ampati police successfully rescued an abducted manager of a local firm and also nabbed a Muslim collaborator who was acting as a pointsman for the group to kidnap traders entering from Assam.
Ampati police narrowly missed the LAMA chief during a late night operation in Betasing area late month but ultimately forced the criminal to give himself up to authorities.
SHILLONG: There seems to be no let up in reports of smuggling of banned items inside the Shillong District Jail with the latest case being the seizure of three grams of ganja (cannabis) from the possession of an under trial prisoner.
Police informed that on Friday three grams of ganja and cash Rs. 360 were recovered from Differson Mawkdoh, a UTP. He was arrested immediately.
The Superintendent of the district jail has lodged an FIR in this regard.
Reliving the past screened at Asian Confluence
Shillong: Academicians normally capture history in words.
Dr Shobhan N Lamare, Associate Professor, North Eastern Hill University, however goes one step further. He has produced a documentary of the Jaintia Hills-Jaintiapur route via the Thlu Umwi River, over which a bridge of huge stones was built by people in the past.
It is believed that two brothers who were giants had built the bridge. The absence of written history of that era, however, makes it difficult to date the stones.
The hour-long documentary titled Reliving the Past was screened at the Asian Confluence on Friday.
Taking the audience through a wonderful journey of a land once covered with lush green forests and sparkling rivers, Dr Lamare focuses on the variety of stones including monoliths and megaliths.
The flat stones are perhaps used for sitting and resting after a long and tiring journey while the tall standing ones are memorials of events in the lives of people at the time.
Captured on camera are the intricate sculpting works on stones. The figures look pretty much like the figurines one is likely to find in the famed Ajanta and Ellora caves of Maharashtra.
The documentary looks into the remnants of art and architecture as a text to weave a complex narrative about the integrated political and cultural history of the Jaintia people beyond the cartography of the colonial rulers.
The documentary also tries to trace the colonial route between Jaintiapur which is now in Bangladesh and Nartiang, the summer capital of the Jaintia Raja. As a good film maker, Dr Lamare, who is the sole narrator of events, also gives the audience a close look at what Jaintia Hills used to be and where it is headed today as people mindlessly destroy artifacts including wells, sculpted stones and boulders that tell their own story but which today are seen only as boulders to be carted to Bangladesh and sold there.
The documentary aims to wake up the people of Jaintia people and to evoke in them a sense of sacredness of their history and heritage.
What is also captured in the film is the indigenous irrigation system of the Khasi-Pnar people using bamboos over long stretches. This is something that has fascinated visitors to this region.
Dr Lamare has local assistants and a forest officer who helps him to decipher much of what he sees along the track, much of what is obliterated both physically and from peoples’ memories as well.
The Committee for listing Heritage sites and building constituted by the State Government would do well to take a look at this documentary and also to do something to salvage the rich, historic sites.
SHILLONG: The Under Secretary to the Government of Meghalaya, Personnel and Administrative Reforms Cell, has announced that the State Government has decided to adopt the provision of self-certification of documents like mark sheet, birth certificate and others for the purpose of admission in schools and colleges within Meghalaya and for candidates applying for the State-sponsored seats in engineering, medical, veterinary and agriculture colleges.
The statement said that these documents can, henceforth, be attested by the applicants instead of attestation by gazetted officers or by filing of affidavits. The original documents will have to be produced by the applicants for verification at the final stage.
“Any candidate falsely certifying documents are liable to be criminally prosecuted in a court of law,” the statement added.
TURA, June 12: An alleged human trafficking racket came to the fore after one of the purported victims contacted his family sometime last week seeking help in his rescue. The case came to the fore after the victim’s family contacted a member of an NGO in North Garo Hills (NGH) seeking help in the rescue after which the family filed an FIR in the Dainadubi outpost to seek police help in the matter.
According to the family, Pongkash Rabha (21) of Rongmaklong, Damas, under Mendipathar Police Station in NGH has been missing since April 4, 2014 along with two of his friends who were lured into a job racket scam. Rabha only called home last week and said he was not sure where he was but the place he was in seemed like Kerala.
SHILLONG, June 12: The Molor Association of Dwara Nongtyrnem Sirdarship (MADNS) has sought the Governor’s intervention into the ‘non-inclusion’ of Garo dominated villages in the KHAD (Village Administration) Bill (VAB), despite them falling under the jurisdiction of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC).
According to the association, out of 31 villages under the Dwara Nongtyrnem Sidarship, 27 villages are dominated by the Garos and headed by ‘molors’ or ‘head’ while only four are Khasi villages.
TURA, June 12: In a major boost to the ongoing battle against extremist groups in Meghalaya, the commander in chief of the Liberation of Achik Matgrik Army (LAMA) and the former deputy commander of the Achik Matgrik Elite Force, Chesrang D Sangma alias Goran alias Janat alias Jankrika Matgrik on Firday surrendered to the police of South West Garo Hills (SWGH).
The self styled commander in chief of LAMA surrendered to police in the town of Ampati at 6:10 pm. While the reason for the surrender is still sketchy, increased police operations against the outfit after its links to cross border groups in kidnappings could be the reason. However the police officials remained unreachable for comment on the matter.
SHILLONG, June 11: The Chief Executive Member (CEM) of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), PN Syiem on Thursday said that the opposition All Regional Parties Alliance (ARPA) should come out clear whether it wants the Ordinance or the Village Administration Bill (VAB).
“As of now, the ARPA is only talking about the original VAB but fails to discuss the Ordinance,” Syiem told reporters after a meeting with a delegation of the Meghalaya Indigenous Youth Federation (MIYF) here on Thursday.
According to him, this has brought about confusion among the public.
SHILLONG, June 11: Protesting against the Mawmluh Cherra Cements Limited (MCCL) management’s failure to pay their salaries for the last eight months, the employees of this public sector staged a sit-in-demonstration demanding the state government’s intervention.
The state BJP leaders also joined the MCCL employees in their demonstration on Thursday.
Besides demanding their pending salaries, the MCCL employees also called for the operationalization of the extension plant known as the dry process which was constructed over a decade ago.
KOLKATA, June 11 (IANS): In what can be a scene straight from Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Psycho”, police have come across a man who has been living with the corpse of his sister and two dead dogs for the past six months in Kolkata.
Police stumbled on the skeletons on Wednesday night while investigating the death of Arabinda De, the owner of the house whose charred body was found inside a bathroom hours earlier.
Police reached the house in south Kolkata’s Shakespeare Sarani after getting a call about a fire.
TURA, June 11: In another shocker to join the long list of misadventures of the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL), residents of the town of Phulbari in West Garo Hills (WGH), about 80 kms from the town of Tura, have been without electricity since Monday. Residents of the town are now at their wits end as there is not even a helpline within the town to inform them on what exactly the problem could be.
Residents of the region have also complained that since the disruption of electricity, they have not even been able to get potable drinking water as the PHE pump cannot run.
Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR)
The Village Administration Bill 2014 (VAB2014), as proposed by KHUDA of Congress in 2011, passed by ARPA, a conglomeration of regional parties in 2014 and finally reforwarded by Congress led PDF in 2015, is a shoddy piece of legislation that betrays the call of the people to democratise the Dorbar Shnong and the Rangbah Shnong. The bill fails to respect and protect traditional village level autonomy and processes and to help them transform into legally consistent institutions to meet modern day demands for transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and participation.
The amended VAB2014 as it stands now still DOES NOT meet the requirements to ensure devolution of powers and empowerment of the people. Given that the ‘original’ bill was internally inconsistent, bad in law and replete with drafting errors, much of the 23 amendments brought by PDF are to do with correcting these.
ELECTIONS NOT NOMINATION
A notable amendment is that to section 8. The Power of the Dorbar Shnong or the people has been partially asserted where Section 8 has now been amended to drop the word Nomination making it read as Election and Confirmation of Rangbah Shnong. This is an important amendment as it ensures participation of all indigenous persons of the village and does not restrict choice to only certain clans and only to men. However, section 8(1)(i) still insists that the District Council has to ‘approve’ of the election and only after that can a sanad be issued by the Chief. This goes against the spirit of the act as it attempts to centralize powers with the District Council. This provision combined with the Emergency Powers of Sec 19 which have not been amended, is a lethal combination that threatens the very basis of the institution of the Dorbar Shnongs. Through Sec. 19 the District Council can suspend and supersede the Rangbah Shnong, Assistant Rangbah Shnong, Secretary and any committees formed in the village. Such a section does not appear in the JHADC Village Administration Bill. It is a dangerous section that will definitely be abused and misused. Sec 19 also seriously erodes the power of the Dorbar Shnong and the people who should have control over their villages and resources. It is shocking that the JAC of the Synjuk Ki Rangbah Shnong did not have the wisdom and courage to demand removal of such a draconian clause. This section of the VAB should be removed from the act and demands for the same will continue.
Women should take the opportunity of claiming their rights under this act given that the term Khasi Inhabitants in Sec 2(7) and Section 4(1) have not been defined. Sec 2(7) and Sec 4 (1) of the VAB states that the Dorbar Shnong will include KHASI INHABITANTS of 18years and above. The term should therefore be widely interpreted as including both men and women. In Sec 2(22), Rangbah Shnong has been defined as a ‘Traditional Head’ not specifying male or female. Sec 8(2) and 8 (3) states that a Rangbah Shnong should be a person above 25 years of age and resident of the village for at least ten years. PERSON has not been specified as male. This opens the way for women to be considered for the post of Rangbah Shnong. Further, it needs to be remembered that in Dwara Nongtyrnem and Shella Wahadadarship Elaka Acts, terms used are gender neutral, setting precedence for the fact that traditionally too, women have rights as full members of the Dorbar. So as per the VAB, women are full and active members of the Dorbar with full rights to vote and be voted. This is the progressive interpretation which even the representatives of the District Council agreed should be the norm when asked to clarify on several sections during a recent public debate. In fact it was made public that Sec 6 ‘Ka Teh Rangbah’ would be changed to ‘Ka Pynskhem Dkhot’ but this proposed amendment was defeated in the house in a compromise between PDF and ARPA which exposes their internalized anti-women attitudes. Regretably, even pro-establishment women’s groups exposed their own patriarchal mindset when they were ready to compromise the future of women by proposing a sell out token representation for women in the Executive Dorbar even though many other progressive voices including those of men reiterated that it is indeed time that the constitutional guarantees of equality are adhered to even in the Dorbar.
Unfortunately, Sec 6 and the language of the bill in general continues to be gender biased even though TUR vehemently demanded for changes to this and other clauses to ensure gender just terms and outcomes. However through progressive interpretations, TUR reiterates that the VAB has opened the way for full and active participation of women. Any obstructions to women’s complete participation in the Dorbar will be met with legal recourse including legal intervention from TUR to restore constitutional rights of women and such action will put the breaks on operationalising of the VAB as a whole.
TUR had also demanded that the traditional practice of having Seng Kynthei and Seng Samla in the Dorbar needs to be recognized in the VAB. The words ‘Seng Longkmie’ and ‘Seng Samla’ have now made an appearance in the definitions of the bill and the Dorbar has to constitute these. However, objections need to be put on record to the term ‘Longkmie’. A better term would have been Kynthei such that women who do not necessarily become a ‘longkmie’ or mother are also included in the term.
SECTION 5 & RESIDENTIAL CERTIFICATES
Post the amendments to VAB , some have cried foul over dilution of the supposed ‘heart of the VAB’ which according to them was Sec 5 (8) and Sec 5 (16). TUR disputes that the bill revolved around these sections. The bill as even its statement of object and reasons professes is to streamline and to provide for an efficient village administration which is transparent, accountable at the village level.
Section 5(8) has been amended to read that ‘The Dorbar Shnong may issue residential certificate to inhabitants of the village’. This is an amendment that will ensure that the bill does not get invalidated by existing laws of the country and gives room for the continuance of the practice of giving certificates to residents which are temporary in nature and which are issued in a specific need based manner. The amendment does not in any way threaten the protective mechanisms in place including that accorded in section 9 (12) of the VAB which states that ‘The Rangbah Shnong cannot issue residential certificates or No Objection Certificates to any (Non- Khasi) person without the prior approval and consent of Executive Dorbar, Elaka and the Executive Committee’. This Section of the VAB stops the Rangbah Shnong from issuing residential certificates indiscriminately. Moreover Sec 5(A)(x) states that the Duties and Responsibilities of the Dorbar Shnong is also ‘To make registration of all tenants, labourers, and outsiders compulsory’. This section will aid in moderating entry of outsiders into villages and should allay fears of the indigenous population. Moreover, micro-minorities such as Karbis, Lalungs, Rabhas in Meghalaya which have been assimilated into the Dorbar Shnongs need to be acknowledged and their rights met and this amendment positively contributes towards this.
5(16) which allowed the Dorbar Shnong to put restrictions on entry of non Khasi Indians into the villages, and which has now been removed, was untenable in law.
While there is insecurity among many regarding the changes and deletion of these two sub sections of section 5, TUR reiterates that defense of local indigenous interests lie in protecting land and resources which Section 19 of the VAB undermines. Moreover, movement of persons and labour is an economic reality which need not necessarily take away the rights of the indigenous workers provided that mechanisms like the reservation policies both in public and private sector are respected and entitlements be it Health, Education, PDS etc are ensured. Further, it is more crucial to protect Land and resources and hence to put a check on the swift entry of capital that threatens the indigenous interest. Therefore it is imperative that laws such as the Benami act, Land Transfer act etc and traditional land holding practices such as that of ‘Raid’ or Community land be respected and upheld in letter and spirit.
DORBAR SHNONGS & VILLAGE DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL
One of the fundamental problems with the Village Administration Bill in all its avatars has been the introduction of the structure called Village Development Council as envisaged in SEC 13-17. Formulated as a statutory permanent body in the village which shall receive all the development funds, VDC by the logic of finance undermines the Dorbar Shnong. Even though the VDC is answerable to the Dorbar Shnong, the VDC’s powers clash with that of the Dorbar. Experience with the Village Employment Councils have shown that existence of competing institutions of governance at the village level leads to many problems including corruption and ultimately paralysis in their functioning. Moreover, if the same people run the Dorbar Executive and the VDC simultaneously, there is going to be a complete lack of accountability and absence of any checks and balances.
Rather than have a separate VDC with its general council, it would better to devolve financial powers to the Dorbar Shnong itself. All rural development money should be routed through the Dorbar Shnong to break the stranglehold of the Rural Development bureaucracy and the MLAs, MPs & MDCs on rural development programmes in the state. Devolution of powers including financial will give a boost up to our traditional grassroots institutions as has been proved by the success of villages falling under the 73rd Amendment.
THE LAND QUESTION
The curious silence of the VAB on existing categories of land and the traditional structures of land management is shocking. Although the Act talks of community land, these community lands are not exclusively controlled by the village. Much of this community land is what is called ‘Raid’ land. Further, post the amendments, the VDC is appropriating the role and powers of the ‘Raid’ as per Sec 15(viii) which states ‘It shall be responsible in advocating on village/community land related issues affecting the landless and poor in the village’. In fact this section conflicts with the provisions of Sec 5(iii) of the VAB where the powers and functions of the Dorbar Shnong includes: ‘To protect and conserve all community lands and forestlands or any other village resources against land alienation and privatization for the interest of the village community’.
ORDINANCE Vs. VAB
Once the VAB receives the Governor’s assent, the Meghalaya Local Administration (Empowerment of Traditional Institutions, Traditional Bodies, Headmen in Governance and Public Delivery System) Ordinance 2015 promulgated by the Government is redundant and hence need not be regularized in the form of a legislation. The ordinance in any case was a temporary measure that does not encapsulate other aspects of village administration that feature in the VAB.
Rather than uselessly debating about the relative merits of the ‘original’ and ‘modified’ VAB, both of which are equally problematic, what is of urgency is to engage in the framing of rules to operationalise the act and also in pushing for immediate amendments to this bill notably Sec 19, Sec 8(1)(i) ,Sec 6, SEC 13- 17, etc . Unchecked powers of the District Council which through the VAB allows it to be the judge, jury and the executioner all at once, especially through the arbitrary process laid out in Sec 19(Emergency Powers), Sec 21 (Appeals) and Sec 22 (Review of Orders) need to be curtailed in the interest of the people and for survival of the traditional institutions. The rules should be framed in a consultative manner and not in secret through executive orders and should address modes and process of elections, constitution of executive dorbar and role of the ‘dong’ and ‘kyntoit’ etc.
Lessons from the VAB is that broad based public consultations is mandatory in formulating bills and acts. Further, clause by clause debating on a bill and the processes of first reading and second reading of bills should be respected and followed by representatives rather than disruptive and macho political grandstanding as was witnessed especially during the recent special session of the KHADC. Moreover, it is time to call the bluff and clear the confusion that was actively encouraged by many that the VAB is about the Rangbah Shnong and issuing of NOC’s. This was an erroneous and mischievous attempt by vested powers to sideline public interest and reduce the law as something to reestablish the unchecked appropriation of powers by the Rangbah Shnong over the years. This appropriation of powers which actually belong to and should be exercised by the Dorbar Shnong as a whole has blurred the fact that a Rangbah Shnong is merely a functionary of the Dorbar Shnong.
Lastly, it must be said that lasting contribution of the VAB conundrum is the fact that peoples groups are engaging with it and public interest around the bill has been generated which is forcing the government to bring out lengthy clarifications on the bill which are in fact long overdue. Such application of mind and scrutinizing of a legislation by citizens is crucial and should in fact be the norm that informs all bills and acts proposed and passed by the government.
(THMA U RANGLI JUKI / TUR is a progressive people’s collective).