Monday, August 22, 2011

Convergence: Need of the hour

Government Departments are supposed to serve the people; hence the ultimate goal of the government is to see that that every department delivers the best of their respective services to the citizens of the state. Usually, the way various departments execute their work is at the departmental level. They proceed at a level parallel to each other. There has never been an incident of a convergence even if all the departments are supposed to serve the (same) people and at times implement identical projects. The way various government departments function is independent of each other and due to this aloofness of one department against the other sometimes there is duplication of the same work. For instance the District Council like the Fisheries department of the Government of Meghalaya also provide grant for fish farming. The District Council provides schemes for construction of latrines and the department of PHE is also implementing a centrally sponsored scheme for the same purpose.

In one of my visits to Sohkha village, it was a pleasant surprise to see poly-houses before entering the village. Curious as I am, I went to see and enquire about the new addition to the village landscape and was informed that the poly houses are orchid plantations introduced by the department of Horticulture. The Department of Horticulture, Jaintia hills District has introduced an orchid plantation in certain parts of the District. When I asked the District Horticulture officer in Jowai whether the species that was distributed to the farmers are endemic to the district, the answer was negative. I was told that the seedlings supplied to the orchid farmers are from the other states of the country. When I ask him why not introduce the many local orchids that are available in the area for commercial plantation, the officer said we have to get the permission of the Wildlife department to begin the process of tissue culture of the local species. On being asked whether the department has taken any initiative to seek permission and start the process of tissue culturing the orchids from the Wildlife department, the answer he gave me was, ‘It is a complicated situation’. It seems like there is no inter-departmental communication between the two departments to start the process of tissue culture of the local orchids before they become extinct.

I was given to understand that if we begin the process of tissue culturing of all the orchids that are growing wild in the state, we can start commercial plantation of all the wild orchids that are endemic to the state. In the process we not only help preserve the endangered orchids but we also popularize the unique flower that we are proud of. And in addition the department will also be able to add another farming item to the list of its initiative to improve the livelihood of the farmers of the state. I think it is high time that the department of horticulture start a channel of communication with the wildlife department to help save our endangered orchids from extinction and create another source of income for the people.

Wild mushrooms are a favourite delicacy of the people in many parts of the world. In the Khasi Jaintia hills there are more than 30 species of edible wild mushrooms that grow in the wild twice in a year. I did the counting personally by walking with the cow herders who also collect wild mushrooms in the Puriang area about 10 or 15 years ago and then confirmed the same with the women in the kitchen only to be enlightened that every wild mushroom has a local name. Here again is an area where the Agriculture department can start the process of thinking-out-of-the-box for the benefit of the local farmers and to preserve and protect the locally available wild mushrooms. The department of Agriculture instead of popularizing button mushroom which is available all over the world, should get the tissue culture of all the indigenous mushrooms and start commercial plantation of wild mushrooms in the state. May be this is the area that the NEHU can come in and help the state to propagate commercial plantation of orchids and wild mushrooms.

It may sound absurd but if the Government starts encouraging inter-department collaboration, there will be less duplication of work and the project will cost less. For instance if the PWD can construct a bridge in collaboration with the PHE and the department of Soils and Water Conservation, the bridge can also be a check dam to irrigate the farming areas adjacent to the project, a water reservoir to supply water to the villages in the project’s vicinity and the fishery department can supply fish to be put in the dam. The multi-purpose project can benefit the people in many ways and also improve the economy of the area. The closest example is the Umiam project and Umiam seems to be the only project of that sort and when it was conceived. That’s the last time ever since our leaders and bureaucrats put on their thinking caps. And that was during the time of the Assam Government!

Another area where an inter-department collaboration can work is development of catchment areas of the many rivers in the state. From limited experience that I had with tree plantation, I realize that very rarely would people take care of the tree saplings that were planted to celebrate various occasions. And if the trees are planted in the government areas it will at the end of the day be a mere completion of another government formality and the respective department will not even bother to take care of the planted saplings. If the Agriculture department in collaboration with the various departments of forest supply fruit tree saplings for planting in the catchment areas, it will certainly be a different story. People’s attitude towards fruit producing trees is different and they will take good care of the trees because the trees can be an immediate source of extra income for the family. During the vanamhotsava week, fruit trees should be distributed to people instead of tree saplings some which are not even native to the place.

Under MNREG Scheme many VECs have undertaken tree plantation in their respective villages, the department of Agriculture in collaboration with the Forest department should encourage the VECs to plant more fruit trees and this will also help improve the economy of the farmers in the area. One of the most popular projects undertaken by the VECs under MNREG scheme is construction of ponds and check dams for water harvesting. In order to make the best use of MNREG Scheme, government should encourage the VECs to collaborate with the department of water and soil conservation and with the fishery department to jointly conceive the multipurpose project to derive maximum benefit from the scheme.

The department of Agriculture and Horticulture in particular in its effort to help the farmers improve their economy has introduced large-scale cultivation of foreign crops like strawberry, baby corns, kiwi, roses and other flowers, it is time that the department start to do tissue culture on many flowers, fruits and vegetables that are endemic to this area for commercial plantation. Interestingly enough the state also has numbers of chilies and spices which has gradually disappeared from the market and family’s kitchen table, the concern department should start doing tissue culture on these too.

Meghalaya lives in the villages and if the villagers’ economy is improved the economy of the state will also grow. For four decades the various departments in our State have functioned independently of each other and that is the reason why development of the state has not happened at the desired pace and the village economy has not improved. The government should encourage inter-departmental collaboration whenever or wherever it is feasible to speed up development in the state and improve rural economy.

(The writer is a researcher and an elder of the Unitarian Church)

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