Monday, August 29, 2011

Community participation and education in State

It is a known fact that if it is not for the initiative made by various Faith organizations and the community, the education scenario in the state would not have been like it is now. So, before the government even contemplates on the idea of encouraging community participation in education, in the so called public private partnership, the people of Meghalaya had already moved a step ahead to provide education to their children. It is the community which took initiatives in starting the various educational institutes from lower primary to college level and in many cases it is the (faith based organization) FBOs and the community which run the educational institutions.

Higher education in the entire State has opened up thanks to the state universities which cater to the need of thousands of students in the state. The state universities have started courses of studies in various disciplines to cater to innumerable needs of modern education. But the pertinent question is the standard or quality of the course studies offered by these universities. I am not questioning the credibility of these universities but my question is to the state government. Does the education department have any kind of mechanism in place to regulate and monitor the functions of these state universities? Something like the UGC for the central universities, or is it a free for all kind of a thing? Does the state government have any system to ensure that the students are not duped and the course of study they registered is up to the mark and worth the money they paid for?

Not only state universities provides higher education in the state, there are also innumerable institutions which offers different course of studies, does the government has any mechanism to check whether the courses offered by these institutes are up to the mark and whether they have qualified teaching faculty? Has the education department conducted any kind of inspection on these institution or universities and scrutinized the kind of courses study they offer? The state government can perhaps manage and control the state universities because the universities were created by the resolution of the state assembly, but the question is what about the numerous institutes which offer variety of course studies particularly in the state capital?

The state of affairs especially in the education sector in Meghalaya is that everything is concentrated in Shillong. We have every kind of educational institution of every shade opening shops in the state capital, but in the rest of the state particularly in Jaintia hills district, the educational opportunity that is available is not beyond graduation level. Till now there is very little scope for post graduation studies in district. The Pnar of Jaintia hills are said to be enterprising not because of those who own coal mines. There is no innovation whatsoever involved in mining coal or limestone. The rich coal mine and lime stone owners have not innovated any new business venture; their only investment is in buying property in Shillong and the metros and register themselves as government contractor and suppliers while few join politics. There is no creativity involved in that. In my opinion the enterprising people of Jaintia hills are those who foresee the future and started educational institutions to cater to the need of the future generation of the region. These Institutions were initially manage and funded by the entire community and in most cases the state government came in later to support these institutions; little though it be. For instance the Nongtalang College was started with a contribution made by the entire village by paying extra one rupee per kilogram of the rice they bought each month from the village fair price shop and I consider that innovative.

If we take the institutes of higher education into consideration, to begin with the only government college in the district which is now rechristened by the incumbent education minister as the Kiang Nangbah Government College was initially started by the community. Then we have the Nongtalang College, in Nongtalang and the Jaintia Eastern College in Khliehriat all these colleges were started by some enterprising people of the community. And the support these colleges received from the government is in the form of an ad hoc grant which has remained so for so long. The people of Jaintia hills have also started a law college known as Khad-ar Dalloi Law College, the college recently celebrated its silver jubilee in which the education minister government of Meghalaya Dr. RC Laloo was the chief guest. The very meaning of the word jubilee is to celebrate but the sad fact is that the gathering was informed that the 25 years old institute is on a verge of collapse. Those present in the gathering were informed that the academic council of the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) has decided to withdraw the provisional affiliation of the college to the University. To add to that there is no financial assistance coming forth from the government to support the college and enable the management to hire qualified teachers. In the 25 years of its existence the college is entirely funded by the community and the state government is yet to contribute to the recurring expenditure of the college despite the college having a sprawling campus and a building. The three mentioned colleges were purposely started to cater to the needs of the students whose parents cannot afford to send their kids to study outside their villages or town and if the state government is not supporting these college is it not a case of denying the student their basic right to education?

During the silver jubilee celebration of the Khat Ar Dalloi law college Dr. R.C. Laloo Minister of education GoM, in his response to the request for support made by the management of the college ducked the query by saying that he would not like to comment on something that he did not know. But what Dr Laloo seems to have forgotten is that he has been minister of education for many times now and if a professor in a university who was also a minister of education several times over can still feign ignorance of the nitty-gritty of the education department of the state and the University from which he still draws his salary then only God can help Meghalaya. Or does it mean that every time there is cabinet reshuffle, a minister has to unlearn whatever he has learned from the previous job before he takes on the new portfolio?

This is the state of affairs in Meghalaya where we have a problem of plenty in the city of Shillong, but in the remote towns and village there is a need for huge government support to ensure equal opportunity for all the students to continue their education. In the case of Jaintia hills district, the community has already led the way for the government to engage in the process by supporting the colleges in the so called PPP mode, but that is not forthcoming as of now. The state government is taking shelter in the excuse of ‘financial constraint’ and refuses to support or in the cases of the two rural colleges enhance the salary of the staff of these colleges.

It is also ironic that despite the presence of cement companies in Jaintia Hills District none of the cement companies has come forward to support these colleges. Even the state government has failed to make it dawn on the companies that it is imperative that they contribute to the development of the area in which they operate. As of now it is the office of the deputy Commissioner which holds the key to decide where the conglomerate of cement companies invest in. If the government of Meghalaya considers education as it top priority, it is time to make the companies invest in education as one of companies’ corporate social responsibility obligation and thereby make companies CSR contribution transparent. The companies enjoy tax holiday and 58 subsidies. It is time that the companies show some respect and contribute to the welfare of the state. (The writer is a research scholar and an elder of the Unitarian Church)

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)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Politics is all about power

Former Prime Minister of India, PV Narasimha Rao has rightly said that politics is the art of the possible; anything can happen in politics, a foe can turn friend overnight and vice-versa as long as power is shared between those destined to hold power. It seems for politicians of every hue there is only one important rule and that is to capture power by whatever means. Many, particularly Congress legislators in Mukul’s camp would not have expected that the MLA from Langkyrdem, Prestone Tynsong to be the twelfth man in Mukul’s cabinet. One would expect that someone from Mukul’s camp or even some other legislator from the opposite camp to be the twelfth man, but Tynsong was not on their radar screen.

If we are to believe Mukul Sangma who said before Tynsong took the oath of office, that selecting a cabinet minister is the CM’s prerogative, it remains to be seen if choosing Tynsong is a smart move or a blunder for Dr Sangma. Only time will tell if Tynsong will remain a foe or is a changed man since converted to a true friend (or as my daughters would say BFL best friends for life) especially because he was reinstated during the friendship week. Now the question for the Chief Minister is no longer the vacant 12th seat on the high table of power in the state but whether the twelfth man he has chosen will be Peter who would stand like a rock or remain a Judas who betrays the master at any available opportunity?

So far so good for the shrewd Langkyrdem MLA! Tynsong always managed to get himself a cabinet berth in almost every government in the state since he was elected MLA. Media persons have rightly questioned Tynsong whether he had inherited the knack to always be on the right side of the fence from his predecessor BB Lyngdoh or it has to do with the daw/rngiew (fate) of the constituency or sheer luck? But luck or no luck as for now Tynsong is a happy man even if it amounts to betraying his fellow legislators. For Tynsong it seems there is nothing wrong in switching sides as long as he is on the right side of power.

The leader of the opposite camp, DD Lapang claimed that the outcome of the settlement in the last Delhi durbar was to re-instate the four dropped cabinets but I bet that will be a difficult task for Mukul. The Congress claim of providing stable government during the elections is highly debatable if the state has to see cabinet reshuffle every six months. Now that Dr. Mukul has reinstated Prestone Tynsong as a cabinet minister the question is, can the MUA afford another cabinet reshuffle before 2013? The hope of the three MLAs axed from the cabinet and also many aspiring Congress party legislators is for another one last cabinet reshuffle before 2013. It matters not even if it is for mere six months period because everybody wants to face the election as a minister and only goodness knows why? For politicians it is not, ‘it is all about money, honey’, but it is all about power and nothing else because power is the source of money and more money.

Very recently, through media reports we were made to understand that there seems to be one exception to the common argument held by every politician that one can only serve one’s constituency by being in power. Common people are made to believe that there is one politician who does not follow the standard rule followed by the politicians ‘that one cannot serve the constituency without being in power.’ Pynshngain N Syiem MDC MLA Mawsynram is reported to have offered to resigned as the CEM of the KHADC stating that he would like to spend the remaining part of his tenure as the MLA and MDC to serve the people of his constituency. It was reported that Pynshngain offered to relinquish his position as the CEM of the KHADC to enable him to serve his constituency better. Only few people would buy this argument.

Everyone, even a kid in the street knows that there is no exception to the rule; all politicians would like to be in power and stay in power as long as possible. Their sole objective is to hold power some way or the other and any kind of power will do as long as it gives the person authority, powers and control. But there is a great difference in the way the three politicians in the state i.e. Dr. Mukul Sangma, Prestone Tynsong and Pynshngain Syiem retain their power.

We all know how Dr. Mukul used all means, by hook or by crook to stay in power even if it means not convening the Congress Legislature Party meeting for fear of being outnumbered by his opponents. Lucky for him that calling the CLP meeting is again another of his prerogatives but does this augur well for intra-party democracy in the party? Mukul stuck to the Chief Ministerial post like the leech to a human skin and it worked. No matter what other people including one’s colleague say, one should hold on to power if one wants to remain in power, come what may. Pynshngain Syiem used another trick to retain power; he offered to resign knowing that every MDC is a potential CEM candidate and ultimately he will retain the CEM’s post therefore offered to resign. On the other hand Pynshngain’s offer to resign was also an opportunity to test his popularity amongst his fellow MDCs and in the party and the outcome of the resignation episode is that it reinforces his position as CEM of the KHADC. Pynshngain emerged a stronger CEM from the few days of political drama in the KHADC, but the question is, does it? If Pynshngain is confident of being re-elected in 2013, he wouldn’t have influenced the powers that be to send a senior bureaucrat packing to Kolkata just because there is a rumour that he was tipped as a potential candidate against him in the next election.

Tynsong used an altogether different trick by rocking the boat he is in and any time an opportunity opens up he would jump to leave the sinking boat to its fate while he himself will survive the storm. And it has always worked for him! All the three politicians employ different tactic to stay in power and it works the same for all of them.

The fact that politics in Meghalaya is a perpetual power tussle among the politicians is very obvious in the three ADCs in the state. The Garo Hills Autonomous District Council has been under Administrator’s rule for more than six months and now it is the turn of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council to be in the administrator’s rule and goodness only knows for how long? The case of Jaintia hills is peculiar in the sense that the people voted the Congress to majority and subsequently the UDP MDC joined the party which means that Congress has the majority of 28 MDCs in the house of 29+1 nominated MDC. Who would ever think that Lamdibok’s EC is threatened when the party commands an absolute majority in the house? But politics is but a game to capture power. Hambertus Nongtdu who was ousted by Lamdibok Sumer used the remaining two opposition members Moonlight Pariat and E.S. Lyngdoh to propose a No Confidence Motion against Lamdibok’s EC and like they say the rest is history. Now if two (now only one) opposition member can defeat the Congress EC which has 28 MDCs in the 30 member house then the much talked about party discipline and the party’s claim of providing stability is but only the clanging of cymbals which reverberates in the wilderness.

The way both the legislative assembly and the councils were run during the last few years of this term is not something that will augur well for the Congress party which dominates the assembly and the three councils. The party will have a lot of convincing to do to persuade the people to vote for the party again on the promise of a stable EC or a stable Government. People have already seen that the Congress legislators and Councillors care a hoot about stability of the EC or the Government, but care only about the stability of their own powers and position. The Congress should set its house straight and it should start from Jaintia hills. If Congress allows Hambertus to become CEM it will not only fall into the trap of the lone opposition member who Hambertus hopes to accommodate in the next EC, but it is a matter of shame for the party and also questions the much talked about discipline in the party.

(The author is a research scholar and an elder of the Unitarian Church)