Meghalaya ill equipped to tackle advancing monsoon and vector borne diseases

Written by Meghalaya Times. Posted in Editorial

Thomas Lim
The advancing monsoon has already created havoc in Assam, and other neighbouring North Eastern states and in the hills state of Meghalaya, the low land areas are being choked due to poor management of civic bodies, while landslides along the National Highways have disturbed the traffic flow and at the same time have claimed a few innocent lives. All such hindrances caused by rainfall are attributed to poor execution of development, particularly the expansion of four lane, at the same time a lack of field officers to assess the situation which have all caused an epidemic of vector borne diseases.

The Meghalaya government might have been spending a lot of public funds in the name of restoring the water bodies in the state, so also the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, but ground reality is that the situation remains the same as the odor from the sewage system is polluting the society during the dry season and absence of rainfall. The urban sectors, particularly the commercial areas are the most affected areas in the state, as the state government has totally failed to clean up the places due to the unhealthy practices of waste disposal across the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission seeking to achieve its targets by October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The mission has gathered pace since its launch on October 2, 2014 from Varanasi and aims to construct 10.4 million individual household toilets and 508,000 community and public toilets, as also ensure 100 percent scientific disposal of municipal solid waste in 4,041 designated towns.
The levy of 0.5 percent Swachh Bharat cess on taxable services came into effect from November 15, 2015. With the imposition of the cess, the service tax rate has gone up from 14 percent to 14.5 percent on all taxable services. It is expected to fetch the exchequer about Rs.3,800 crore in the remaining months of the fiscal.  It will translate into a tax of 50 paise on every Rs.100 worth of taxable services. Service tax on restaurant bills will go up from 5.6 percent to 5.8 percent following the levy of 0.5 percent Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, cess.
Yet there is no significant improvement, most of the toilets constructed are not serviceable, trashcans are either burned or not at all maintained and waste accumulates till the rain water washes them away.
The Delhi High Court (HC) on January 28, 2015 pulled up the Deputy Commissioners of Municipal Corporation of Delhi present in the court for the failure to keep the national capital clean. The court while slamming the authorities of civic bodies asked whether they feel pain when they go around in their areas and see litter on the roads. The Division bench of Justices B.D. Ahmed and Sanjeev Sachdeva wondered how Delhi would become a world class city when it is not even an Asia class city.
The court also added the Central Government, New Delhi Municipal Council, Public Works Department, Delhi Cantonment Board and Delhi Jal Board as parties in the case and issued notices to them and has sought their response by March 18. It also asked civic bodies to file a status report on the sanitation issue in the capital. The court was hearing a Public-Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Nyaya Bhoomi on the poor state of public toilets, infrastructure and facilities in health and educational institutions in Delhi.
Meghalaya is in a no better situation, be it the Wahumkharah and Umshyrpi Rivers pollution problems, stones and sand quarries in Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, Ri Bhoi or Garo Hills. Dumping grounds in Jaintia Hills, Khasi Hills and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban on rat hole coal mining is yet to get the attention of the district administrations.
The next issue of concern is earth cutting after the massive landslide that blocked the Highway for over 20 hours and claimed a life, forcing the Ri Bhoi district administration to issue a blanket ban on earth cutting. Where was the same authority when the cutting of hills was taking place for the four laneing of the Highway? Such unscientific soil cutting was pointed out by various quarters including the media, yet the district administration refused to act. The Agency engaged for this earth cutting should be booked for the loss of an innocent life.
Chief Minister Dr. Mukul M Sangma, after visiting the flood affected areas in the plain belts of Garo Hills had ordered the district administration to file an FIR against the people involved in wanton destruction of river banks for the purpose of mining stones. Once again where are the concerned authorities including the Nokmas (village heads) while the mining was taking place?
All the three incidents are akin to a screen play in Bollywood movies where the police personnel will arrive at the scene after the crime has been committed and the criminals have fled. Prior to that the district administration, judiciary and government are either too occupied in keeping their chairs or dozing off, hence failing to tackle the situation before it totally ruins the environment and also the livelihood of the tribals.
Even after such disasters, the government is yet to act on relocating the people who have suffered, providing employment or making them self employed with various industrial development schemes and streamlining the marketing network for local products like floriculture, horticulture and handicraft.
The tour operators in Meghalaya had made various attempts to promote Meghalaya as one of the tourist spots, highlighting events such as the Sohra Fest and places such as the sacred groves; however the core sector of cleanliness and good hospitality had failed on all fronts.
One of the main concerns is the depleting condition of William Wards’ Lake where the water in the artificial lake is being polluted by a hotel, guest houses and restaurants. The stakeholders, social organizations, environmentalists nor the government have never made any attempt to revive the beauty of the lake which is at the heart of the state capital. How does one expect the maintenance of the remaining tourist spots in the outskirts of the state capital?
Starting from the view point at Umiam which is newly constructed, the location has returned to its former glory as a dumping spot. At the same time the absence of even a paid toilet nearby has defeated the very concept of making it a tourist spot.
While the city itself suddenly saw the mushrooming of public toilets, without proper water supply and septic tanks it is so evident that the department concerned wanted to utilize the funds provided thereby constructing the toilets but without proper facilities, except four walls and the roof.  Here too, none of the citizens ever raised a question as how such toilets were constructed without the necessary provisions.
Lady Hydari Park is making an attempt to implement a plastic free zone. Like other tourist spots outside Meghalaya, the checking is done and the eatables packed in plastic are removed. However, once inside the park there are no provisions to help tourists with their food. On the other hand, inside the park one can find any kind of discarded materials all over.
Narendra Modi’s ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ or clean Indian concept was also launched in Meghalaya, but only on October 2 and the following two days were more for group photographs and public gatherings. After that the entire city was back to its normal routine of garbage strewn all over the city. While the Green and Clean Shillong slogan was raised years ago, it has had no effect with the ground reality turning from bad to worse. It is time for the Meghalaya High Court to take a cue from the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court and pull up the government machinery for its failure to clean up Meghalaya which is causing havoc during monsoon.


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