The decades old standoff pertaining to the construction of the railway network in the Khasi Hills region between the Khasi Students Union (KSU) and the state government received support from the Association of Democracy and Empowerment (ADE), Garo Hills, on July 14, 2017, as the NGO put its weight behind the protest against the upcoming rail connectivity to the region.
While lending its support to this opposition against the advent of railways into the Khasi Hills, the ADE opined that the Mendipathar railway station, located in Resubelpara Municipal Board Jurisdiction as a branch of the Barauni–Guwahati line which connects Dudhnoi in Assam and Mendipathar in Meghalaya, has done nothing to help the region grow but only brought an addition of cases of crime.
The train station was inaugurated by the Prime minister of India, Narendra Modi on November 30, 2014, through a video feed to the ceremony gathering at Mendipathar. The Mendipathar - Guwahati passenger is only train from the station.
It may be mentioned that ADE with other NGOs is fighting for a comprehensive mechanism to check influx, like the Inner Line Permit (ILP), for a very long time. In the previous years, the Garo NGO had several rounds of talks with the authorities and were assured of an all inclusive mechanism like the influx check gate, registration of tourists or skilled or unskilled labors and such, will be implemented along the border areas but nothing has been done on the ground since then, so people have lost their faith on all such empty promises by the government.
The Garo NGO, while extending its support to protests against railways in the Khasi Hills argued that the so called fully functional Mendipathar Railway Station near the Assam border has contributed nothing but a single passenger train which runs between Mendipathar to Guwahati and vice versa. People of the entire Garo Hills region, except the nearby areas, couldn’t avail its services due to the unreasonable timing of its operation. However according to the NGO there have been an increase in crimes like abduction, sexual harassment and theft.
ADE further urged the government to understand the real concerns behind the protest, as they also recognize the revolutionary leap in transportation that can be achieved through railway connectivity around the state for the common people, but their concerns are also about the collateral damages these projects could cause to the ethnic people of the state. As a matter of fact the state is now going through a very critical phase of ethnicity crisis due to heavy influx especially along the border areas.
It may also recalled that even the KSU have agreed that they will allow the railways project only after a practical mechanism to checked influx are being implemented by the state government whereas the incumbent Chief Minister, Dr Mukul M Sangma has further aggravated the situation for not showing keen interest to talk with the opposing organization and has instead added that he wishes to extend the railway line to the tourist spot, Cherrapunjee as a Romantic Railways ride for the young couples.
In the past there were rumours that the truck owners were opposing the railway head, fearing they will be out of business, because some individuals owned as many as 100 trucks. The National Green Tribunal blanket ban on Rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya has relegated transportation by trucks to a negligible amount and such activities are now confined only to the transportation of essential commodities from other states.
The restriction of truck plying in the city, except via the bye-pass and National Highways has further reduced the once most lucrative transport business. At present the key reason for the opposition is the influx phobia and the support suspected to be rendered by the truck mafia is now ruled out. Therefore, the state government and the opposing NGOs should have an open mind when they sit for negotiations on the issue.
The decades long standoff has taken many twists and turns and now the government, NGOs and general public should have understood the pros and cons of the railways project for Meghalaya. Therefore, the mood of discussion too should work out a better and more comprehensive mechanism to check influx as demanded by the NGOs, then only will the railway project could see the light.