Shillong, Dec 30: 2011 has been a mixed bag of events which turned out lucky for bravadoes for the dare and courageous while left despair for those who lost. The year started with a bang of fires and arson as Meghalaya saw one of its worst ethnic clashes between Garos and Rabhas along the Meghalaya – Assam border. That aside, the year went off peaceful except for Meghalaya’s trademark political turmoil and fight for the musical chair.
The ethnic clashes are reported to have been triggered in Assam near Nabang after a church pastor and a marriage party were allegedly attacked by Rabhas on December 24.
But it was only on the eve of the New Year that the Garos reacted and by January 1, reports of sporadic incidents of arson and clashes between the two tribal communities from East Garo Hills started to pour in with focus being Nalbari. And January 3 witnessed the first curfew of the year in the district and the State.
The tension in the district only grew with days to follow, reaching its height by the end of January first week. Subsequently, additional police forces, BSF and even Army were deployed in the East Garo Hills district to control the volatile situation. The communal clashes reportedly displaced 50,000 people and claimed 10 lives.
The government had to erect relief camps which sheltered Garos from Assam side and Rabhas from Meghalaya side. Notably, the effect of the clash was such that even after 4 months since the clashes erupted, relief camps were still running. According the East Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner, the last relief camp in Meghalaya was closed on May 16. From Meghalaya, as per official record, 1036 families were affected for which government had to pay almost Rs 3.5 crores as compensation.
Next major news of the year was the rumblings in the State Congress Camp which took over the headlines of every newspaper as Congress legislators were camping in the national capital for the first half of the year. Which led the Leader of Opposition in Meghalaya Assembly Conrad Sangma to comment “Meghalaya should declare its Secretariat in New Delhi and not in Shillong”.
The rumblings finally came to a halt, atleast from the public perspective, on June 7 when Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma axed four ministers from his cabinet for revolting against him. However, he later had to re-induct Prestone Tynsong as the forest minister whom the CM had earlier axed from the ministry whilst he held the PHE and GAD portfolio.
Soon after the rumblings cooled and it looked like government will carry on till next elections without anymore hitches, the fragile arrangements in the Congress Camp came to the fore again as the Leader of Opposition Conrad Sangma moved a “No confidence motion” against the Chief Minister during Meghalaya Assembly’s Autumn Session which was admitted by the Speaker. However, the Leaders of the House won the ‘no confidence motion’ very comprehensively with 43 against 13 for head counts and two abstentions in the House of 60 legislators.
Dr Sangma had assured on his birthday this year, also coinciding with him completing one year in office, to remain on the Chief Minister’s chair until next elections. True to his words, confronting all challenges, he is well on his way to complete his tenure as the Chief Minister of Meghalaya.
While Dr Sangma was more or less successful in keeping his flock together, the year also saw the emergence of a unity bid among regional parties against the Congress. The recent merger of KHNAM and UDP on December 12 is a pointer towards this.
The Congress has constituted the election coordination committee for the 2013 Meghalaya Assembly polls. The 13-member election coordination committee is being chaired by General Secretary incharge for the state Col D R Shandil while AICC secretary Sanjay Bapna is the vice chairman. The Coordination committee for the first time met in shilling to decide about their strategies.
The opening of border haats paved the way for the people living on both sides of the India-Bangladesh frontier to trade and strengthen friendship.
Talking strong on the issue of dual voters, Election commissioner Hari Shankar Brahma said that voters in the disputed areas along the border of Meghalaya have to decide to which part they should cast their votes, as dual voters is “fraudulent” as per the People’s Representatives Act. Election commissioner Hari Shankar Brahma Brahma who visited Shillong said there is a system in place to detect dual voters and any person found to indulge in the act is a punishable offence. Meghalaya will go for Assembly Polls in 2013.
The only commercial helicopter service in the state came to an abrupt end on April 30 when the state government terminated its contract with Pawan Hans following the chopper crash in which Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu was killed.
With the Shillong airport yet to be fully functional, the people of the state are now depending on road transportation.
The Defence Ministry rejected the state government's request to part with a few acres of land at Umroi to make way for upgrade and expansion of the airport. The airport authority requires about 35 acres of land for expansion of the airport at Umroi for which the state government is seeking land either through acquisition or by asking the army to part with their land.
The new terminal building of the Shillong airport was inaugurated this year by Union Civil Aviation Minister Vayallar Ravi on June 25. AAI has constructed the new modular terminal building at the Shillong airport for 200 passengers at a cost of Rs 30 crore. While only six ATR flights operates to Kolkata from the airport every week, the Union Minister assured that he would take initiatives to increase the frequency of flights and extend the service to other cities. Emphasizing the need for improving air connectivity ion the region Ravi said Guwahati would be made the region hub of aviation for which initiatives have already begun.
The high decadal growth highlighted by the Census report of 2011 was another cause of concern that saw NGOs demanding for speedy implementation of the Work Permit system in State. Census figures showed a high jump in the population ratio. The total population now is 29,64,007 as against 23,18,822 in the last census of 2001.
If that was not enough to make headlines, the jinxed civic polls in Garo Hills crippled the state with several NGOs opposing the move, holding Bandhs for several days. Finally, as soon as the incumbent Urban Affairs and Municipality Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh took over the reins of these two departments from Prestone Tynsong and Founder Cajee, she proposed to the Union Ministry of Urban Development to allow traditional institution to nominate the ward commissioners.
To which the centre agreed, in principle, to allow traditional institutions, falling within the territorial jurisdiction of municipal areas, to nominate members to civic bodies. Thus, settling down the upheaval for the holding civic polls in the state. Since then, Assembly Select Committee constituted to study and examine the process of nomination of ward commissioners by the different traditional institutions in the State has been touring and holding consultation meetings with traditional heads and NGOs for nomination to ward commissioner in accordance with the Meghalaya Community Participation (MCP) Bill, 2010.
The year also saw change of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) for Meghalaya. Meghalaya’s CIC post fell vacant on March 03, 2011, after GP Wahlang’s retirement; and after four months, former Principal Secretary, Chester Davies Kynjing was sworn in as the 2nd CIC of Meghalaya on July 7.
Power crisis in Meghalaya has been one of the major factors where the government, irrespective of which party is in power, has always been coming under severe fire from the General Public. In order to bail out Meghalaya from this crisis, the state government on March 17 signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited (NEEPCO) for developing a 500 MW thermal power project in East Garo Hills (EGH). This will be the first thermal power project by NEEPCO in Meghalaya as well as in North East and also the first thermal power project from the government sector in Meghalaya.
Of the total 500 MW produced by the project, Meghalaya will receive 100 MW and the remaining 400 MW will be distributed to other states of the North East, since NEEPCO is a government of India undertaking.
The project is expected to be completed in a span of 36 months requiring an investment of Rs. 2700 crores. But before the actual construction work for the project can start, pre project formalities like site identification, preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR) and obtaining of all the statutory/ non – statutory clearance like environment clearance, airport authority clearance and so on, which will take about 20 months to be completed. In addition, NEEPCO has already settled on the ITI Williamnagar to train the locals in the field of operation and maintenance of power project. The tentative location for the project has been identified at Darrugiri in East Garo Hills.
The project will require approximately 600 acres of land and 1.7 million tonnes of coal per annum. It will be installed in two units of 250 MW capacity each.
Talking of power, 2011 witnessed the worst power breakdown in the history of Meghalaya and Shillong City in particular, which lasted for nearly 40 hours at a stretch.
The city was put under total darkness on April 13 evening as thunderstorm struck the city, uprooting trees and snapping power lines at several locations. Among the many lines snapped, the main 33KV line at Sonapani had broken; power cables running the length of about 2 kms had snapped due to felling of trees on them.
The spoilsport for the MeECL workers was the inclement weather and difficult terrain, which stretch the line restoration work to three days despite engaging 100 laborers. The workers on spot of repair highlighted that extensive damage had been caused due to illegal cutting of timbers, and stealing of cables supporting the conductor poles.
More importantly, if the state got anything to cheers from the power sector, it was only towards the end of the year. On December 15, Sonapani Mini Hydel Project was re-commissioned, adding 1.5 MW power State’s existing power generation capacity.
Meghalaya has power requirement of 610 MW but the state can only produce 186.70 MW and has a share of 200 MW from the central utilities.
The project was re-commissioned as a ‘Heritage Project’, after pumping in Rs 9.88 crores. The Sonapani Mini-Hydel Power Project at Lum Kshaid, Mawprem, was commissioned in 1925 during the British era, becoming the first Hydel project in India’s North Eastern part and third in the country. It was abandoned in 1982 due of old machinery parts.
There was one news that every shillongiite rejoiced reading – the launch of JNNURM buses in city. Dubbed as common people’s bus, these buses came as a huge breather for citizens who had been enraged by the arrogant behavior of local cabbies, and brought forth the uprising of Public transport service in State. The fleet of JNNURM buses under the banner of Shillong Public Transport Service (SPTS) rolled out on city roads on the morning of July 22 with 20 buses.
The bus service was such a hit that just in 118 days of its service, it crossed the Rs one crore earning mark. Currently, 50 SPTS buses are plying on the city roads touching almost all corner of the state capital, while 70 more buses will soon join the contingent.
Though the scheme is urban - municipality specific, demand for launching similar bus services in all seven district headquarters has been made. As the latest addition to the service, which will make monitoring of SPTS buses more efficient and simple, GPS device have been installed.
If that wasn’t enough to add to the woes of cabbies, March 8 marked the launch of women driven taxis came into State, the day is also observed as the International Women’s Day. The combination of white and pink taxis driven by women, exclusively for female commuters, plying on the roads of Shillong also made the city to be first in Northeast to have taxis meant for women.
The year also saw a landmark bill being proposed, and the much need of the hour, the Meghalaya Heritage Bill.
The cabinet proposed a bill with an aim to conserve the heritage sites of the state including natural sites, area of environmental sensitivity and of scenic beauty. An authority called Meghalaya Heritage Authority will be constituted under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary and other officials and experts. The main function of the authority will be to administer the conservation and preservation of heritage sites to the list and grade the heritage sites, to prepare the heritage conservation plans and monitor its implementation and also advice the government on conservation policies.
Under this Act anybody who contravenes the provisions of the act and rules and regulations there under is liable to be penalized in terms of monetary penalty or imprisonment or combination of both on conviction.
However, the deteriorating law and order situation in the Garo Hills remained a cause of concern for the State government. Police were on the lookout for Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) cadres for their involvement in a number of kidnapping, extortion and killing cases. Formed by a former DSP, the group has been luring cops into its fold.
N Ramachandran, a 1978 batch IPS officer of Assam-Meghalaya cadre, was appointed as the new Director General of Police of Meghalaya. Ramachandran, who was the DGP Home Guards in Assam prior to his appointment, has a wide range of experience serving in various posts, including IGP in Assam’s Special Branch and the elite Special Protection Force (SPF).
He took over the reins of Meghalaya police on September 28, becoming the 13th Director General of Police of Meghalaya.
Immediately, after his appointment, state saw major surge in GNLA activities. One of the noted actions of GNLA which sent chills down the spine of general public was the killing of two persons, a coal truck driver and his handy man, in East Garo Hills for violating the bandh called by the outfit on August 16.
Besides killing several police personnel, GNLA abducted numerous businessmen from Garo Hills and one Block Development Officer (BDO). The BDO of Dadenggre, PK Boro, abducted on November 21, was released by the dreaded outfit after 34 days in captivity on December 24.
Earlier, the outfit had even called for a 300 hour bandh in all the three districts of Garo Hills demanding withdrawal of Special Forces deployed in the area in counter – insurgency operations. But it could not go ahead with its plans due to heavy public opposition.
After 5 months and 14 days of the Administrators Rule in Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC), September 14 marked Lamdibok Sumer coming back to power as new CEM. Lamdibok Sumer was re-elected as CEM after he secured over 16 votes whereas Hambertus Nongtdu got only 13 votes during the floor test via secret voting conducted to decide the new CEM.
Further, the ever reliable and persistent GVK EMRI 108 Emergency Response Service Ambulances added 11 more ambulances to its existing fleet of 30 ambulances, taking the total to 41 ambulances around the state. On August 16, 108 services also started the interstate facility transfer to Guwahati available from Shillong and Tura.
A total of 51,725 emergency cases have been handled by 108 emergency services alone since its launch in Meghalaya till November 30 this year; Emergency Response Service was launched in Meghalaya on February 2, 2009 with 15 ambulances and as increased its fleet to 41 ambulances. Apart from handling emergencies cases, it has received more than 10 lakh calls for the same period.
Amongst the medical emergencies that the 108 Emergency Service Ambulance have attended to, pregnancy related cases is the highest at 10,861 of which 356 deliveries were conducted by 108 Ambulance followed by road traffic accidents at 4,211. A total of 1,511 police and fire related cases have been dispatch through the 108 EMS service. It has saved 4,794 lives.
One also cannot forget the Umsning four – lane fiasco which put Ri – Bhoi district under spot light for major part of the year. The Joint Action Committee (JAC), a conglomerate of five NGOs from Ri – Bhoi district including KSU, FKJGP, RBYF, CORP and the HNYF, called night blockade on October 13,14,19 and 20 from 7 pm to 5 am in Ri-Bhoi. The committee also called for a 12 – hour bandh on October 21.
Prior to this, JAC had on September 22 and 23, observed 12 hour bandh and night road blockade respectively to oppose the decision of the state government to have the 4-Laning in Umsning through the existing road apparently without the consent of the local residents. JAC has been demanding for the construction of the four-lane project through the previously government proposed Umsning By-pass and not through the existing Umsning road.
2011 marked unveiling of Meghalaya’s first life size statute of Rabindranath Tagore by Union Minister of State for Water Resources, Vincent H Pala, on May 9 to commemorate the150th Birth Anniversary Celebration of Rabindranath Tagore.
Besides, Shillong too join the bandwagon of Anna Hazare; Hundreds of Anna Hazare supporters swamped the Meghalaya capital Shillong raising slogans in support of the anti-corruption crusader. People from all walks of life joined the protest, Social activists, Art of Living Shillong Chapter, CSWO, Student organization, students, lawyers various social activists and others participated in the protest rally.
The first BSF-DDG BGB Border coordination meeting was also held in Shillong this year. The four days of talks between Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) and Border Security Force (BSF), was intended at further strengthening the ties between the border guards. In this meeting India handed over fresh list of insurgent camps to Bangladesh, apart from that both the border forces agreed to strengthen joint efforts to prevent trans-border crimes and maintain closer cooperation and better understanding between the two forces with constructive engagement at all levels, besides agreeing to strengthen confidence building measures and institutional linkages between the two forces.
The year 2011 also witnessed some high profile visits which include, the visit of Vice President of India, Mohammad Hamid Ansari, who attended the 19th convocation of the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU).
Union Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, Ajay Maken accorded certificates to a batch of 39 youths in the first phase of ambitious job orientation programme under the ministry of union sport and youth affairs christened Youth Employability Skill (YES) development project.
Union Minister of State for Power K C Venugopal visited Meghalaya for the 5th power conference on opportunities in power sector in Shillong. The minister had stressed said that the north-eastern region has been blessed with rich hydro-power potential of more than 58,000 MW, equivalent to about 40 per cent of untapped hydro potential in the country.
Meanwhile, starting first leg of campaign for the 2013 Assembly election in Meghalaya and to prepare the roadmap for 2013 General Elections, AICC’s General Secretary and Chairperson of Indian Youth Congress (IYC), Rahul Gandhi visited Chief Minister Dr. Mukul Sangma’s constituency to kick-off the Youth Congress Election Member Drive.
Meghalaya witnessed a unique election on July 26 in two assembly constituencies in East Khasi Hills – Sohra and Shella – to test the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system, a new technology which might ensure free and fair election. Chosen for its “extreme weather” for holding mock polls among five locations in the country, Sohra witnessed heavy turnout in the polling conducted to check the efficiency and accuracy of the electronic voting machines (EVMs).
The VVPAT is an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their votes were cast correctly. The technology also provides room to detect possible election fraud or malfunction, and to audit the stored electronic results. In 36 polling stations of Sohra and Shella, the turnout was much above than satisfactory as villagers of the area along with others from the state capital and even from outside the state participated in the mock poll exercise. A “mock battle of ballots” was conducted in the two constituencies where voters had to choose from among 32 candidates, 16 in each, across 32 polling stations (16 in each). The average turnout was 75.16 per cent out of the total 20,161 registered voters in both the constituencies.
Adding another feather to its cap, Meghalaya became the first state to sanction more than Rs 5 crore for laying astro turf for football. FIFA is also sponsoring the astro turf at Polo Grounds. The first and the much awaited astro turf training ground for Meghalaya was inaugurated by Meghalaya Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma at Polo. The inauguration of the ground was followed by a friendly match between Meghalaya Football Association (MFA) and Shillong Press Club (SPC). MFA won the inaugural friendly football match on the astro turf 1-0.
December 5 marked Meghalaya hosting the National Junior Archery Championship. Prior to that, on May 02, ‘EKLAVAYA’ Archery Range - IAF’s Centre of Excellence for Archery was inaugurated by the then Air Marshal KK Nohwar, AOC-in-C Eastern Air Command at Head Quarters EAC Upper Shillong.
From the football sector, Langsning FC lifted 22nd All India Meghalaya Invitation Football Tournament trophy while Royal Wahingdoh FC clinched the Shillong Premier League trophy for the year 2011. On the other hand, the now famous Shillong Lajong FC fared poorly booth in the domestic circuit as well as national arena.
Overall, the year 2011 was a bag of mixed events which passed off quickly for some and very slowly for others. It is hoped that the coming year 2012 has more positive and landmark events to fill the state with joy in comparison to 2011.