The Year that was… 2012
Shillong, Dec 30: Meghalaya in the year 2012 witnessed a mixed bag of emotions with some losses and some victories and many developmental projects with many scams.
The ‘loss’ was when erstwhile NCP leader, Purno Sangma failed in his attempt to be the first Tribal President of the country; the former Lok Sabha Speaker had certainly brought about a lot of colour and drama in the otherwise dull presidential election, where he lost the battle to the then Union Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee in the month of July.
The NCP leader then turned his back to NCP and joined hands with NPP thus forming a new party in the state. 12 legislators of NCP in Meghalaya also merged with the NPP.
The ‘win’ for the state was when the Chairman of the Garo Hills based militant outfit, Champion Sangma was nabbed in Bangladesh and later pushed back to India in the month of July.
After the hustle and bustle of Champion’s arrest and remand that followed his arrest, the state authorities were taken for a toss when the rogue cop made a big statement claiming that he would support the Congress party in the upcoming 2013 elections, creating a massive hue and cry amongst the people of the state. Champion also expressed his desire to contest in the upcoming polls and also appealed his cadres not to create problems during the time of elections.
Another highlight of the year was in the month of February wherein the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram visited Shillong to review the Law and order situation in the state and outright refused any talks with the GNLA over the Chief Minister’s idea of resolving deadlock by dialogue. Also, it was revealed that on January 12, 2012, Union Home Ministry has declared GNLA as the ‘Terrorist Organization’.
The biggest news of the year was definitely the Education Scam that rocked the state and threatened to dent its distinction of being the “Educational Hub of North East India”.
The 107 –page CBI report on the appointment of over 700 assistant teachers in government lower primary schools in Meghalaya in 2009, pointed fingers at the former Education Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh.
In the report, CBI said that in course of examining the then Director of DEME (now known as School Education & Literacy) JD Sangma had stated that under instruction of Ampareen, he had changed the score sheet as prepared by the five boards duly applying white fluid on the original marks as awarded by the members of the said board.
Sangma also handed over a file containing list, received by the said minister from different politicians (MLAs and Ministers) recommending the names of the candidate for selection as teacher in the LP schools of Meghalaya, the enquiry report stated.
It said that Sangma has further disclosed that based on the aforesaid slips of paper containing recommendation in respect of candidates for appointment as LP teachers, he with the help of two more persons who were supporters of the Education Minister applied white fluid on the score sheet and inflated the numbers of the candidate ordered to be appointed by the Education Minister.
“The tampering of score sheet was partially made at the residence of Minister and at his official residence,” the CBI report stated.
The report concluded that “Enquiry has established that the majority of candidates in the questioned 5 stations – Jowai, Shillong, Amlarem, Tura and Dadenggiri – were appointed in irregular manner by changing their original marks on account of experience, education, qualification etc in the score sheet after applying while fluid on the original marks awarded by the board and the grand total of the score sheet was also changed in the similar manner.”
The CBI report in its report had named the Assembly Speaker Charles Pyngrope, his Deputy and five other cabinet ministers and MLAs in Meghalaya, whose recommendations were taken into consideration while selecting candidates for the post of assistant teachers in government lower primary schools two years back. In the report which was submitted to the Gauhati High Court, the CBI rapped the Speaker for recommending three candidates while his deputy Sanbor Shullai had four recommendations which were duly accepted.
Cabinet Ministers Dr R C Laloo, Prestone Tynsong, A L Hek, J A Lyngdoh had together recommended 70 candidates of their choices. MLAs Sniawbhalang Dhar, R V Lyngdoh, Remington Pyngrope, Limison Sangma, Donkupar Massar had recommended 131 candidates altogether. While other influential politicians successfully recommended 47 other names, the report said. In five sub-divisions of the state, the education department had appointed 350 names as successful candidates; 255 were those who were recommended by the politicians.
Another major launch by the state was the launching of the Meghalaya State Aquaculture Mission. In this mission, the State would target to produce at least 20,000 metric tonnes of fishes from the fifth year of the mission. The sole aim of the mission was to bridge the demand and supply gap of fishes in the state.
The power of the government could be felt was the commission of the Phase I of the Myntdu Leskha Hydel project in the month of February where the power starved state got 42 MW of additional power after commissioning the first phase of the project in Jaintia hills district.
The other feather in the cap for the state was the much talked ‘Megha Health Insurance Scheme’ which was officially launched in December. In the health insurance scheme, a citizen will have to pay a premium of Rs 31 and he or she will be given health coverage of upto Rs 1,60,000.
One of the biggest events was the launching of the online Public Grievance Redressal and Monitoring system. The online system would enable people to file their grievances against various underperforming Government departments just at the click of few buttons.
In a bid to improve the traffic flow and make things easier for the commuters the state government launched the much hyped Shillong Supplementary Public Transport System (SSPTS), where 100 maxi cabs were officially flagged off.
Also, in the month of January, the Bird Flu hysteria caught Meghalaya by surprise and thousands to poultry birds in Garo Hills had to be culled.
The year also made people of Meghalaya proud and created history for Meghalaya when in the month of May, Gary Jarman Lamare scaled Mount Everest at 8,848 meters (29,029 ft) above sea level with a lens in his hand, making him the first individual from Meghalaya to summit the highest mountain in the world.
The month of May however irked some of the vehicle users as the State Traffic department enforced a ban on tinted glasses. On the first day of the drive to remove the tinted glasses a total of 1142 cars using tinted glasses caught.
The Integrated Child Development Scheme, aimed at reducing child malnutrition and abysmal maternal health, incurred wasteful expenditure of over Rs 24 crore due to alleged supply of substandard, unhealthy nutritional supplements to children like pre-cooked instant noodles containing MSG, malted milk product and milk powder.
On the law and order front, the Garo Hills region was the worst affected due to mushrooming militant groups whose cadres tried to eke out a livelihood by extorting from coal barons, government officials and businessmen.
The attack on state minister Saleng Sangma and Congress working president Deborah Marak in November sent a strong message to the government that the armed militants are capable of striking at anytime. Notwithstanding the declaration of the GNLA as an outlawed organization in January and having its 'chairman' Champion Sangma in police net since July, the home department was forced to re-assess the law-and-order situation in the affected districts ahead of the polls.
What gave additional headache to police was the surfacing of a rebellion faction of the under – ceasefire ANVC. The ANVC – B (Breakaway) faction is headed by Rimpu N Marak as the Chairman, who was earlier the spokesperson of ANVC. The Breakaway took up arms again and moved back to jungle since it felt that the peaceful dialogue process with government was not heading to any satisfying conclusion.
The activities of ANVC(B), though claiming to be using peaceful approach, have gone to such heights in order to prove its power that it gunned down one GNLA militant on December 20, 2012, in an encounter with the rival group.
While not much was done to solve the age-old inter-state boundary problem with Assam, both states agreed on a mutual consensus to continue with developmental works at the border. But this came after Pynskhemlang Nongshlong led an indefinite hunger strike from June 30 at Langpih to call on the government to end up the long pending boundary dispute between the two states. Agitators taking part in the fast unto death protest were hospitalized as their health condition deteriorated. The hunger strike went on for 13 – days.
Langpih is one of the villages located along the interstate border with Assam where frequent aggression by Assam government has been resented by the people of the state. On May 15, 2010, four Khasi youths of the village were gunned down by Assam police personnel during a clash. Meghalaya and Assam have 12 areas of differences along the border.
Meanwhile, the Bodo-illegal immigrants clashes, which left several lakh people in neighboring Assam homeless and also triggered mass exodus from metros to North East, had repercussions in Meghalaya too with a high-level committee recommending to the government introduction of a 3-tier card system to prevent such a situation in the state.
The state government also passed the much anticipated “Meghalaya Mines and Minerals Policy 2012” which is aimed at stepping in and regulating mining activities in the state. However, the Policy did not stop rat hole mining; the government rather justified its permission to rat - hole mining as a step to avoid ‘civil war’.
Another bill that was passed in hush – hush manner was the Meghalaya Lokayukta Bill 2012. Meghalaya Legislative Assembly on December 14, 2012, passed the Meghalaya Lokayukta Bill, 2012, despite stiff opposition from the opposition Bench, while scrapping off the previous Lokayukta Act 2002. Even then, there was no proper debate on the Bill while the anti – graft activists termed the Bill as ‘ineffective and toothless’, just as the earlier Act.
The sad part came in the month of May when State Chief Minister, Dr Mukul Sangma had to fight for his niece, Dana Sangma who committed suicide after she was alleged of cheating during her exams in Amity University, for which the CM garnered support from the CBI.
In the same month the state lost another great patriot and politician Dr FA Khonglam who died due to diabetes after having suffered a stroke. He represented Sohra constituency for nearly 20 years. He contested in 1978 from the HSPDP, but lost. In 1983 he won the election from the same party. In 1988, Khonglam contested from the Congress and tasted defeat. However, from 1993 onwards he won for three consecutive terms, twice as an Independent candidate and another win in 2003 on the HSPDP ticket. He was also the only independent Chief Minister of Meghalaya.
Another tragic moment that shocked the state media fraternity was the loss of a senior journalist, Prasad Gupta, who passed away at the age of 55 in Guwahati. Popular as ‘Kaku’, Gupta had endeared the journalist fraternity and the people in general with his honest and straight-forward approach. A keen sports person and an inspiring, joyous and enthusiastic figure, Gupta’s passing away came as a shock to those who were closely associated with him.
With Meghalaya set to go for Assembly Election in February, 2013, the year saw political parties shifting gears and suiting up for people’s mandate. Political parties like UDP, HSPDP, NPP, NCP, and others have already declared most of its candidates while the Indian National Congress (INC) is yet to declare its candidates. But the parties are ready with their strategies to counter their rival(s).
The year 2013, especially the election will be eventful one as Meghalaya goes into election with delimitation.