Politics of Lower Siang

Gomchi Padu

ITANAGAR, Feb 15: “Personally I am never against genuine creation of new districts as it brings in self-governance and the administration nearer.”
–Pema Khandu,
Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh

The above statement of Chief Minister Pema Khandu was made publicly on two separate occasions at Pakke Kessang and Raga, not so long ago. A reasonable thought, worthy of appreciation but alas, harder in implementation even for the Chief Minister with all of his powers and discretions.
The problems are not in the lack of will as often is the case with the political class but rather on two glaring aspects-the economic aspect and the socio-political aspect.
In the economic aspect is the obvious financial constrains for the state exchequer that comes with the establishment of a new district in terms of job creation or re-organisation of the entire administrative mechanisms and infrastructural developments.
But while the government more often than not, manoeuvres through the same without inviting much public ire, notwithstanding the time it takes from the proposal stage to its ultimate announcement, manoeuvring the second problem-the socio-political aspects, specifically building consensus on the district headquarter, is the real tricky part and one that has hindered the entire issue of district creation for long. And it certainly does not help when politicians use it as a tool to further their personal interest.
A case in point and one that is very recent is that of the issues pertinent to the new district of Lower Siang, carved out from West Siang and East Siang districts with areas covering the 28th Likabali Assembly Constituency and the 36th Nari-Koyu Assembly Constituency.
To begin with, the need for a separate district (Lower Siang) erupted among the locals more in the mid 90’s. But more than two decades on and the issue still raging, the stakeholders perhaps wiser, eventually resolved to sort out the differences specifically on the question of the district headquarter. Accordingly, on 17th September, 2016, a consultative meeting of the Seven Galo elected representatives under the initiative of Galo Welfare Society (GWS) resolved to push for Likabali as the temporary headquarter with immediate posting of Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police who would then, in a later period look for permanent headquarter taking into accounts, all feasibilities for a district headquarter.
However, on February 7 when the Cabinet met and took up the matter regarding Lower Siang district, it decided to name Garu as the permanent district headquarter while keeping the temporary status of Likabali as the district headquarters intact.
The sudden decision again led to a public outrage in Likabali and Nari-Koyu areas and the public met the Cabinet decision of declaring Garu as the permanent headquarter with a 96 hours bandh and subsequently blocking the National Highway connecting West Siang district headquarter Aalo with the state capital Itanagar from February 12 last. The three days bandh which was temporarily called-off today had every government establishments, schools and even markets shutdown thus causing much inconvenience.
The relentless protesters which included members of District Demand joint Action committee, Lower Siang elite Forum, Jigo Yego Students Union, Ramle-Banggo Students’ Union, Ramle-Banggo Social and Environmental Protection Society, Likabali Youth Volunteers, Kangku Circle Students’ Union and Women Welfare Society meanwhile, put the onus on Likabali legislator and Minister for Health & Family Welfare Jomde Kena for the public outburst.
According to them, the decision to make Garu as the permanent headquarter was a unilateral and an arbitrary decision by Cabinet Minister Kena who they added, “Convinced his cabinet friends to vouch for Garu as it falls within his native homeland.”
Also making their stand clear, Sengo Taipodia, the chairman of DDJAC said, “We are not against Garu as the Headquarter per se. However, any decision in this regard, should be one that is in due consultations with the general public and agreeable to the majority population.”
Another senior public leader at Nari, Rekar Doye said, “The whole purpose of the creation of Lower Siang was to enable administrative efficiency in the foothill region. Now, Garu which is far beyond the foothills would be made the district headquarter, it would serve no purpose to the idea behind creation of Lower Siang district.”
Meanwhile, as of today, Chief Minister Pema Khandu who met with the representatives of the protesters, has agreed to ‘Review’ the February 7 Cabinet decision and in the meantime, initiate actions for immediate posting of a DC and SP at Likabali. On their part, the protesters have decided to call-off the ‘Bandh’ thus, ending the 96 Hours stand-off, for now.

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