(04. December.2013)

 

The border and wandering mind

Tongam Rina

It was indeed a big relief to hear from the President of India that “Since Arunachal Pradesh has common borders with three countries; the development of border areas is also vital and must receive our utmost attention".

Other than massive militarization, there really has been no improvement in road conditions or other infrastructure along the border, much in contrast to the story on the other side.

All roads leading to the borders - be it Tawang, Upper, West Siang or Anjaw are in unstable conditions, often cut off for weeks together during monsoon with Tezu-Hayuliang-Chaklagam being the worse affected.

Needlessly to say that all-weather road connectivity would be huge relief not only for the military forces but also for people living in these areas.

The first step to secure the border; good roads are a must.

Though the ambitious Trans-Arunachal has already started in some portions of the state, it has also caused the neglect or spoiling of existing roads, making it an arduous task for daily commuters.

One hopes that soon, not only the border but the whole state has all-weather roads.

On the other hand, ugly exchange of words between China and India soon followed the visit of  President Pranab Mukherjee.

The usual rhetoric was not unexpected.

“Arunachal is integral and important part of India” is the line we hear every time a dignitary comes calling from Delhi. The repeated line makes one wonder whether they are trying to reassure themselves that Arunachal is indeed part of Indian Union.

Yours truely find these statements akin to a grandfather visiting once in five years to reassure the by now irritated grandchild that indeed they belong to the same family. Reassurances are good once in a while but if it is turned into a routine, it is rather perplexing when one repeats what we already know.

Having to live up to the expectations as a “Hindi-speaking patriotic people” is already tiring and hard enough.

The President’s visit and reassurance of course was rebutted by the Chinese as usual.

For China, parts of Arunachal is South Tibet, thus under “illegal Indian occupation”.

Do we say more about where we belong when the fact is that we vote every five years and send three elected representatives to Indian Parliament?

Easier said than done. But it is time both countries come to a conclusion on the contentious border issue. One hopes for an agreement similar to the one carried out in 1996 on Line of Actual Control.

While we wait for a border agreement mutually agreeable to both countries, in the meantime instead of usual rhetoric, it would be a step forward if Border Personnel Meetings are made more effective and spread to all border posts in between the two nations. After all, these are a supposed platform for strengthening friendship and peace along the border.

It is a well known fact that there are intrusions along the India-China border and if these border meetings are made more effective, other than becoming just customary, it could go a long way in controlling the intrusions from both sides.

And one other major impediment is stapled visa issued to the Arunachalees and people from Jammu and Kashmir by the Chinese. The worst affected have been the sportspersons who are often turned away from the immigration counter.

Few notable objections apart, yours truly is not sure if there is any Indian initiative on this worthy to be reported or informed to the people of the country.

In the long run, however it will not be the visa or the border problems alone that will be the cause of concerns. There is already growing disillusionment among the young people because of lack of livelihood options, so perhaps it would be advisable to also look into problems of unemployment. “Jai Hind” or speaking Hindi is not going to feed the hungry mouth or wandering mind.

 

 

 

 

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(04. September .2013)

 

The Silence of decay

Tongam Rina

Everyone watched in horror as the Delhi Paramedic gang rape case unfolded last year. The unthinkable violence inflicted on the young lady numbed everyone and the country erupted in protest forcing tougher laws against rapists.  

Many had hoped that with tougher laws, situation would change for better. It was not to be. Every day there are reports of rape from every corner of the country.

What is extremely horrifying is that barely eight months later, another rape case has come.

In Mumbai, dubbed the "safest city" in India, a photojournalist was gang raped. Because of intense media coverage, rapists have been arrested and identified. One of them is reported to be a Police informer.

While we read reports of rapes happening elsewhere in India, a shocking case of rape and molestation was to unfold at our own backyard.

No one had any clue while a teacher at Green Valley School, Likabali abused children for three

long years.

After initial shock, there is anger. The school authorities as well as parents were obviously unaware of what was happening and young children had no idea how to deal with the monstrous paedophile.

The trauma these children had undergone will last a lifetime.

It is important for the parents, authorities, society at large to ensure that they are not traumatised yet again when they testify against the offender.  The police and judiciary need to be sensitive to the fact that these are young children, emotionally scared. Parental as well professional counselling of the young ones is very essential.

The case has to be fast tracked and a maximum sentence should be given because it would be too dangerous to let out a paedophile in the guise of a teacher.

While we grapple with what happened, one also is reminded of the fact that this is not the first time, such a heinous act has been carried out in schools in Arunachal, which points to systematic failure on the part of everyone involved.

Many parents, in search of better education send their children to boarding school when they are as young as 5 years old. There are horrifying tales of abuse but these tales rarely go out of our living rooms. At best, parents take out their children from the school but no one wants to talk about it any more.

Saddening but many children are not safe even in their own homes. It invariably is an uncle or an aunt, cousin, a household worker  or a friend's relative who target children and sexually abuse them. The psychological scar remains but then we simply do not have the environment where any one can share these horrifying experiences. We live in a society that is judgemental and have a false sense of honour.

We have to let go of the collective silence and start responding to the issues that we are confronted with.

According to Arunachal Pradesh Police website, 49 rape cases were registered during Sept 2012-Sept 2013. East Siang Police registered 9 cases, followed by Lohit with seven while Upper Subansiri reported six cases. The numbers of cases indeed are alarming.

The National Crimes Record Bureau (figure of 2011) says a woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. Statistics could be much higher as marital rapes and molestations by family members are rarely reported to the police.

No one wants to deal with societal pressure little realising that in the long run, our choice to keep quite is going to eat into the very core of our society and decaying its very soul.

 

 

 

 

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(05. June .2013)

Way of life

Tongam Rina

Itanagar witnessed yet another death. The sheer brutality was numbing. One is left wondering how the family of Late Bomjen Gapak must be coping with this mindless violence.

As one battles anger, there are many questions that come to mind. A young man was brutally murdered and another injured. Why are not our streets safe anymore for anyone? Why cant we go out as and when we wish without having to worry about our safety? Where are the Police and administration?

We have seen spate of violence in the last few years. Yet, nothing moves the government.  Are they in touch with reality?

On the other hand, Police can’t be forever blaming lack of resources for their failure. They have repeatedly failed themselves and us.

And what about the judiciary? Why is that even after charge sheets are filed, it take ages for the courts to come up with a verdict.

One has to accept that things have changed and Arunachal is not the island of peace anymore. Today it is one of the most violent places.

Intimidations, threats, violence and revenge killing have become a way of life and many families are affected. We can’t brush aside these as personal problems. They are not personal anymore. It is a disease today with no treatment in sight.

How do we stop this from happening? There must be a way out.

For a change, the government must wake up and atleast try and figure out what ails our society. To start with, the government has to admit that it has failed to provide security to the people of the state. And it cannot afford to remain as a mere spectator to the growing violence in the state.

Most recently, an APCS officer was beaten up. There are no arrests made.

Were those responsible for the death of a person during Panchayat elections in Kurung Kumey ever taken to task?

For how long the family of young engineering student has to wait till those responsible for his death are arrested?

Yours truly wait for answers.

Perhaps people at the helms of affairs will not bother with a response but as a citizen, I will still ask. Those people who are paid to look after the security and the wellbeing of the citizens have to ask themselves whether they are genuinely doing their job or satisfied blaming the system and lack of resources for their miserable failure.

Police has a job. Its job is to ensure security to the common people, not VIPs alone. At its best, Police in Arunachal play the role of negotiators. If they fail, they harass the victims with all kinds of theories while they let out the perpetrators of violence.

Sometimes one is left confused at the role of the police. This time the apparent excuse is that there are no CCTV footages. Blame is  on the Power Department. But even in cases where there are clear footages, the police have not been able to come up with anything worthwhile.

One can only hope that there is some coordination between the law keepers and enforcers. We cannot afford to ignore violence anymore. If guilties are not punished, it will only embolden criminals to commit more crimes and violence will become a way of life.

 

 

 

 

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(29. May .2013)

Democracy at the grassroots?

Tongam Rina

As expected, the people have given a clear mandate to the ruling party in the recently concluded elections of the three tier Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs).

PRIs are made up of wonderful mishmash of people from different backgrounds. But more often than not, most people who are elected-selected as members of these institutions are people with money. The moneyed class in our state usually are the student leaders, government officers and their wives, politicians and their cronies and relatives who become rich overnight. There is no competition to glamour that money brings and we all stand in completely awe! No matter what the outside appearance is but the ones pulling the strings are the moneyed and those with connections.

The onus, now is on the Congress party and the government to strengthen the PRIs in the state to enable it to be part of decision making process. So far everything has been in paper and successive state governments have been very reluctant to share power which is contradiction to the  73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, that came into force in 1993 which was meant to provide constitutional sanction to establish “democracy at the grassroots level as it is at the state level or national level”.

If development process has to be truly inclusive, it has to start from the grassroots. And for that to happen, it is essential that PRIs are part of all developmental process.

The PRIs are capable of being an agent of change; however bureaucracy and politicians have ensured that it remains toothless and powerless.

Though many things have been said, Arunachal is yet to fully devolve 3Fs (Finance, Functions and Functionaries) to the  PRIs. It would go a long way in not only strengthening the PRIs but will also enable them to discharge their constitutionally stipulated function.

So far, policy decision has been top-down approach which has not given affective results. We all cry that babus in Delhi take decisions which are not relevant for our state. However, those at the corridors of power, exactly replicate that in our own state.

The Rajiv Gandhi Vidhyutikaran Yojna, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act are some of the examples which have horribly gone wrong in the state. These were meant to be schemes to benefit villagers to ensure jobs and better roads and power connectivity but even these schemes have ended up in the hands of very few people who have not only monopolized on it, but have gone on to  take full advantage of loopholes in the system.

The Gram Sabha could change it all. It is one of the ingredients for powerful and effective PR Institutions so communities need to guarantee that these meetings are held on a regular basis to keep a track on what is happening.

Atleast in MGNREGA, they could bring in a remarkable change as the Gram Panchayats have a direct say on upto 50 per cent of funds.

Another important factor for making a success of PRIs is social audits. In a state where accountability is nil and dependent on funds from centre, the task will be huge but there is no harm in trying. Even if funds are not raised by the PRIs, they could start by asking what happens to the funds received from the centre.

During the elections, everybody gets involved, only to realize that it was sheer waste of time and money.

Yours truly is under the firm impression that PRIs in the state has been rendered ineffective by politicians and bureaucracy reluctant to share power but it is hoped that with time, things will change. Ideally, the powers and functions should have been handed over to PRIs without them having to demand but if past experiences are anything to go by, even this batch of leaders will not have much luck. Promises are easy to make and we make them quite often. What is difficult is delivery. 

The elections were dirty and left many wondering why so much is put on stake, including lives. We can only hope that a start is made, a positive one.  

 

 

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(05. Dec.2012)

Let’s talk

Tongam Rina

SSA teachers in the state are on an indefinite pen-down/tool down strike demanding regularisation of services at one go of some 550 teachers recruited in 2003. The government, on the other hand has threatened to impose ‘No work, No pay’. Confrontation is inevitable as both seem reluctant to budge from their respective positions. Needless to say, thousands of students will suffer because of the adamant stand of the teachers and the Education Department.

Many of us are sympathetic to the cause of the teachers as they are unsure of their future even after serving the state for close to a decade. It would be asking for too much if we expect a worried teacher to serve the society.

The Education Department on the other hand is cash strapped. There seems to be no way out for the department unless state government comes to the rescue with requisite financial help.

Despite 80-90 % funding from the centre for all centrally sponsored projects, on many occasions, state government has been rather indolent when it comes to pitching in its share.

Credit however must be given to the government that it has considerably raised the salary of the SSA teachers amounting to more than Rs 180 Cr  per annum. Now it’s a different matter that monthly salaries sometimes become quarterly.   

In such a situation, where teachers and the department are on a warpath, no one is a winner. But we for sure know who loses out in the race. The faith of the poor parents and students must not be broken. The teachers and the department concern should come together and chart out an amicable solution. Let ego subside and get to the negotiating table. Priority must be given to the future of the children. There has to be a way forward for their sake.

The education department has already said that services of the SSA teachers would be regularised in due course of time and that a committee has already been constituted. The Committee formed in February reportedly met in Nov this year to decide how to go about regularisation of SSA teachers of 2003 batch! The teachers off course need to keep a tab and ask how long it would take to reach the ”due course of time”.

On the other hand, teachers, however hungry or angry have to show the way since they have chosen a profession where they have to lead by example. Remember children learn from their teachers more than they do from their parents. Teachers would certainly not want to teach their students how to extract deals by choosing the path of confrontation.

A one day token protest is loud enough.

 

 

 

 

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(28. Nov.2012)

 

Amidst lawlessness

Tongam Rina

The recent arrest made in the Arunachal Pradesh Rural Bank robbery case and nabbing of assaulters of Echo of Arunachal journalist has come as a relief to the people of the state capital who are helplessly witnessing the gradual break down in law and order.

While most cases go unreported and brushed aside as personal disputes, there have been several cases that reflect the general lawlessness and absolute disrespect for the law of the land.

While browsing the newspapers of the recent weeks, yours truly was left astounded at the number of assaults not only in the Capital but elsewhere too.

A young member of the Arunachal Pradesh Civil Services was assaulted in a remote corner of Kurung Kumey, a district where even government officers dread to go- and now we seem to know why. After much hue and cry, two persons are reported to be arrested.

In another case, two Police officers are assaulted in West Kameng. So far there are no arrests made.

While the police struggle to figure out growing cases of mayhem, Itanagar and Ziro were completely paralysed as All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union started its election activities. The students have said it’s not responsible for the extortion and subsequent shut down. However, the denial did not stop extortions, forcing us to wonder what the future leaders are up to. Extortionists using the name of a student organisation to extort business community and government officials are bad enough and it calls for the students to seriously retrospect.

On the other hand, the shutter down in Capital town was another sign that individuals have to ensure their own safety. Despite flag marches, the shops remained closed sending a clear message to the administration, police and the state government that common citizens, business communities do not trust the state machinery. If law and order were in place, we should not have felt the total sense of insecurity in the first place.

And Media has been the favourite target of assaulters. In one month alone, two senior journalists were assaulted and office of the Echo of Arunachal was vandalised. Though the city police have arrested those responsible in vandalism of the Daily, it remains to be seen what punishment are meted out to the perpetrators of crime and most importantly how long it would take the police and law to hand out justice to the newspapers. From previous experience with other cases, one cannot expect much.

The esteemed readers are aware that there have been five instances of attack at the office of Arunachal Times since April this year. And police have not been able to do anything apart from few cursory arrests. What does it say? It’s a message to the trouble makers that they can do pretty much what they want while police will do what it does best in Arunachal; blame the lack of facility and human resources.

One can only imagine what happens to others if such repeated attacks are meted out to organisations and individuals who at least have a space to share what they have been forced to undergo.

While we silently watch the horrid assaults and threats, it would be so much better if the Chief Minister gives more attention to the Home department.

The Parliamentary Secretary Home appears to be otherwise occupied with a legal battle concerning his election. Perhaps someone with lesser problems could assist the Chief Minister and help bring in some amount of stability.

And to top it all, the police department today doesn’t have a DGP yet!  That’s the ultimate icing on the cake for the lawbreakers.

The government must remember that however stupid and nonchalant citizens may appear, after a point, they will not be satisfied with assurances alone. What will happen then is anybody’s guess.

 

 

 

 

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(13. Sep.2012)

Green Pioneers in A Garbage City

Tongam Rina

The stench along one part of the normally used National Highway connecting Itanagar via Holongi acts as a prelude to the dirt that welcomes visitors to state capital of Arunachal.

Urban Development department responsible for the upkeep of the township dumps the waste along this high-traffic route; ironically very near a garbage treatment plant that is under construction for the last many years. Adding more to the innovation, the department burns the garbage, destroying the vegetation in the area and leaving an unmistakable “welcome” stench for first-time visitors.  

Unlike most of us who adds to the garbage problem by littering at every possible place, a group of citizens organized themselves through a social networking site and took up the responsibility of cleaning the city.

The Green Pioneers, comprising of people from all walks of life and all age groups have symbolically cleaned up many landmarks in the city instead of depending on the undependable dept. It was expected that this would be a wake-up call to all concerned.

Sadly, the garbage grows by heaps and bounds in the city despite such efforts by the citizens. Two problems stand out dramatically. We as residents of the city do not think of cleanliness beyond our doorstep. As long as we drop the garbage at some point elsewhere, we are okay. And to top that, we are yet to learn from what district headquarters are doing in segregating types of garbage for proper disposal. So how does one ensure cleanliness and prevent littering?

Now, we can’t expect the Green Pioneers to clean up every week! One solution  is to encourage adoption of locations or stretches of road by institutions, businesses, NGOs, numerous sector groups and students who can organize a clean-up every week. In addition to keeping the city clean, it will also give the adopting institution a lot of goodwill!

But that is just one part of the story. Would the administration be kind enough to pitch in? Yours truly was truly amused to read a news item about the Capital administration organizing cleanliness drives on Bandh days! With Bandh happening almost every alternate day, maybe it’s not a very bad idea!

With the Holongi route closed to traffic for a massive road re-building program, one was of the view that “welcome” stenches were a thing of the past. Only to be reminded of reality near the block point at Karsingsa - that our Garbage City needs green pioneers!

 

 

 

 

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(08. Aug.2012)

Coming Back To What?

Tongam Rina

How does one begin? By saying many thanks to uncountable well wishers and friends whose prayers have stood by  me and my family in the time since that evening of 15 July, or by screaming out loud in anger and frustration?

One thing is for sure; life will never be the same again.

It is disturbing and miserable for me to be lying on a hospital bed for days on end, unable to do anything by my own - depending on people even for small, everyday things like having a glass of water.

I keep thinking about what has happened to me. Can't figure out why I am here. I don't ever ask 'why me?' but rather why something like this should happen at all. Why would someone just come and shoot at another human being, not in anger, not in the heat of an argument, but in a cruel planned manner.

The fact that a young person, with no fear for his own life, would do this and strike without any known motive has shaken me. For someone who has always believed in communication and communicating, yours truly is deeply saddened.

What is on the surface a cowardly act for an individual to shoot an unarmed and defenseless person, is to my mind alarm bells ringing for our tranquil world. We can’t ignore what happened that quiet Sunday evening and ask what does that say about our society.

Where have we gone wrong? Where have we failed? Why does our society, at one time in only recent history the perfect example of solidarity and peace, today allow such things to happen? Why have we begun to give breathing space to these elements who are out only to spread terror? Where have we as a government and as elders and parents failed, where today our young, the ones who will lead the State in the future, do not hesitate in doing such things.

I then realize that these fringe elements who go around shooting people, burning buses and vandalizing property thrive and feed on our fear. The moment we as a people come out and stop acknowledging their presence and stop being afraid- they will disappear.

That said, one must also point out that there is the other side too. It is only a few young people who are out there destroying lives of others and their own. But, a greater blessing is that there are many more who are shaping society, giving voice to reason and truth. When I see pictures in the newspaper of young people in protest marches, their faces passionate with a quest for justice, I see there is hope yet.

Many have asked me where do I go from here and when do I come back? I really don’t know. Writing is too much of a passion- you don't just let it go of it.

One last thing. When my father was informed of my shooting, he turned to my mother and told her that while we go with hope, we must be prepared for the worst too: “…we may bring back only her lifeless body.”  

If there is anything I ask of god or anyone today, it is for no mother to be ever made to hear the finality of these words.

 

 

 

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(04. July.2012)

Summer woes of a town

Tongam Rina

Capital Town of Arunachal is not a very nice place to live in any more. Unplanned growth, earth cutting at every possible inch encouraged by the blind administration, bad roads, erratic power and water supply and sky high prices of vegetables are just few examples that are adding to the woes of already harassed common citizens.

The roads are unsafe with potholes every half a metre and lack of drainage system has resulted in flooding of roads and sectors. Situation has gone from bad to worse since the rain started but no attempt have been made to mend the roads.

Notwithstanding bad roads, since the 2009 elections and with easy loan options, the numbers of vehicles have gone up drastically and traffic has become unmanageable with vehicles of all shape and size jostling for space. It’s a nightmare for pedestrians.  To make matter worse, the VIPs in their expensive SUVs and most of the young bikers are always on a rush and have their own traffic rules. It would be a good idea to have a separate lane for them when the touted Trans Arunachal Highway comes up to decrease the nuisance and accidents on the roads.

The sector roads within the twin township are another cause for concern. It’s so congested that in an event of any disaster, relief and rescue vehicles will never ever reach.

As if the problems were not already overflowing, bandhs have come as a chief tormenter in the state capital.  

One remembers a time when bandhs were few and far in between and only the odd political party or pressure group would call and enforce one. Then we slid into mayhem. At present they are going as rapidly as the seasonal raindrops- too many and too rapidly.

Consecutive state govts have been reduced to alternately appealing against them and then issuing notifications of their illegality. In a sense any organisation, however small or big, recognised or not recognised or even individuals seem to hold a right to call a bandh. And bizarrely, no one has a right to call a bandh.

So what is the status of bandhs, really? The law holds them illegal, the constitutions in its solemn misty reality gives space for it as a way of protest and citizens have a love-hate relationship with it. For sure, two categories of people love it- errant govt employees and lazy school children who celebrate it as a holiday. Two categories of people surely hate it- daily wage earners and overworked police personnel.

So do bandhs succeed only because of these reasons? Not really. A complex web of political machination, self-promotion and underlying agendas ensure that they do. This leads naturally to the next query- will bandhs ever end? They might. Only if we as citizens come out strongly against them, regardless of the fairness of the issue, and show our objection to this form of protest by coming out on bandh days and going about life normally. There definitely is a fear for physical safety in this, but there really is no other way.

A chapter in this can be taken from the example of Guwahati that at one point in time was a bandh call paradise. But today, most bandhs called in that city go unheeded as people, tired and frustrated with them, go about living their lives with all its worries. But of course, one thing must be said- Guwahati does not have adjacent safe jungles where bandh callers and their paid “volunteers” can run to and hide in after pelting stones at unfortunate motorists!

 

 

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(28. Mar .2012)

A conversation

Tongam Rina

There was a time when many of us sympathised with the cause of the Naga freedom movement. Unwittingly, we even gave space to the factions of NSCN to operate in our state.   Though these organisations continue to operate in our state, the time has come for us to actually understand their presence today.

Though the world and govt of India continues to take them seriously, one wonders why we would entertain a bunch of confused people who do not have an ideology whatsoever.

Yours truly might have to eat her words, but the fact remains that Independent Greater Nagalim is a lost cause. Today it has been reduced as a fiefdom of few.

But the sad fact is that much importance is attached to these organisations, which have effectively lost their standing because of their own doing, by people in power.

The politics is such that they survive and thrive because of few people among us. It’s a complex business of power, violence and money. With such deadly combinations, it is unlikely, there would be any endings. To ensure power, the flow of violence and money would continue for a very long time and we don’t have dearth of takers of such games.

No matter what or how we wish for, NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) remains active in Tirap and Changlang and newly created Longding, the homes of Other Naga tribes. And intriguingly, these organisations literally run a parallel government in these three districts.  Even though Tirap and Changlang have been effectively declared as insurgency affected areas. India continues to entertain the two factions. While we watch the drama enacted by the governments of Arunachal and India, people in these three districts are not so lucky. Caught between the intimidating presence of ultras and Army, citizens live in constant fear.

Respective state government have been silent. Apart from few sweeping statements, none of the Chief Ministers have been strong enough to take any concentre step to reassure the citizens. One would want to know from the state government how many Arunachal Pradesh Police personnel are posted in these districts and what policies have been adopted to rehabilitate the young people who have given up arms. We need not go any further.

During a recent visit to these districts, yours truly met up with few cadres of both factions of NSCN who agreed to speak. Though they were disappointed that the ‘reporter’ was not carrying a video camera, none the less they agreed to talk. Most of them spoke passionately about a Naga homeland. But what stood out were issues of livelihood and security. More than the freedom, these young people spoke about insecurities and lack of opportunities. With limited and unproductive education, their options are easy; join security agencies in India or get absorbed in either factions of NSCN.

While yours truly teased them about the lost cause, their fake Nagamese accent and guns, in return they incessantly teased about the reporter who had no camera, but what was saddening was the fact that while I go back to the comfort of an office and family, their options were few.

We parted ways but not before one of the boys told me the difference between the IM and the K. Apparently the former is called Mama (Uncle) and later Kokai (Brother)! Sadly, both of them have a stake to claim.

 

 

 

 

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(21. Mar .2012)

We Didn’t Start The Fire

Tongam Rina

Due apologies to Billy Joel for this line from his 1989 release of the same name, but perhaps no other song carries more meaning for residents of capital complex presently. In the last week we have seen the forest fires that burnt on tirelessly as the state administration and fire services watched on helpless, unable to do anything because of the near impossibility of the situation. Numerous reports and enquiries have revealed, as expected, that the fires were caused by human greed and in the following of the traditional practice of jhum (slash and burn cultivation) carried on by communities since “time immemorial” and even to this day when settlements have come up around the periphery of the capital complex, adorning its ridges like an embellishment.

The government, to its credit, has been making the right noises and has set up work groups to look into the causes and remedies to the problem. As a matter of fact, even as yours truly is shaping these lines, reports of govt action are already coming in. Predictably, there is talk of aerial surveys, sensitizing programmes and even the ‘nabbing’ of 8 offenders and booking them under appropriate forest laws. All of us wait with bated breadth and earnest hope that these, and the other actions initiated, do bring fruit at the earliest.

And yet there is a persistent afterthought about two things- about the practice of jhum cultivation itself and about these “offenders” who have been nabbed.

Numerous agriculture scientists and researchers have worked on how jhum is a practice that is best abandoned for purposes of soil and eco-system health. And yet, these same researchers accept that it is almost impossible to abandon the practice given the circumstances. How do you eradicate, only on the strength of laws and punitive action, a practice that has traditionally been taken up by communities- more so when there are no viable opportunities being offered?

This brings us to the issue of the “offenders”- people who have been forced by circumstances to leave the security of their ancestral lands to seek settlement in an already crowded and difficult place like Itanagar. Is it because there are not enough opportunities for growth and livelihoods in the rural areas that we see such a large-scale migration of people to Itanagar? And when they do come here, and find life even more challenging and equally without opportunities, what option do they have left but to take recourse to what they know best- cultivate for a living.

Issues are many. Weaning people away from jhum and sensitizing them about it definitely is foremost. But equally important is for the need to create livelihood opportunities for people where they live- if at all we are to control the migration to a capital already bursting at the seams with the problem not only of forest fires- but fires of many kinds.

There is a strong need to understand why people are leaving their homes and to find a solution to that. There is a need to assess if Arunachal’s much-touted “growth-trajectory” is only about growth in its towns, or equally in the last reachable villages?

A word also about the fire services department that has been attempting bravely to fight these forest fires as well as colony fires. Plagued as it is by almost-obsolete fire fighting technology and equipment and limited manpower, the unplanned town layout with the narrowest of roads and no fire hydrants to speak of makes their difficult job impossible too.   

To come back to the chorus of the song, there is a lesson hidden there too when it says “No we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it”.

Have we really?

 

 

 

 

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(14. Mar .2012)

A blanket state?

Tongam Rina

Winter seems to have passed us as the heat and rains are setting in. Yet we in Arunachal seem to be wrapped up in blankets of many kinds as we move to the financial year ending on Mar 31.

First there was the much discussed gift of blankets to state awardees at the recent Statehood Day celebrations. While done in all good intent, one was just unable to understand why recipients of a prestigious award like the state award was conferred blankets and not the traditional shawl or even a jacket. If nothing else, carrying them home must have been quite cumbersome!

Then we heard news of the blanket of smoke that enveloped the state capital as Dariya hills burnt away for few days. While weaning away people from Jhum cultivation and towards settled agriculture is a task that successive governments and scientific committees have struggled, the fact that this happened in the doorstep- rather in the courtyard of the flagship capital comes as a point to ponder.

When we are unable to dissuade people from burning forest right under the noses of the state administration, what can we expect in far off districts and circles?

While, we need to introspect on the issue of jhum cultivation and livelihoods, we also have to take into the account the blanket earth cutting that is going on in the state capital. As the rains settle in during the monsoon, yours truly can only shudder and imagine where all the loose earth and slush will go and what it will mean for the ordinary citizens who will be blanketed with blocked roads and drains.

As if these were not enough, we have been witness to the defiling of the statues of no lesser than the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi and that of the father of Panchayati Raj in Arunachal, Daying Ering- at a time when we talk loudest about grassroots democracy.

What causes concern about the incidents of the decapitation of the statues of these luminaries was that these happened right in the centre of town, supposedly under the security blanket of this oldest town of the state that only last year celebrated its centennial.

Speaking of security blankets, yours truly is also reminded of the much hyped incident at Borduria village where there was a gun-fight between the warring factions of the NSCN, when in true Hollywood fashion, the Honourable Speaker of the Legislative Assembly was whisked away to safety in a helicopter, I presume leaving behind a blanket of dust and fear in the other citizens who could not be airlifted and have to live their ordinary lives, covering their ears with their blankets to shut off the sound of gunfire.

The only proverbial silver lining in the dark cloud is that the blanket industry must be doing very well in Arunachal these days, as we citizens await the next metaphorical blanket to buy.

 

 

 

 

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(04. Jan .2012)

 

The politics of power

Tongam Rina

Apart from the Chinese interest in Arunachal, one thing that has kept us in news is humongous amount of Hydro electric projects (HEPs), ranging from few Kilowatts to thousands of Megawatts.  With some 132 projects amounting to more than 28000 MW, Arunachal has been projected as answer to India’s power need. Experts say Arunachal is capable of generating some 50000 plus MW of power.

What these experts don’t tell us is amount of environmental destruction it is going to cause us apart from massive influx of workers from outside, dislocation of indigenous communities.

Even if these facts are hidden from us deliberately, there are already ample examples in the state to learn from.

Before someone accuse those raising voices against power projects of being anti development, let us take a look at three examples that the government of Arunachal and centre must not forget.

The Chakma and Hajong communities in Arunachal, who are unwanted and unwelcome refugees, deprived of basic facilities, did not pop out from nowhere just like that. These communities were displaced because of coming up of Kaptai hydropower project, which subsequently led to internal conflict including communal riots forcing them to flee from Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Closure home, 2000 MW Subansiri Lower Project is one example. For those of you who have been to the project site, it is for all to see, how absolutely nothing has changed for the common people. Apart from few contractors who have made huge sums of money, most people continue to live in abject poverty.  

During a visit couple of years back, yours truly was told there were just three children from nearby villages in each class at a central school somewhere in Gerukamukh.  The school anyways was very intimidating with barbed wires across its boundary. It’s a good example of corporate social responsibility.

Another example is those living downstream of the Ranganadi Hydro project. In villages near to Kimin, Sher, people live in continues fear. More so in summers since they never know when the water is going to be released from the dam. The water dramatically dries up in winter and there is deluge in summer. To add insult to the injury, the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) actually served a notice to the villagers some years back stating that it would not be responsible for human and livestock casualty in case of excess release of water.

If it was anywhere else in the world, the project would have been asked to shut for good the day notice was made public. The dreadful and unimaginable happens only in this state run by greedy politicians and spineless technocrats and bureaucrats who are such a waste.  

Governments have come and gone but every Chief Minister in this state has in unequivocal terms have come out in support of power projects in the state. Off course we understand the need of power projects but the question is how big? So far there is no opposition to minor projects which is a clear indication that people do agree to the fact that the state need power to sustain itself.

The recent statements by politicians including an MP regarding alleged funding of anti dam activists by China and Maoists support was another indication of how desperate some people in power are when it comes to HEPS.   Given the fact that these allegations pertains to national security, we would want to know what steps the centre and the state takes to counter such threats.

It is easy to brand anyone but who is going to address the real concerns of the people set to be affected by mindless power projects?

 

 

 

 

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(28. Dec .2011)

The need to fix responsibilities

Tongam Rina

In October alone, 21 people lost their lives and numerous others were left maimed for life following collapse of two bridges in the state.

On October 2, six people were washed away when a wire rope suspension bridge over Tawang Chu connecting Gyamdong village collapsed. According to reports, two wire ropes snapped from the anchor bolt of the bridge. The bridge was under the care of Jang PWD division. Shrouded in mystery and secrecy, no one exactly knows the status of the bridge as yet. If finished, why did the bridge collapsed and if it was under construction why the people were allowed to use it?

The conflicting report emanating from within the authorities is clear indication that no one wants to take responsibility.

While the state was still trying to figure out what went wrong, 16 precious lives were lost when an old wire rope suspension foot bridge over Kameng River at Seppa snapped on Oct 29.

Imagine the plight of a mother

who sent her child to the bridge to collect Tari so that they could share the delicacy for dinner only to be told that the child will never came back alive.

Who takes the responsibility for the lifelong pain of a mother whose child was so cruelly taken; a husband who lost his wife, a sister who will never see her brother again and a friend whose life will never be the same again?

These citizens paid with their lives because of negligence from all quarters. Government departments can’t put the blame on citizens alone and escape from responsibilities.  

In case of Seppa, the authorities had put up a warning that only six persons will be allowed to cross the bridge at a time. Did the authorities take any other step to keep people away from the weak and dilapidated bridge when it was for all to see that the warning was being overlooked?

Seppa and Tawang tragedies were avoidable. And tragedies like this will continue to happen, unless we fix responsibilities.

Apart from an arrest in Tawang, none of the officials of the PWD have been taken to task thus giving these officials a license to kill with their carelessness and inefficiency. Heads need to start rolling.

While we try to let go of the anger, pain and frustrations, there is yet another report of a bridge collapse over Deopani in Roing. Thankfully, there was no human casualty but the latest incident reflects the fact that bridges in the state needs a thorough review.

Just putting together few rods and cements over a river and leaving it to sustain itself is akin to handing out death certificates to the citizens.

All central and state government departments including the PWD, which has handed out two killer bridges and contractors need to start learning the technique of building bridges that are worthy of use.

Apart from going back to technical schools to learn a thing or two about how to build a bridge that are safe enough, these engineers and the departments need to oversee safety measures at regular intervals.

When it comes to precious lives, lack of fund or inadequate knowledge or for that matter any anything else should never be an excuse.

Perhaps, the first lesson the departments should start taking is memorising the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’ where it states that

“Wood and clay will wash away,

Bricks and mortar will not stay,

Iron and steel will bend and bow,”

Tragedies do not announce their arrival but to a large extent it can be prevented, more so when it is manmade disasters.

As the New Year approaches, yours truly wishes everyone the very best. More than anything, let’s just hope that every one of us is safe.

 

 

 

 

 

(21. Dec .2011)

A fabled land!  

Tongam Rina

In absence of strong media and civil society organizations and other supervisory bodies in the state, things go unnoticed, unreported and many of us do get away with lot of things.

A very good example is the fees levied for obtaining information under RTI Act.  Rs 10 is charged per page, which is highest in the whole country!

Where else in India could we possibly witness such audacity by the government?

The rate enhanced from Rs 2 to Rs 10 per page of information was officially notified by the state Govt vide AR-99/2010.

Under Section 27 of RTI Act, the states have the power to fix rate of fee and cost payable by notifying in the official gazette. Expensive Arunachal did not miss that chance!

RTI Act, anyways in the state is grossly misused and has ended up becoming a tool for the unscrupulous to make money. Today we have a whole section of society making a living by misusing the provisions. This only explains the depth of corruption at all levels.

Those who use the RTI Act know where to extract money and the corrupt part away with ill gotten money.

Perhaps one of the few exceptions have been the recent case where few of the candidates who appeared for AE (civil) examination conducted by the Arunachal Pradesh Civil Service Commission unearthed some interesting facts using the Act.

We are yet to know what course the Commission will take to rectify the errors but none the less we got some insight into the workings of authority in charge of the searching talents for the state and what the RTI Act, if used in right earnest can achieve.

But sadly, we seem to have missed the bus here too. With few exceptions, we have not been able to make use of something as powerful as RTI Act which can alter the course of the state.

On the other hand, yours truly can’t help but marvel at the contradictions and workings of various organizations in the state.

Somewhere in a research paper; it was written that Arunachal has the second highest numbers of registered and unregistered organizations in the whole country. Uttarakhand with some 13000  organisations was at the hallowed first place! If memory serves right, we were trailing by a few hundreds.

But this does not come as a surprise since we have a tradition of achieving dubious distinctions in almost all fields. To name a few, we are a state where a person consumes upto 24 kg of iodised salt per month and a bike carries at least two quintals of rice per trip.

To be lenient, organizations, more so community based organizations including students wings, in Arunachal are a nuisance.

To think of, media too need to pull up its socks. Perhaps we should make use of RTI Act more often but then people in media including yours truly have a habit of blaming others for all things wrong and when we are unable to deliver. And Arunachal Pradesh State Information Commission, by not protesting the government decision to raise the rate gave us a golden chance to make an excuse of not using provisions of RTI Act.

But then ours is a fabled land indeed where nothing is bizarre anymore!

 

 

 

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(30. Nov .2011)

 

Arunachal and its boundaries

Tongam Rina

There is a beautiful saying that “you can’t see politi-cal borders from space”. But the tragedy is that it’s confined to space and perhaps with changing technology the saying would soon be a thing of the past.

For long, we have lived amidst disputes along the borders. Facts and fiction related to border with China has almost become part of the folklore so has boundary with Assam. Unfortunately all we get to read and hear are stories of skirmishes resulting in displacement and sometimes death.  

With the state precariously located along the international border and with a greedy neighbour like China, it is understood that our state will always be the bone of contention.

However it is not only China that is cause of constant tension.

The British found us but as India gained freedom, we became part of it and since then have been involved in avoidable wars with our own.

After independence, a subcommittee headed by Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi was appointed by the Constituent Assembly of India to recommend the future pattern of the administration of North East Frontier Tracts.

The Committee recommended that govt of Assam take over. However this recommendation was overlooked and centre administered North East Frontier Tracts as “excluded area” through the Governor of Assam.

Subsequently, according to available documents, Balipara and Tirap Frontier Tracts, Abor Hill and Mishimi Hills Districts were transferred to Assam. In 1951, the units of the tracts were however reconstituted. After the introduction of the North East Frontier (Administration) Regulation, 1954, it was designated as the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and brought under the administration of Ministry of External Affairs. In  1965, NEFA was brought under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs. This continued till it attained the status of Union Territory in 1972.

As India reorganized its states, there have been problems as allegedly the division was done taking into account the plains and hills!

After ugly squabbling, Supreme Court intervened in 2006 which led to setting up of a Boundary Commission by the centre to resolve the boundary dispute among Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.

While the Boundary commission goes on at its own pace and the states sticking to its point, it is unlikely that we would see solution yet but the citizens more so in Arunachal have faced repeated dislocation and threats from Assam often resulting in conflicts.

Interestingly, the root causes of such problems are not the people themselves. Often it has been the handiwork of the government officers and disgruntled politicians who had a score to settle. Never the less, the government of Arunachal needs to act. Apparently, there is a Department of Border Affairs. Now yours truly don’t know the composition of the department, but it would save a lot of heartache if it acts on time instead of just showing its presence after atrocities have been carried out.

The recent boundary skirmish in Sango village of Papum Pare district is yet another reminder that government really needs to act and initiate talks instead of waiting for the Local Boundary Commission to give a decision. People can’t be made victim because of indecisiveness of those who are authorized to take decisions. Status quo is too repeated a word to be respected.

 

 

 

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(23. Nov .2011)

Extended wait

Tongam Rina

Amidst unparalleled violence and high drama, Nabam Tuki took charge as the seventh Chief Minister of Arunachal on Nov 1.

After two long weeks, his ministry was formed. However, the wait is not over yet as even after completion of 22 days; Arunachal unfortunately is yet to see a functional government as the allocation of ministries is yet to be formalized. Even if the Chief Minister is efficient enough to oversee the whole of the departments in absence of full functional ministry, the delay is certainly worrying for a geo-politically sensitive border state.

While the AICC and fickle politics drag on, there are reports of skirmish along the border areas in Tawang and Anjaw. Everyone predictably is quick to deny any such occurrences all in the name of national security. One would perhaps never know what kind of a national security we are talking about.

While everyone including the media choosing to maintain a stoic silence, with financial year almost closing, one wonders whether the state would actually be able to meet the deadlines. It’s for all to see that apart from few inaugurations, this government is yet to move an inch.

Under such trying circumstances, one is bound to question All India Congress Committee for the delay. While state capital burnt and rest of Arunachal watched in horror, the party high command kept quite. The silence of the party was broken only after a youth lost his life and citizens moved out of the Capital amidst unprecedented violence.

If we recall, AICC did not step in for four long months while the Congress party in the state was divided in two camps forcing a halt to all developmental activities. One group was locked up in Chief Minister’s official bungalow while the other group was in Delhi.

The collective silence of all the 60 representatives sure was a lesson for the people of the state. They say a state gets a media it deserves. Perhaps it’s true even for our elected representatives.

To put it mildly, they don’t deserve another chance to represent us in their life time.

While the Congress MLAs fought at the cost of peace, security and development of the state, the rest of the elected representatives were mute spectators.

While we and their money decide who represents us in 2014, it is worrying that Arunachal does not figure in the agenda of the Congress or the UPA government.

For those who follow the workings of the Congress party, it won’t come as a surprise as AICC usually do take longer than necessary to decide for states that does not have the requisite numbers and the resources. For us in Arunachal, the recent happenings were good testimonies about where we figure in scheme of things. A state dependent on centre for all its funds and to make matter worse with just two mute MPs, we are a lost case.

In the meantime as Buddy puts it, people of the state alternatively look Delhi-wards and heaven-wards for answers.

 

 

 

 

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(05. Oct .2011)

Congress versus Congress

Tongam Rina

The joke making the rounds in the state capital is that one has to go through AICC in order to get in touch with the Congress legislators from Arunachal.  

The joke is not devoid of  truth. The power struggle within the party is so overwhelming that everyone is left wondering what exactly is happening within the party that calls itself a “family”. It’s so divided that one camp is in New Delhi while the other camp is in Itanagar!

Both obviously are out of touch with common citizens.

Even when some members of the other camp turned up from New Delhi for the Legislative assembly session, they camped at a hotel in Naharlagun. The other camp too was not far behind. They choose the Chief Minister’s residence as the meeting point.

The drama did not end there. As the legislative assembly session ended, citizens learnt that a minister was “kidnapped” and an MLA “abducted”.

 Bizarre and incredible it may sound, but all these happened within the warring two factions of the Congress party.

In some other circumstances, we would not be bothered what happens to which camp but situation is such that we are left wondering why the party would not even try to figure out the differences for the sake of the citizens and the state. But then citizens never really figured in their schemes of things and it would be too romantic to even start thinking that they care about us.

In absence of an inquisitive media in the state, one has to read newspapers published from New Delhi and Guwahati  to know about the political drama and power struggle in Arunachal Pradesh.  More we read about allegations and counter allegations; we are left wondering why we elected a bunch of people who not only disrespect themselves but us as well.  They are not only making a fool out of themselves, in the process they are dragging the whole of the state.

While the two factions ridicule themselves and us with one antic after another, one is pained at the absolute absence of governance. While yours truly respect inner party democracy within the Congress party but not at the cost of the people. It should not supersede the functioning of the state.  We are today caught in a situation where the Congress’s supposed inner party democracy workings are affecting the governance and administration in the state.

As of now, it is unlikely that the All India Congress Committee will intervene. With the party facing one crisis after another at the centre, Arunachal obviously does not figure anywhere. Even if AICC does intervene, it is unlikely that we would see any change from what the state is currently undergoing.

On a lighter note, one must thank the Congress party in the state for giving us reasons to laugh because of their antics.  

While we make a feeble attempt to laugh, yours truly is also pained at the same time at what is happening at the state because of the infighting within the “family” who we gave mandate to decide for us. Though some organizations and individual might  make the most of the situations because of the problems within the Congress party, there is absolute and total disregard for the common citizens.

 

 

 

 

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(14. Sept .2011)

The state of affairs

Tongam Rina

After the death of Late Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu the state particularly the Capital Region has witnessed many incidences which have pained many of us. Some instances could have been avoided had there been some kind of proper communication channel and respect for common people. But with all those who take decision for us remaining adamant and sticking to their grounds unwilling to move ahead, there is an uneasy calm.

The recent All Nyishi Students Union sponsored bandh call on Teacher’s Day in protest against Times of India report about Nyishi community saw violence and destruction of government properties and files.  While the rest of the state celebrated Teacher’s Day, the students Union decided to show their respect and reverence for the teachers by calling a bandh in Capital region.  It is reported that main function held by the state government to honour teachers was allowed to go ahead but many schools had to postpone their celebrations. While it is for the students to ponder amongst themselves on their choice of dates for the bandh call, the action of the state government was questionable too. It provoked those in support of bandh by announcing the deployment of 2500 personnel through the media.

The government should have known that the citizens of Capital region might not respect anyone but past experiences have shown that it respect bandhs more so if it is on a Monday.  After the provocative action, the government had no idea where to look when supporters of bandh indulged in violence. There was no police deployment in vulnerable targets instead Police is being accused of using unparliamentarily words while dealing with a group of protestors.  No matter how provoked, violence in any form by either Police or protestors is condemnable and it calls for strong action.

On the other hand, Times of India issue refuses to die down even after passage of so many months. One wonders whether enough effort was put by the state government and Nyishi Elite Society to resolve the issue. War of words using the media is acceptable but atleast it was expected that apart from verbal bashing accusing the other of betrayal, a logical conclusion was drawn respecting the sentiments of the people of the state.  The standoff continues. Given the situation, it will continue for a long time unless those involved in finding a solution respect each other and keep the communication channels open. Till now, it looks more like confrontation rather than finding an amicable solution.  For the well being of the state, it is expected that at least some forward steps are taken.

One more shocking incident was the violent attack on a Law Professional Taba Tagum and his family and alleged retaliatory attack at the residence of an office bearer of Itanagar Market Welfare Association.  The Police seems confused as it yet to make any arrests in the cases and act on the FIRs lodged in police stations by both sides.

Tagum allegedly was attacked for taking up a case. One is forced to wonder whether the home ministry by not taking any action so far against his assaulters is justifying the attack on a lawyer who carried out his duties. For the record, the department is yet to act against those responsible for the attack on the IMWA office bearer’s residence as well. Have the Home department left it on to the people to settle their own scores?

On one hand we expect some actions from all concerned, one is forced to question the absence of some Congress MLAs holding important positions within the government from Itanagar for so many months and frequent trips to Delhi by those who choose to stay in Itanagar. Yours truly know that the party is fiercely defensive about its affairs but citizens who elected 42 Congress MLAs deserve to know what is exactly happening. We need to know why a section of govt offices is being run by legislators sitting in resorts in Gurgaon and why those who choose to stay in Itanagar is silent on all  issues. Perhaps we will never get an answer but it is about time we see some developmental activities in the state.

 

 

 

 

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(27. July .2011)

Disaster and management

Tongam Rina

The perennial flash flood and landslide causes large scale destruction in the state during monsoon season almost every year. This year too, the story is repeating itself and citizens in many parts of the state are already facing the consequences.

With onset of monsoon, the Capital Region too had its share of destruction and deaths this year.  Four deaths were reported while dozen more were injured. Hundreds of homes and major portion of road infrastructure were destroyed because of landslide that hit the state capital and essential services thrown out of gear. As usual the ill prepared state government and Capital Region administration was caught unaware this time too and it had no idea what to do.

It is ironic that District Administration sent out a warning note asking citizens to move to safer places after the landslide had already caused considerable destruction.  The administration also suddenly realized that rampant earth cutting was the cause of such large scale destruction and in typical ‘we told you so’ tone, it brought out an order banning earth cutting. It was not too long back that administration had issued a similar order. But then no one took note of it and earth cutting went on unabated. This time too once the rain stops, rampant cutting will start again.  An order after all is just an order and it really does not require much of our attention.  The ones who took out the order will forget about it until the next tragedy strikes and ones for who the order was taken out too will forget it. Collective amnesia till the next tragedy.

On the other hand, when the new state government had taken over, it launched an ambitious disaster management programme to face any eventualities. But apart from announcing assistance after the recent landslide, nothing much was witnessed. One wonders whether the programme itself need rescue from being a disaster.  

They say disasters and nature’s fury do not come announced. But the recent destruction due to landslide was a tragedy that was waiting to happen. We knowingly extended our invitation to it.  It’s a different issue that we forgot about the invite all together.  

To a large extend such tragedies can be controlled if the government and its people are serious about it. But greed knows no boundary. In Capital region, it is unlikely that there is any plot of land that has been spared by the government and the people. All of it has been encroached and almost every one of us is dealing with the consequences. As the population increase, we are leveling more and more hills. We are even diverting the flow of rivers and streams according to our wish. The end result is for all to see.  

Capital region will see many more tragedies and the magnitude will be much more bigger. And people at the helms of affairs need to take disaster management and preparedness seriously.  Yours truly would not want to elaborate on what need to be done since everyone is well aware of it.

But to start with, it is advisable that administration   shift people from dangerous locations to safer places. Easier said than done, but somewhere a start must be made before the next tragedy strikes.

 

 

 

 

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(22. June .2011)

RTI Act and Arunachal

Tongam Rina

During a government sponsored workshop on Right to Information Act for Public Information Officers and Assistant Public information officers, the participants  were almost unanimous in their opinion that the Act interfered with their work and disturbed the pace of development  and was being used as a tool to blackmail officers! The reactions were understandable given the fact that culture of secrecy has always been a part of government establishments. Till the coming of RTI Act 2005 which overrode all existing Acts, Laws and instruments, the Official Secrets Act 1923, an archaic British law ensured that there was no transparency in government dealings.

While elsewhere in the country, RTI Act has been used widely to curtail culture of secrecy and fight corruption but the same cannot be said of Arunachal.

Accept in few cases where it has been used to fight corruption and unearth perennial problem of illegal appointments in government departments, the citizens, civil societies and media have not been able to affectively use this very powerful tool.

The  Arunachal Pradesh State Information Commission Chair said that only 10 percent of the applicants seriously make use of the Act. This says a lot as there have been many instances where officials have been harassed and blackmailed based on the information received. But citizens alone cannot be blamed. If the officers and departments are clean in their dealings, such problem would not crop up at the first place.

With vicious circle of corruption so deep-rooted in every walk of life in the state, unlikely even RTI Act would be a redeemer.

One would have liked that the Act which has been so successfully used even in neighbouring Assam made some impact in Arunachal too. Sadly it is the other way around. Today it has become a very lucrative business for many and it is being widely used as a tool to extract money and favour.

Even the countable few, who have tried to make use of the Act, with whatever motives, are at the receiving end.

On the other hand, even the appointments of APSIC members including the Chairpersons have not been made according to the laid down rules in the state. It is mandatory that at least one month notice is given prior to the appointments to enable the citizens to take part in the appointment process.

On the other hand, the fee for per page of information is Rs ten. We agree that the money we have today is not necessarily hard earned but at least a chance should be given to all to procure information without having to spend so much.

However despite loopholes credit must be given to the APSIC that, today it is regarded as one of the most effective commissions in the country. It is a pity that the citizens have not been able to make full use of it.

While we hope that some of us would take the responsibility, yours truly is reminded of an incident involving a citizen. The gentleman dropped a thick folder containing information received under the Act. For a lazy journalist, such files are god sent. The editorial desk was excitedly going through the report, when a phone call interrupted the proceedings. He told us that we could not use the information. Even before we could photo copy, the folder went back to the rightful owner of Information! There was another phone call to confirm whether the folder has actually been taken back by the information seeker. We don’t have to tell our smart readers who made that second phone call!

 

 

 

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(25. May .2011)

A comment and our rapport

Tongam Rina

Many were taken aback when a Delhi based journalist declared that Nyishis do not share good rapport with other tribes of Arunachal. One can’t help but admit that some people have in them the capacity to come up with such sweeping generalizations. After initial anger and disbelief at the journalist, frustration set in.

As a fellow journalist, yours truly is left wondering how a journalist could possibly write something as unpleasant.  Individual differences apart but dragging a whole community is in extreme bad taste that deserves condemnation from all. A class one student would know that though we elect our representatives, we have no say in who becomes the Chief Minister. The Nyishis or any other tribes do not elect a Chief Minister. It is the elected representatives that decide who they want as a leader of the state.  

Reactions were bound to happen and anger of the citizens of the state was justified too. But then how and where it happened left yours truly saddened and disgusted.

No matter how hurt we were with the comments of a person who seemed to have picked up a wrong profession, taking out anger in Itanagar for what someone sitting in Delhi wrote is uncalled for.

A media house was vandalized on May 8 as a repercussion to the news item and related issues.  It is yet to hit the stands and it is unlikely that it will soon. How does one justify such angry outburst?

Media in Arunachal is used to such bullying tactics but than what is utterly disheartening is the total silence by the self serving civil society organizations, community based organizations, which more or less has communal agenda and government and the students including the Arunachal Pradesh Students Union and North East Students Union. Does their silence mean that they justify violence and deliberate chocking of the media?  

After repeated assault like this over the years and deafening silence that follows, one must admit that it is foolish to expect any support from any quarters.

On the other hand, ANSU which have been spearheading a movement against the journalist have taken up the issue at the right earnest.  Though the Union has taken up the issue but the approach it has adopted has diluted the issue itself.

If an FIR has been filled either in Delhi or Itanagar, law will take its course of action. It is just a matter of time that the journalist in question will be arrested. Union need to put efforts to ensure that law which walks on a snail pace is made to hurry up.

But then demanding the shifting of a newspaper out of Nyishi dominated area and Capital complex, for whatever reason and calling a bandh is questionable and absurd.

The journalist in all probability must be basking in glory in the fact that Itanagar is burning and every Arunachalee that read local newspapers know who he is and where he works.

While the issue continues to make headlines, the politicians and political parties have maintained stoic silence. Not that we expect much from them since they are much smarter than we think they are, but there are times when we wish that they show some leadership quality and come out and take a stand. As someone said with power comes responsibility but than our trust and their responsibility seems misplaced.

 

 

 

 

(04. May .2011)

Unexplained Realities

Tongam Rina

For some reason, it appears that India and Pakistan inexplicably share the same fate-if we see the sequence of events in the last one week.

The United States of America (‘God Bless America!’) came and virtually over-shadowed Pakistani forces  and annihilated perhaps modern world’s most wanted figure, while during the same time, India could not trace a Chief Minister of its most strategically located state who has been missing for the last four days. Both countries are apparently unaware of what happens in its own air space. Indeed an uncanny fate.

Even after four days, we don’t have any clue where the Pawan Hans chopper that flew our Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, his security officer and three others is. And we live in a country that takes pride in its satellite technology and defense capabilities! The last 90 odd hours have shown that at least for the people of this state, these so called prides are heavily misplaced.

Questions abound. Rumours outdo them. Yours truly is left wondering what or who to believe and what or who not to. Bottom line is that our Chief Minister is untraceable and we seem not to be able to do anything about it.  Each passing hour scares our hopes. How we wish that search operations are successful.

Have we acted responsibly? Unverified ‘safe landing’ reassurances by none other than the Governor of the state, a former Army Chief,  coupled with sheer lack of information and coordination by the state government perhaps tell us that we did not act responsibly. The non-committal press conference by central and state ministers after four full days was no comfort either. Is it too much to expect our government to tell us where our CM is? Or, in this time of uncertainties, it is too much to expect anything at all?  

Arunachal perhaps has never seen more difficult times. One expected that with a missing Chief Minister, search operations would be of the highest priority level. Is it? One can never say. All that yours truly knows is that “the sentinel of the east” has questions that no one seems bothered enough to reply.

To its credit, people of the state have shown incredible courage and resilience so far by not burning down the Pawan Hans hangar or anything as stupid. However, considering the wide spectrum of delayed or missed action, one cannot be faulted to expect that it’s time for heads to roll.

But then our heads are so hidden in our little toes and literally it never rolls.

In the meantime, what we are left with are stories of hope and faith. We believe, perhaps naively, that the many unnamed defense personnel, flight pilots and concerned citizens will bring back our Chief Minister.

Yours truly can only empathize with what the families must be going through. At times like this unspoken concern perhaps works better than spoken sympathy and action.

In Pakistan, there was a closure of some kind. Can we expect ours? The state, in the meantime, waits.   

 

 

 

 

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(27. Apr .2011)

When even pain fails to move us

Tongam Rina

Apart from near misses mid air, India’s aviation history is filled with stories of tragedies that could have been avoided.

With liberalisation of economy, the aviation Industry in India took a major leap. Every year more than forty million Indians take the air route, aided by the low costs private airlines which accounts for 60 percent of total travelers. While the private airlines is going from strength to strength despite many hiccups including questionable recruitments, the government run Air India refuses to learn. The only thing that Air India has to its credit today is connecting smaller towns in its worn out planes. India has had major airline disasters and most of it involves Air India. The former subsidiary of Air India, Indian Airlines and Alliance Air, Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd. (PHHL) accounts for worst airline mishaps. More than thousand people have lost their lives involving Air India. This excludes the crashes like AI flight between Montreal-London-Delhi caused by terrorists which left more than 300 dead.

With such track records, there is bound to be questions at the safety measures. Why the national carrier has almost become a on air coffin?

Yet again, there was another tragedy involving the national helicopter company of India. This time it was at home.

The recent chopper crash in Tawang not only devastated the family members of those who died in the tragic mishap, it has made us question whether air travel is a safe bet in Arunachal. While we mourn the dead, the crash has raised numerous questions. We don’t have answers today but somewhere we have to figure out to ensure that such tragedy never happens again.

Today, air travel in many states in the North east is synonymous with Pawan Hans.

Jointly operated by the Government of India and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Pawan Hans mainly operates in Northeast regions and ONGC project areas.

Two crashes in Arunachal and one in Shillong involving Pawan Hans comes to mind. Accidents, they say are accidents but then some accidents can be avoided or impact minimized.

The impact of tragedy in Tawang, if one believes the eye witnesses could have been lesser if we had the right fire fighting equipments in place. It’s too painful a topic to even write about, but could the government make effort to ensure that safety measures are implemented.

Could we ground the planes that need to be grounded on time, take a relook at safety measures?  

Instead of writing letters about safety, could we ensure that we don’t put lives of air travelers at risk. After every accident, a probe is set up. If we go by the record, these probes are usually reactive, never preempted or proactive. That’s also the time when blame game plays out like musical chairs.

Somewhere responsibilities need to be fixed. It is about time.

 

 

 

(13. Apr .2011)

Can we dare to dream?

Tongam Rina

There are two images that I will carry in my heart for a long time of the visit to Roing as part of the Arunachal Indigenous Tribes Forum (AITF) peace initiative. Two young men, one a mere school boy, sharing their stories of how they suffered during the recent communal clashes between their two communities. The stories were uncomfortably similar. One’s parents house was vandalized, their life uprooted and forced to shift away from a place where they hold deep memories. The other, shot in his shoulder and today, not certain if he will ever recover, not the least because his family does not have the finances to treat him at Vellore where he has been referred.

Young men who had dreams in their hearts - today caught in the middle of this communal turmoil. Yours truly still cannot decide if they are poster boys of their communities or victims of it.

One is shocked by the intolerance that has become a buzzword in the Arunachal that we live in - we can’t seem to tolerate anyone who is not in our circle.  And it is not just about ethnic or tribal identities. Politicians cannot tolerate RTI activists, bureaucrats cannot tolerate inquisitive public, businessmen cannot tolerate unaccommodating officers and factions cannot tolerate another in the same union. As we have moved on in life, on this path of ‘development’, intolerance has crept into our lives almost unnoticed.

Community and individual aspiration have always been part of our society. We have heard stories of raids on each other, conflicts and even small scale wars. But there have always been traditional institutions that have shielded and helped in conflict resolution. But given new equations, they seem to have lost whatever teeth they have had and no one seems to care - until the next major crisis!

Today we reach a point when we must realize that without cooperation, things do not move. Whether it has been resolving incidences of kidnapping, border disputes or factional rows. Time and again, we have been made to see that we must stand with each other.

We must respect, understand and tolerate the other - if we ourselves are to survive.

The initiative of the AITF is a prime example. A conglomeration of community organizations, its intervention has shown that it is still possible to nourish our aspirations yet at the same time give space to others to nourish theirs. In fact, yours truly feels this is the only way.

What will happen in Roing next is only for the Adi and Idu communities there to decide. AITF has been a bridge, but to cross it is in their hands and minds. To their credit, both communities have shown exemplary understanding in the series of meetings that were held. But will this peace hold? The stories of the two young men point to only one thing- our young cannot be damned because of our lack of foresight. And this is not just for Roing but for our state as a whole.

On the way home from the helipad, I saw a girl pillion riding on a bike  with a t - shirt which proudly said “Dare to Dream”. I smiled and yet had to wonder, are we giving our youth that opportunity?

One last thing, the person whose parent’s house was vandalized is today at the forefront of the peace efforts. Are we with the likes of him?

 

 

 

(06. Apr .2011)

This coin has three sides

Tongam Rina

Regional parties foraying into Arunachal territory is not new. More recently, we have five MLAs representing Trinamool Congress, which is basically a Bengal based party. Politicians in the state have not really cared much about parties as long as it gave them a platform to represent themselves and perhaps the people as well. Them representing the people is contentious though!

We are a state, where party affiliation or loyalty is least of concerns as long as we get to hobnob with those in “power”. Our loyalty lies in switching loyalties!

However, the formation of Arunachal branch of Naga People’s Front, the main ruling regional political party in Nagaland was rather ill-timed, given the social and political mindset of most people of Arunachal.

With trouble brewing in Tirap due to factional fights among the NSCN, one would have expected some amount of sensitivity from the NPF, no matter how thin veiled.

NPF had earlier attempted to field candidates during the last assembly elections in Arunachal. Later, the plan was unceremoniously dropped.

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is reported to have said that the main intention to expand the party beyond his state was for the interest of the Naga political issue and to create harmony with other regional political parties.

One is not sure whether harmony has been strengthened with the formations of Arunachal and Manipur branch of NPF but it sure has become an issue to talk about.

With peculiar social and political settings in the state, questions are bound to be asked at the formation. For long, people of Arunachal have been struggling to deal with the complicated Naga identity issue. The problems have been compounded by the aggressive presence of the factions of confused NSCN in Tirap and Changlang, who have been using guns to do their talking.

As usual, most of us, who are in a position to have a say have decided to maintain silence at the development apart from All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union. For whatever they are worth, the students have at least asked some valid questions. With time, we will have to deal with the decision of NPF, not because of anything but for the fact that we are still battling our own issues. Do we really have space to accommodate all? More importantly, are we ready to give space to others issues?

The region long troubled by militarization, separatist movements, corruption and identity issues, the last thing we need is any party trying to make inroads in the name of a “political issue”.

We don’t have to wait for time to tell us how politicised the move is!

 

 

 

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(30. Mar .2011)

 

Who Will Guard The Guards Themselves….?

Tongam Rina

The recent Daporijo MMS scandal, involving the debasement of two young people by representatives of the so called upholders of justice and security is another reminder that we have come a long way, discarding all moral ethos, which until recently formed a part and parcel of the tribal way of life. Today we don’t have any qualms about anything. There is absolutely no fear- not of god, of society or even of authorities. We live in a sense of false confidence that we can get away with everything and anything. Aided by the powerful, our moral corruption has reached such a level that we don’t think twice to rape, murder, indulge in corruption of every hue, colour and weight, which even includes usurping and selling off rice meant for poorest of the poor.

It is impossible to even think about what the young people in the video must have gone through and will continue to go through all their life. Similar inhumane atrocities were committed by the prison keepers of Abu Ghraib, which we well know of.  Difference is that in Daporijo the perpetrators were our own.   

Apart from those policemen involved, even officers who booked them under easy-to-manipulate sections should also be taken to task for negligence and professional misconduct. At least, they could have worked hard and booked those criminals under the strictest sections within the relevant provisions of law. The lapses are so obvious that it is apparent to all that the police seems to find its strength from the moral breakdown that has engulfed the department in recent times.

Why is that almost everywhere, police seems to be running into problems with citizens, incident after incident? Department might brush it aside as isolated. But if the department cared at all to cross-check, these ‘isolated’ cases have become too regular a feature to dismiss it.

Is the unbecoming behavior of Police personnel any reflection on the society that we live in today?

There was a time, when people in khaki commanded a lot more respect compared to those without it. But with time, the equations have changed. These days most police personnel manage to evoke in us utter disdain, which perhaps is a reflection of society we live in.  Earlier, we could do without police. But today citizens are demanding that police be deployed even in the villages. This is a departure from what it was during even the 90’s.

The video clip has travelled far and wide. Now, as citizens really concerned about these two young people, the first thing we should have done was delete the movie. But then, on one hand, we condemn the act and demand punishment for the culprits, and on the other, we continue to circulate the videos.

Not long ago, there was clip of a young girl being mercilessly afflicted with violence by group of women, allegedly for having an extra martial affair. The video found its way to the internet, which was promptly shared by many on social networking sites.  

No doubt, police needs disciplining. They need to be told that they are not above law and that law is equal for all. There should be no leniency at all.  Those heading the department should ensure that whatever little credibility it has today is saved before society itself turns away in disgust from its protectors. Black sheep in the department who seem to have outnumbered the rest, need to be reined in before the department’s reputation is. One thing that will reassure citizens of the department’s integrity is immediate arrest and persecution of those involved. But we have seen before that this is more a wish than a reality.

But also important is to think-have we looked at ourselves? As long as we willingly share such images with no thought of its impact on real people and real families-nothing will change. Cases will be registered, bails will be given, stories will be forgotten.

The guards will guard us, but who will guard the guards? Surely not the insensitive government or its equally insensitive people that we have become. Like yours truly’s grandfather said long back-it is difficult to figure out who is pointing a finger at whom because there are just too many hands to count!

 

 

 

(23. Mar .2011)

Amidst troubled times

Tongam Rina

Amidst chaos, violence and unrest in Tirap and communal tension between the Idus and Adis in Roing, the tabling of gender budget in Arunachal Legislative Assembly came as a welcome relief.

Even though gender budgeting is not an end in itself; it is a powerful tool to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women.

For those of us who are new to the term Gender budgeting, there is no need to panic! The Gender Budget is not about dividing the budget - 50% for women and 50% for men. Roughly, it involves analysis of actual expenditure on women and girls as compared to on men and boys.

The state government and Finance Minister and all those officers and officials deserves praises for the path breaking decision, even though only 12 departments have been included in the gender budget.

The inclusion of gender budget in the state budget is  a noteworthy achievement for the women’s movement in Arunachal. Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society, the premier organization has been appealing for the gender budget for years.

Despite changes world over, it was in 2006-2007 that government of India actually woke up to the need of Gender budget and showed some basic improvement in the presentation of gendered expenditure.  It is only now that the Gender Budgeting is carried out department wise in the country which traditional put all the schemes for women and children under the Department of Women and Child Development.

A start has been made and yours truly hope that more efforts would be put in place by the government to ensure that planning process includes all sections of society.

While hope runs high, one is let down by the communal clashes in Roing. It could have been avoided had the leaders from both communities and administration acted on time. Roing always had history of deep mistrust and intolerance between the two communities. No matter, what the bodies representing the two communities say regarding the present ongoing clashes, the ongoing conflict is a result of intolerance. One feels sorry for the two communities who have lived together for ages, yet do not miss a chance to indulge in activities which is destructive not only for themselves but for the whole state. The blame game has deepened further. It is not going to help anyone, more so the common people caught in the middle of it. Media will find a new fodder soon to fill the pages and communal clashes will be just another story. It is the communities who will have to learn to live with differences. They know what is best for them and it is about time, efforts are put in. Trust once broken is difficult to mend. But there is always a way out, more so when there is involvement of two communities. They have to figure out what suits them the best and move forward. Rest of Arunachal can only hope that peace is restored.

 

 

 

(16. Mar .2011)

 

The divine intervention

Tongam Rina

The letter by NSCN (K) to this daily and Assam based media houses calling for withdrawal of support to Congress led government by legislators from Tirap and Changlang  did not come as a surprise to many of us. Though we may have never talked about it openly, Naga insurgency groups do have a say in every sphere of life.  So much so that one of the faction had the courage to dictate terms to the elected representatives.

But the core issue has been sidelined by our leaders and organisations.  More than the issue, the authenticity of the letter is in question.  Who are we trying to fool here?  

Government has said that it would investigate into the authenticity of the letter. We are all looking forward to the outcome of the investigation since the outfit itself has not come forward with anything about the mail.

 While Tirap continue to burn, all dramas are being played out in the media, more so in this daily. The NSCN (K) and (IM) are still battling it out for supremacy and number of Indian Army has been raised. Don’t be surprised if there are more fresh turf wars in Tirap in sometime.

Citizens continue to bear it all while those sitting in the comfort of Itanagar are waging a war through the media.

One would wish that instead of all these well orchestrated dramas in media, thereby killing the core issue itself, some concrete actions were taken.

What exactly is the government stand? Apart from the letter, that has created ripples in the political circle, one is left with no choice but wonder whether our elected government is serious about the problems in the two districts, more so in Tirap.

On the other hand, the collective leadership of NSCN, currently in talks with government of India is too confused to put forward their demands and ideas since they cannot stop fighting for supremacy. But then it has not stopped them from making Arunachal their battleground, where they dance to their chosen tunes and makes us dance as well.

Sadly, our state has ended up as the favorite battleground for insurgents without a cause and Indian Army.  

Citizens will continue to pay the price because of wrong decision taken by self serving and myopic politicians.  Tirap is just an example today.

While we continue to debate and discuss, this office was not surprised to read the letter threatening a legal action from Chief Minister’s secretariat. Thankfully, we have been warned in advance that legal action will be taken against us, unlike the other time by our one time favorite politician Kiren Rijiju.

We are not sure whether he has actually decided to sue us but we did get a notice from his lawyers informing us that he plans to sue us if information required was not given to him. All we did was make space for a letter calling him the Rasputin of Arunachal for his role in getting power projects in Arunachal.  We are not very sure what happened to the MOUs, though govt documents do say almost all the politicians, irrespective of their political affiliation did write to the Chief Minister recommending projects.

While we discuss the problem confronting the state in leisure, one of the ministers in the present government has blamed all the wrongs in the state to bad omens, while addressing the media some weeks back.

Maybe, we all actually join in him doing the necessary Puja to ward off the bad omens. We do need some divine intervention!

 

 

 

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(02. Mar .2011)

Deafening silence and Tirap

Tongam Rina

After a report was published in this daily about citizens caught in the ugly turf war between two factions of NSCN, there was an expected phone call, accusing yours truly of being a no good arm chair journalist.

Good or no good, as a journalist, who makes a living reporting, yours truly better write! Tirap, laden with problems which was rather invited from outside, is today in a precarious situation. Respective State governments have been silent after the creation of Department of Tirap and Changlang by fluke. Citizens have no idea what this department is doing or whether funding, if any, is being used at all.

Why are people’s representatives so reluctant to come out in public with problems confronting the district and the solutions taken?  We would want to be reassured.   

Tirap’s problem is not hers alone. It is the problem of the whole state.  

It’s not that Tirap is deprived of any good leaders today. In the forefront is the powerful Speaker of the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly Wanglin Lowangdong, one of the few well-informed politicians, the entire North east region has today.

While we wait for the leaders to reassure us, one is left flabbergasted at the ways of both factions of NSCN. They have no business to take the whole district to ransom because their greed has crossed all possible limits. Just because they have the gun, they have a say. But more than these bunches of people, who have no ideologies whatsoever, what is frightening is the way centre and state government’s handling of the whole issue.   

What is the exact stand of state govt on Tirap problem? If the govt does not accept Greater Nagalim theory, it is surprising that the ceasefire is being allowed in district.

Caught in the entire jam are the citizens. Its not only the salaried people, even the villagers are extorted. Imagine a situation where your pigs are taken away just to feed a bunch of brainwashed criminals, in the garb of freedom fighters. It’s sickening to even start thinking what they do in the name of a separate country. All for their cause, we sacrifice our pigs!

The Arms Forces Special Power’s Act is in place in the district. But if we go back in time, the Act is applicable on the people, not the happy gun triggering militants.

Security forces are mute witness to torture and killings.

At the most, they are happy organizing surrender ceremonies. Who are these people who surrender?

Apart from the villagers, government officials too are caught in the entire situation. Even though the government has surrendered to the designs of the militants, it is the government employees who are working against all odds. They not only face constant threat and abuse, but they part away with 2 % of their salaries. To make up for the loss, they either indulge in unfair means or don’t remain in station. We can’t force or expect them to be fair, when life itself is at stake.

As one of the friends, posted in Tirap suggested if the govt has indeed surrendered, let the lives of the employees be insured or pay them life risk allowances. Apart from that government should reimburse the employees the 2 % annual tax they pay to ultras.

All said and done, the question remains why ultras have been allowed to regroup, strengthen and embolden over the years. We are told that numbers of security forces have been increased. But for what and who?

 

 

 

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(02.Feb.2011)

The long wait

Tongam Rina

When formal announcement of Pasighat Centennial celebration was made, not only the people of the beautiful town but almost whole of the state endorsed and welcomed it. Little did we realized that celebration would soon run into controversy over the repeated postponements and worse still the renaming of the bridge over Siang. But the best was yet to come! Apparently, the celebration has been postponed over and over again because invited central leaders have not been able to find out free time from their busy schedules!. In such a situation, yours truly wish these chief guests were as considerate as us. But priorities are clearly very different.

It is typical Arunachal syndrome to depend on others for every little need, but it has crossed all possible limits. Even to celebrate something as important as the hundredth year of a historic town, we have to wait for their presence and endorsement. The citizens, their preparations and expectations have all been tossed aside.

Yours truly, as amnesic as any other journalist worth his or her salt had actually forgotten about the celebration.

It took a very engaging desktop calendar, brought out by the Department of Tourism to mark the event to remind her about the celebrations! If calendar is any indication, the celebration should be a grand success. But after having waited for so long, the interests and excitement have dwindled. Now it almost borders on anger and frustration. She would not dare mark the dates of celebration on the calendar and dirty it good looks.

Why can’t the citizens be given the chance and freedom to celebrate something as momentous as hundredth years of a town. As someone said, why do we have to stick to tried and tested phenomenon of pleasing others?  In our effort to continue the policy of appeasement, innovation has died an unnatural death. We even did not bother to give it a decent burial.

The efforts of a simple villager who prepared the apong, gathered the ekkam, and celebration committee members, whose daily routine has gone haywire, does not matter to us. What matters to us is the presence of someone big and important as Chief Guest. One could easily conclude that it’s almost obsessive. Going by the practiced norm, it’s not about the event we celebrate, its rather the presence of the chief guest who takes the centre stage of any celebration. It’s the felicitation of a chief guest that matters, not the importance of the event or the mass participation.

Yours truly would wish that celebration actually happens before the next batch of apong is wasted, ekkam dries, and the potholes adorned the roads once again.

It is for the government to ensure that dates are announced and celebration goes ahead with or without the hallowed chief guest.

Blatant hijacking of landmark event is not something we would like to associate centennial celebration of Pasighat. Citizens would rather celebrate her courage; recall her contribution to the state and her never ending resilience. That would be the ultimate tribute to the place which ushered in a whole new era in all spheres to the state.  

 

 

 

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(019.Jan.2011)

A Chinese new year gift

Tongam Rina

Issuance of stapled visa to weightlifter Yukar Sibi and Indian weightlifting Federation official Abraham Techi came as huge surprise, given the fact that China considers Arunachal as its own. Even as China maintains there is no change in its stand towards Arunachal, it is a clear policy shift if we go by precedence.  The latest move should come as a relief to the country and jingoistic Arunachalees. If it is anything to go by, atleast we have been upgraded from being “theirs’ to “disputed”.

Until now, China has issued stapled visa to people from Jammu and Kashmir which it considers a disputed territory.

Notwithstanding the fact that we have a democratically elected government under the Indian Union, Arunachal is considered a province of China!!  

On the other hand, China does not have a consistent visa policy for Arunchalees. There have been contradictions as it refused to issue visa to IAS officer Gonesh Koyu, which prompted pulling out an entire high profile Indian delegation while a delegation of women leaders including Jarjum Ete, Komoli Mossang and Dipti Bengia visited the country on normal visas. There are other examples too where its lack of policy stand exposed.

These instances clearly show lack of clear cut policy. But whether China has a policy or not, it has always managed to upset Arunachalees more than the Indians!

In one instance, All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union courted arrest in Delhi upset at the claim while the Indian leaders busy with their usual jobs had no time to meet the students.

In this case too, its been the Arunachalees who have gone overboard including burning of effigy of Chinese premier, upset at the Chinese move.

The Indian media made a brief mention of it while Ministry of External Affairs issued a meek statement.

Like it or not, every time China says something, it irritates Arunachal more than rest of India. Maybe it’s a case of wearing our patriotism on our sleeves, but do we really have to? Maybe a meek statement would more than suffice.

China will not stop being an irritant. But India has to look for options to tackle this issue.

On November 12, 2009, the Ministry issued a travel advisory, cautioning Indian citizens that Chinese visas issued on separate papers stapled to passports would not be considered valid for travel out of the country. It basically means that people of Arunachal and Jammu Kashmir will not be allowed to visit China. We can do without visiting that country, but will India react more strongly than just stopping its citizens from travelling to China. With increase in trade relations and opening of traditional trade routes with Tibet, India needs to come up with a pragmatic approach.

A tit for tat is not going to work as it will not help thaw the volatile relations the two countries share. But we sure would not want a situation where we have to be embarrassed by China’s treatment of us and India’s complacent stand.  Arunachal would be watching the next move of Indian government.

 

 

 

(012.Jan.2011)

PDS and non-delivery system

Tongam Rina

For an average citizen dependent on Public Distribution System (PDS), it does not matter whether the quintals of food items are transported through motor bikes or head loads as long food reach them on time.

A hungry citizen would not be bothered whether Food Security Bill actually takes shape. We would not want to know whether Special Investigation Cell looking into anomalies in PDS has any plans to wake up from its deep slumber. We don’t even care whether the state government is still in the process of streamlining PDS delivery system as promised some five years back. Citizens won’t even question the quality of rice as long as it fills the stomach. With such backdrops, it is unsettling that food depots in many places in Arunachal are empty.

For a state hugely dependant on Public Distribution System, it is a rather uncanny that people of the state has to wait for their monthly quota of food grains.  It’s even more incredible that after we made it to the national headlines because of the notorious PDS scam, Food Corporation of India, state government and the contractors seems not too bothered whether essential items actually reach us. To make the matter worse, everyone seems to be blaming everyone else for such utter incompetence and laxity.

 What stops FCI and the state government from giving us something that has been kindly allotted to us by the centre?

Is another scam waiting to be unearthed? What could be the possible explanation for empty food depots? We come across as a society that’s not bothered about others as long as we are stuffed.

If the people’s first government really cares, it is about time FCI is made to explain to the people of this state the reason for empty depots. It would be a welcome change if the FCI makes news, for once, for good reasons rather than constantly being in news for corruption and inefficiency.

FCI and state government must ensure that responsibilities are discharged on time so that people get to eat on time. Blame game does not fill a hungry stomach.

 

 

 

(05.Jan.2011)

Time for a reality check

Tongam Rina

As we were getting ready to welcome the New Year, there was a heart breaking appeal from Sanjay Kumar’ family for his release.  

A supervisor with APMDPCL Coal Mine, Kharsang, Changlang, Kumar was kidnapped on November 24 while he was on his way to the coal fields. There is no news whatsoever from any corner apart from assurances that efforts are being put to secure his safe release.

On May 13 last year, an Indian Forest Service Officer Vilas Bardekar was kidnapped in Arunachal Pradesh by the suspected National Democratic Front of Bodolannd. He was released on August 1 after centre and state government of Assam and Arunachal threw its force to secure his release.

Unlike Bardekar’s case, where the agencies had clue right from the beginning, in Kumar’s case, the scenario is different.  No one seems to have any idea who kidnapped and why.

Is it one of the factions of NSCN, active in Changlang district who picked up the Supervisor or is it some individuals who have a stake in mining sector in Arunachal? There seems to be too many contradictions and possibilities as well.  

The people of the state are patient but it would soon want to know why someone should be kidnapped while he is in Arunachal and why there is total silent from the investigating agencies. We would want to see that kidnapped official is safely released and reunited with his family members.

Kumar and Bardekar’s abduction are indication that all is not well despite tall claims by the govt. Though the state might not have to deal with home grown armed rebels, there is no denying the fact that Arunachal continues to be used as a hideout by militants from outside the state.  Not only these rebels use this state as hideout, they operate with impunity.

NDFB has a clout in at least four districts bordering Assam while ULFA, despite Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa’s arrest and subsequent release has its presence in Lohit and Changlang.

On the other hand, Changlang and Tirap continue to be the favorite playground of both factions of NSCN.  

Its not very clear why NSCN has come all the way to Tirap and Changlang, which is home to the Tangsas, Tutsas, Noctes and Wanchoos, who share the same ancestry as some tribes of Nagaland and Burma. NSCN was formed with an aim to secure a separate Naga nation. It’s a different issue that with time the whole greater Nagalim issue seems lost in some quagmire as both the factions can’t seem to decide what it really wants for itself and for the people who it claims to fight for.  On the other hand, Indian government is having the last laugh while the factions fight among themselves and the Indian Army. Ceasefire has a completely new meaning here.  

However, Tirap and Changlang continue to suffer. In the name of Naga nation, it’s the people of these districts who are the worst sufferers. Apart from living in utter confusion and fear, dealing with massive unemployment, drug addiction, the whole process of development has been derailed. A huge chunk of fund is taken away by these organizations and government employees part away with at least 2 percent of their salary every month.  The problem does not end here. There is utter lack of accountability which has lead to widespread corruption in all institutions. Its time, we and they do a reality check.

 

 

 

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(29.Dec.2010)

Resolutions and wishes

Tongam Rina

An avid follower of the Gregorian calendar, a dear friend celebrates Christmas religiously.  Apart from attending church services, she ensures that she invites her friends and extended family over to celebrate the festive occasion.

With mouth watering delicacies, laughter, positive energy and good humour in abundance, one wishes Christmas was an everyday event. While we enjoy the food, she asked each one of her guests, about their New Year resolutions and wishes.  

It came very easy to many but yours truly found herself struggling.  Unable to come up with anything worthwhile, she just brushed aside the topic with an excuse that we don’t need an occasion to come up with resolutions or wishes.  

But then I could not help come up with a list of resolutions and wishes as I left her place. Unwittingly but very conveniently, yours truly found herself with resolutions for others. We trick ourselves so well!  On one hand, we would not want to put ourselves in trouble; on the other, we do come up with a long list to be accomplished by others!

Yours truly is no exception.  

As we welcome a new year, with or without resolutions, yours truly just wishes that this state is at par with any other developed state without compromising with our core values, identity and environment. A state that’s stable, peaceful, safe and healthy for each one of us.  

A state where everyone is accommodated and allowed to take a pick for the greater good; a state which has the heart to listen to the opinion of others; a state where everyone is given an equal opportunity, where hard work is appreciated and respected.

A state where citizens take the responsibility to shape it in a way that everyone would be proud of. A state where the youngsters do not stray for want of proper guidance from teachers, parents and elders; government policies and support required. A place where our elders are looked after with respect and love, where children are safe and secured, where youngsters are given freedom to dream and the platform to achieve it, where a professional is given the chance to perform and excel.

A state where corruption is not a way of life; where health care, education reaches every household. Water and power supply and roads reach our homes without having to play with nature, where basic essential items are within the reach of common citizens.

Yours truly wishes for a state where policies are not imposed at whims and fancies, a state which is considerate of others needs.

Yours truly wish that we are given the platform to make our own informed choices devoid of anger, guilt, frustration, anxiety and selfishness.  It’s on us to turn some of our dream into reality.

While some wishes seems almost unachievable but yours truly must be excused for daring to dream. She blames the infectious season of hope!

As another year approaches, let’s wish ourselves the very best.  Her buddy says we could at least start dreaming good dreams. Yours truly could not agree more.

 

 

 

(22.Dec.2010)

The kitchen and media

Tongam Rina

Yours truly can’t afford to lodge a complaint if the food is bad. “You get to eat what you buy” is the usual response.  “But that’s what the budget allows” does not work here. If she is in a mood to talk, she would retort “I don’t care what the budget is. Either increase or eat what I cook or cook”.

 The scope of further discussion is firmly cut short. There is no other way out; either eat or go on a hunger strike. Hunger strike is the usual response but with an anticipation that she might come up with some magic recipe. But she chooses otherwise. She is firm in her take that you get what you deserves!

The half hearted antics and threats to go on a hunger strike have been put off permanently.  

Before you question why all these trivial kitchen details are being shared, yours truly would like to draw a comparison between what happens at her kitchen and media in Arunachal.

All these years, the media in Arunachal has been trying to do some work, if not hard enough. In the last five years or so, workings of the media have changed and yours truly would unabashedly claim that media persons have tried their best in spite of limited resources.

Journalism is not about solving problems but informing the people; with a hope that readers, irrespective of who they are would pick up from there. But it hardly happens.

The civil societies, numerous organizations who claim to work for Arunachal and common citizens is not much concerned at what happens to our state.  That’s the ultimate and sad truth.

 It is in fact irresponsible to expect that our society would change overnight. When we don’t want to take on the challenges and responsibilities, it is ridiculous to expect one of the members to work on our behalf and bring in changes. Why risk ourselves and our family members? No matter how selfish we are, putting family members and their careers and sometimes their lives, at constant risk is not what we seek. Some hard facts to digest but that’s the facts for many journalists working here in the state.

Citizens will have to continue reading about appointments of office bearer of some sector or colony or organisation and opening and closing ceremonies of some weird and alien sounding government sponsored program.  As someone said, you get what you deserve.

Forcing media to close down for three straight days, because of deliberate inaction by the people’s first government and its police and administration is a reflection on our society too. A society which refuses to grow up and a society used to accepting diktats and believing what those in power tells us.

Take the recent case of two journalists who were not only obstructed from carrying out their duties but assaulted in full view of public. The wanted man happens to be security personnel of MP Takam Sanjay.

 Our dear MP, instead of facilitating his arrest sends a message of solidarity to the media houses. Thankfully, this media house received the message from the MP after the journalists had already decided to boycott government releases. That saved us the embarrassment.  And his as well, presumes yours truly.

The people’s fist government was too happy to hit the mute button as well. In a society, not used to any kind of criticism, blind acceptance of failure, hand me downs diktats and accommodating crimes and making way for its growth, it would  be foolish to expect anything otherwise.  

 

 

 

(15.Dec.2010)

The new sets of law

Tongam Rina

Apart from the existing traditional and Indian Laws, if popular trends are any indication, there are bunch of people, who set new laws according to their arrogance, the size of pockets, egos and tribal affiliations. Like it or not, these sets of new laws are recognized and followed. Dare defy it, we are in trouble.

Now the poor citizens have no option but to follow the new rules set by select bunch of citizens because they know existing Indian law has no relevance here.

This is one state where people get away with crimes like murder, day light extortion and corruption. We absolutely get away with everything and anything. With such encouraging precedents, beating someone, looting or maiming and even killing is just like any day to day errand. Tomorrow is just another normal day.

In short, we are a tribe who has total disregard for law.

No matter who is at the fault, motorists are not only forced to pay after an accident but they are beaten up too. Beating up doctors, journalists on duty is not shocking any more.

One is left wondering why we take to violence at the very first instance. Is it total lawlessness or a deeper social problem that makes some of us believe that violence is a way of life?

Why is that some of us have no respect what so ever for other fellow human beings. Why do some of us have such limitless arrogance, rudeness, anger that ultimately results in violence?  

As yours truly think about a possible remedial measure, more and more questions come up.

Why do we choose to be just mute spectators to such unpleasant and despicable acts?  Are we really members of a tribal society that believes in fairness and ethics? And what about the great Indian justice system?   

Is it because law and law makers are blind spectators too?

As a society, somewhere we have to look within ourselves and find solutions.  To start with, we must stand up for what is right and fair. Enough is enough.

 

 

 

(8.Dec.2010)

Social welfare measures and their schemes

Tongam Rina

The eighth report on the most vulnerable social groups and their access to food by the Commissioners of the Supreme Court makes one wonder whether the government of India’s social welfare schemes is just for the sake of it.

The poor implementation and extreme lack of accountability at the state level and centre’s inability to do anything is too massive to ignore.

The Commissioners report in bits and pieces on Arunachal is yet another reminder how major welfare schemes and public distribution system despite all tall claims by government is nowhere near where it should be.

The Supreme Court appointed the commissioners to monitor the implementation of the Court’s orders on various welfare measures and schemes as an aftermath of path breaking public interest litigation in April 2001 by People’s Union for Civil Liberties Rajasthan known as “PUCL vs Union of India & Others, Writ Petition (Civil) 196 of 2001” seeking enforcement of the right to food.

Initially, the case was brought against the Government of India, the Food Corporation of India and six states, for inadequate drought relief. However, the case was extended with all states and union territories as respondents.

The Commissioners would soon come up with their next report. The performance of Arunachal this time remains to be seen but the fact remains that lot more need to be done when it comes to implementation of social welfare schemes and Public Distribution System.

The Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY) aimed at addressing urban poverty alleviation is a major govt initiative. It stipulates that a 3 per cent reservation of coverage or finances is mandatory for differently abled people. All over the country the target is not met. Needless to say, in Arunachal Pradesh, according to official data it is a stark 0 %.

The supplementary nutrition programme of the ICDS, along with other services such as nutrition counselling and referral health services are aimed at reducing malnutrition among children under six. The data of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS 3) says 46% of children under three are underweight for their age in the country. Arunachal figures in the list of states where the situation of malnutrition among children under three has worsened.

Emotions do run high when we talk about children but yours truly just pray that we better our performances by the time the next report comes in.  

The report by Commissioners on public distribution system makes an interesting reading too.  The conundrum is such that most of the targeted Below the Poverty Line do not get food grains and those Above the Poverty Line (APL) do not bother to use the ration card because of high price.

In Arunachal, identification of BPL families is an interesting issue. There is an instance where a son of a Deputy Commissioner found his name in the BPL list. This is not an isolated case. Systematic looting of poor continues unabated.

 

 

 

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(24.Nov.2010)

Audacious attack by NDFB

Tongam Rina

National Democratic Front of Bodoland’s calculated attacks on citizens this month did not come

as shock given its past precedents.  It is one organisation, which not only threatens but executes them too.

What was obnoxious was the targeting Hindi speaking section of society in their attempt not to lose the sympathy of people of Assam and Arunachal. It was a miscalculated move and no one should get away with something as sinister as this. But what was more condemnable was total lack of preparedness by Indian Army, Assam and Arunachal. The organisation had already warned that it would carry out attacks in retaliation to a killing of one of its cadres Mohan Basumatary in October.

The audacity of NDFB, known to be very close to NSCN (IM) to target an Arunachal bound bus and cold blooded murder is a message for all of us. It was not only a direct assault but an announcement that the organisation has a grip in our state too.

As if to mock the Indian Army, the attack of the bus was carried out at a place near the headquarters of the Army Corps in Tezpur.

It is a known fact that the NDFB has been regrouping along the Assam-Arunachal border with areas of operation in East and West Kameng and West Siang bordering Assam.

Though the government of Arunachal has been reluctant to admit, NDFB has a free run in Assam-Arunachal border areas. There are accounts of abductions and extortions in many places in Arunachal including the Capital region.

After the killing of seven government employees residing in Arunachal by the NDFB, the knee jerk reaction of the state government was to suspend all night busses, sumos bound for Assam. There were no takers of the government decision as vehicles continued to ply in defiance of the order.

It is a different matter that if something goes wrong, the govt can always fall back on the order and say we told you so. That is the easiest thing to do.

If we go back in history, the faction led by Ranjan Daimary in a loud and clear message actually had a passing out parade in Bangladesh while another faction was engaged in ceasefire talks with the Indian government. It was not only a massive embarrassment for govt of India and intelligence failure but also a clear sign of lack of cohesive understanding of the core issues by those at the helms of affair.

On the other hand, the liberation movement has not been scripted by the Bodos themselves. Bodo Liberation Tigers Force that fought for a separate Bodo state within Indian Union was actually funded by the government of India to counter the growing popularity of the NDFB, demanding a separate country. We may perhaps never know what actually transacted but today BLT is a coalition partner in Assam.

Even after Ranjan Daimary’s dramatic arrest, NDFB, which is widely believed to have carried out 30 Oct 2008 attacks, have continued to carry out atrocious attacks in Assam. The numbers of cadres have dwindled but it has not stopped doing what it wants.

It is a fact that they have barracks in the forested patches in Arunachal to keep the abducted. The most recent example was abduction of Indian Forest Services Officer Vilas Bardekar.

It is not only the Indian govt that needs to relook at its policies when it comes to groups like NDFB but also state government of Arunachal that abides by the Indian constitution to ensure that its lands are not used by someone else to carry out their agenda.

 

 

(10.Nov.2010)

Troubled Ziro

Tongam Rina

The large scale violence in Ziro on Nov 3 after tragic death of a school boy was shocking to say the least. It almost seemed like a sequel of Roing violence which was triggered after high handedness of Police force led to a death of a man. In both incidences, the citizens took out their anger at the administration and left it crippled. The ill equipped administrations and Police as usual were caught unaware and did not how to react at the angry outbursts.

Though there are larger issues that had led to violent reactions in recent times in many places in the state but one just wishes that citizens restrained themselves. Attacking government establishments might be a very provocative way of challenging the power and authority. But it is surely not the desired way. Anger is understood but could we possibly justify attack on the official residence of the DC while family members including children were inside the house. Unfortunately, there is none. Adults might have peace meetings and reconcile, but children take a long time to forget traumatic events.

This was not the first time Ziro witnessed violence and this will not be the last given equation among the tribes who just refuses to respect one another. Good will cannot be forced. It has to come from within. When there is mutual distrust among the people, administration cannot do much. It is on the people to deal with it and decide what needs to be done.

Apart from the issues that we would rather ignore, there are other issues too confronting Ziro.

A favorite destination, including yours truly, this beautiful Valley had problems before too, prompting us to question what ails this seemingly self sufficient place. Blessed with good climate and topography, with amazingly hardworking people, Ziro has set many milestones. It has given the state some of the best technocrats, teachers, doctors, administrators and sportspersons and one and only IPS officer.

Apart from the troubled past with its neighbours, before and after we took shape as a state, there are other issues that needs to be addressed.

People of the valley have worked hard to get where they are today. Ziro is known today not because of attention of the respective governments but because of the perseverance, hard work and entrepreneurial skills of its people.

Apart from the district headquarters, when it comes to developments initiatives by the government, there is not much to talk about.

Some of us might blame it on the infighting among the tribes but Ziro is a typical case study of inequitable distribution of developmental initiatives by the government. Left on its own devices, there is simmering anger and tension.  

There is enough skilled hands and space. What it lacks is initiatives from the government. Ziro is one of the biggest assets of the state and onus is on the government how it shapes this place and its people.  

Just sending off high profile visitors for a drive is not the answer.

 

 

 

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(3.Nov.2010)

Child labour and Arunachal

Tongam Rina

The other day, Ravi, a good friend shared that conditions of child labour in Arunachal is awful and more need to be done.

While we exchanged these notes and rued how bad the situation is, a report was flashed across the local print media that City Administration arrested two people for employing under aged children in hazardous conditions in fabrication units.

While we wish authorities took note that child labour is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, there is no denying the fact that we the common citizens are responsible for the mess.

In Arunachal, more so in urban set up, our dependence on domestic helps, mostly made up of migrant children from Assam is for all to see. With both parents working, in most homes, the domestic help takes care right from cooking, washing to walking the children to school or the bus stops.

Not to talk of education, most of these young citizens are deprived of very bare necessities of life and  are subjected to physical violence, psychological trauma, and even sexual abuse.

But we would never talk about it.

While many of us, including yours truly depend on domestic help to run the kitchen and literally the whole household, most of the time we do not even deem it fit to address them by their names.  

Child Labour Laws in this country, including the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act states that children under the fourteen years of age could not be employed under hazardous occupations.

The Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

Reading these laws give us immense satisfaction, that something is being done. It’s just that implementation and abiding by the law is someone else’s job.

For a 12 year old, beginning his or her day at six in the morning, running our errands is hazardous enough, when they should be preparing for schools.

The much touted Right to Education advocates education for all children under the ages of 6-14. But sadly, children below six, do not find mention when we all know that children as young as six takes care of their families.  

On one hand, children have no other option than to support families by working as household helps, on the other, working conditions could have been better, provided we make it happen.  

Every day, we read in the advertisement pages of the newspaper about missing children.

The reason why instead of going to the authorities most people end up giving advertisements is that there are no records. We don’t bother to register and authorities never bother to ask. Its works fine both ways. At the end of the day, we do not seem to care how work is done as long as it is done.

With great fanfare, India decided that from October 10, 2006 there would be a ban on employing children below 14 years of age and liable for prosecution and penal action under the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986.

There was a short-lived crackdown too!  

While yours truly write all these, Rupalee makes a quite entry, with a mug of coffee.

 

 

 

(27.Oct.2010)

Seeds of violence, mistrust & anger   

Tongam Rina

The violent repercussions of ill-advised govt decision to grant Permanent Residential Certificate to non-Arunachalees of Lohit and Changlang, residing before 1968 and subsequent withdrawal is for everyone to see.

The seeds of violence, mistrust, anger and discord have been sown among the communities that lived in harmony for so long.

Deoris, Khamptis, Singphos and other communities are today dependent on the security forces to ensure that they do not kill each other or burn down each other’s houses.

Enough post-mortem has been done on the government’s immature decisions but bloody protest of Oct 23 could have been avoided had the  Committee constituted by the government taken a little more pain to study the mood of the people.

The Committee obviously did not give much thought about the popular mood while it took trip to two districts on helicopters.

Citizens were not informed about the decision to grant  PRC. It was the students that informed the media and the citizens about the decision of the committee.

Though many of us might have agreed that non indigenous communities do deserve a certain kind of privilege, the way the government slapped the biased decision of granting PRC to people of just two districts made us rethink.

Hurriedly, the government withdrew the decision to grant PRC after the students took to the streets.

A cruel joke was played on APST and Non APST communities alike. The consequences are for all to see.

However, the saddest thing is that instead of taking the course of the law or confronting the government, aggrieved non APST communities decided to take their anger out on the native community.

There is absolutely no justification to the violence that Namsai and other areas witnessed on Saturday.  Those responsible, including the government officers who miserably failed to ensure the safety and well-being must be taken to task at the earliest.

None in Lohit, irrespective of who they are, has gained anything and the violent outburst has only managed to divide the people.

Though the wounds are fresh and anger deep rooted, it is on the citizens to pull together. At the end of the day, inevitably the communities will have to live together. We have to make a start somewhere to bridge the gap and give a chance to peace and harmony. There is no other way.

On the other hand, the veil of secrecy that the government of Arunachal puts around itself is not seen anywhere else in the country. The laughable thing is most of its decisions are blurred and myopic. Decisions are taken and dropped at the whims and fancies unmindful of consequences.

 Its about time the irresponsible rotten spoilt sixty members of legislative assembly and lazy, scared and yes sir-madam babus give a thought to the welfare people of the state. Yours truly say no more, because the fact remains that people have gone on the streets to register their demands and protest. The media houses did not do a paid photo shoot here.

 

 

 

(6.Oct.2010)

Heat, debate and the fan

Tongam Rina

Amidst unlimited rounds of red tea and tamul-paan, discussions on hydro power project, PRC and PDS invariably take the centre stage at Pasighat. The discussions are so heated and widespread, it’s almost impossible to escape. Everyone seems to have an opinion and something to share on the issues.

The discussion on PDS and PRC, most of them said was not for print. Sometimes, even family members make it a point to remind that some conversations are off the record.  That’s the flip side of being in journalism!

But on hydro power, they were ready to be quoted.

Yours truly could sense that people are deeply divided on hydro power issue.  Though there seems to be consensus that citizens need power, there are different take on the how big it should be.

Some want, some are downright opposed to it while most tread the middle path and says that it would be alright to have projects that could cater to the need of the people without displacement.

It is unlikely that they would ever come to a conclusion that is acceptable to all but yours truly felt that there should be more room for discussion and people should be the ultimate authority to take a decision.  It should be left on them to decide whether they want to have thousand megawatt or micro projects. But is there any space for people’s participation and inputs?

As the heated debate continues, Pasighat, the oldest town in the state is set to celebrate its hundredth year starting from Jan 14 next year.  

But as one get into the town, the extremely bad roads conditions greet you. The only reason that stops one from swearing out loud is the smiling posters of Toko Teji, the wonder boy who managed to put our state in the map of Indian television!  

As one reaches home fuming and switch on the fan, it refuses to move! Apparently, there has been no power supply for a long time.

Aunt promptly hands over a fan (meyap) made of bamboo. One can’t help but smile looking at the forever popular meyaps that’s an integral part of lives of this town.

With unbearable heat reaching its peak, yours truly could not take it anymore and called up the power department. Before the person at the other hand puts the phone down, he announces it’s a Saturday.

So? Allegedly it’s a maintenance day! With no power supply in most part of the town for four days straight, it sounded like a serious joke.

While yours truly gets on to a tirade on how seriously some people take their jobs, her buddy comes up with a helpful suggestion that “people who needs constant power supply should not write against hydro projects”!!

Before the sentence is complete, someone says, “that’s why we don’t complain”!!!

That’s the paradox.

While yours truly sit down with a list of complaints at bad facilities, her uncle informs that roads will be ready on time for the hundredth year celebrations. There is no sign whatsoever of any work being undertaken.  Call it Suresh Kalmadi effect!

How ironical that we have to wait for a certain time to access basic facilities like good roads and power supply.

 

 

 

(13.oct .2010)

As they sing “Munni badnam hui”   

Tongam Rina

As someone said everyday is a surprise. Some pleasant and some very unpleasant. But it’s a surprise! The other day while on way back home past midnight, we ran into a group of vivacious boys. They were unloading some stuff from a truck, which they said was for construction of puja pandals.

The festive season is here at least in Capital region. Every neighbourhood in town is gearing up to celebrate the festival of the Hindus.

Like elsewhere, the festival is infectious and almost everyone is engrossed in preparing for the festivities.  Though the pandals have come up at all places including right in the middle of the highway, no one seems to mind. That infectious is the festival.

Most private schools have gone on midsession holidays. Eleven year old Lobsang Wangmu and four year old Milli Angel and her sister seven year old Ohana are the lucky ones who would make the most of the holiday period. Apart from catching up with their home works and mental mathematics classes, they look forward to taking a dip at the newly inaugurated swimming pool!

In absence of any recreational facilities, a swimming pool, at least in the capital Region, is best what the grown up people of this state can offer to these young ones.

While yours truly listens to their list of dos and don’ts, mental mathematics sounds scary enough to mar the festive season!

For many of us, festive season means some break from mundane office work while for majority, at least going by the trends, means getting in touch, in their own ways with the numerous gods and goddess.

Even as we race to be a superpower, India is known world over for the highest number of holidays, designated and restricted. And this state would beat all the existing records. Every month, we seem to have some kind of holiday, not to talk about forced holidays like bandhs. Lazy that we are, we welcome them all. Since we don’t seem to be doing anything productive for the public at large, least we can do is save on some electricity!

Well, coming back to the festive season, it would not be an exaggeration to compare the enthusiasm of people of this state to that of Kolkata. We might not get the puja offers and discounts, but none the less, the festive season engages us all. Call it acculturation. No matter what we call it, there is no beating the fact that irrespective of our religious or tribe identity, we all are drawn to the season in some way or the other.

While we play “Munni badnam hui darling tere liye” to the poor gods and goddess, yours truly feels that its about time we put some restriction on the noise blaring at all odd hours and ensure that the idols are not dumped to the already polluted rivers and streams of the town.

Gods and goddess will forgive the lesser mortals like us, dressed in our best costume singing  “yeh paisa bolta hain” and “munni badnam hui dasling tere liye” but we must have some respect for our rivers and mountains. Mighty they are, nonetheless, they would not be able to take the load of the dirt, we mortals throw at them so unmindfully.

Maybe we should make a start by making pandal with bamboos and other local products that’s environment friendly and centrally organize the festival.

 

 

 

(20.Oct.2010)

Let the citizens decide   

Tongam Rina

It was interesting to note that the novel “Such A Long Journey” by Rohinton Mistry was dropped from the

Mumbai University curriculum after the Youth Wing of the Shiv Sena objected to the author’s uncomplimentary observation about the party which is not known for anything productive.

It is depressing to note that University succumbed to political pressure and did not take much time to strike it off the list. The ridiculous stand did not stop there. University apparently dropped it from the list because there were no takers! Timing though was lost on none.  

But perhaps, this is true in almost all the universities where politics play a major role and render the very Institution spineless.  When universities cannot stand up for itself and its well being and become tool for politicians to carry out their unimaginative and short sighted strategies, it is well understood what happens elsewhere.

Such a long journey was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1991 and is worth a read. It is worth a read not because of its take on Shiv Sena but because of the conversational style of narrative laced with humour that is typically Parsi, one of the rare races that are capable of laughing at themselves.

As yours truly found herself rummaging the bookshelf for the long lost copy of Such A long Journey, it was not lost on her that we live in a society which is intolerant, incapacitated and not used to differing voices. Invariably, not to be left out, we end up being party to those who are in power or influential. We are so terrified that we don’t even want to write letters to newspapers with our names and addresses. We know what will happen to us if we ever write anything against the government and bosses at offices with our real names plastered all over.

Among many incidences, Yours truly remembers one particular incident when a young citizen was forced to stop writing letters to this daily after the president of a major political party expressed his displeasure at a press conference and announced it to the dumb founded media people that efforts are on to track down the young citizen. The voice was muffled forever.

Even today, people ask why letters without names are entertained in this newspaper. When citizens are targeted for expressing their views, it is only pertinent that they come up with pseudonyms.  This is the tragedy of a society we live in. A society, which once boasted of vibrant village democracy where only those guilty were punished.

Today, one could be at the receiving end for expressing views which is not in conformity with voices of the high, mighty and influential.

But does it mean we stop writing or expressing our views? Well, Yours Truly will take the easy route and say let the citizens decide. The common citizens might not have a quick fix solution to all the ills but they do have a say and they know how to separate facts from fiction.  That matters.

 

 

 

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(1.Sep. 2010)

People and their agenda    

Tongam Rina

The centre’s detour on Vedanta’s bauxite mining project in tribal inhabited Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa comes at a time when centre and state governments are mercilessly pushing developmental agendas undermining environmental concerns.

The centre’s decision came after Forest Advisory Committee submitted the NC Saxena report which cited violations of environment clearance given to Orissa Mining Corporation in 2008 including non-compliance with the provisions of the Forest Rights Act.

As we debate whether centre’s stand on Vedanta project is a sign of environmental consciousness or political agenda, none the less it has come as a big relief for indigenous communities fighting to save their land from those agencies, including state governments, for whom revenue generation is top on the agenda.

However the center’s decision on Vedanta, though it managed to bring a certain Rahul Gandhi to the site who glorified the decision, is no sign that it would go slow on power projects among others in Arunachal.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has already said that power projects will go ahead in Arunachal and that there was no room for no dams/projects debate.

On the other hand, even as we concluded that Arunachal Pradesh Package of Roads and Highways was for the people of the state, as we look deeper into the road projects, it is rather ensuring a smooth drive for power projects in the state.  In a recent meeting on road projects in North East where Arunachal figured prominently, the ministry exclusively talked about linking those areas in Arunachal with roads which had a power project!

But since we are not the questioning kinds, the ministry will have its way. It does not make sense to the centre or the state government where the road comes up as long as it leads to a power project.

No one really bothers if the people from nearest village will have to walk for some kilometers to cover the distance from their village to the highway, located somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

Talking of violations of environment laws, as state government carry out projects, it does not make much sense either.

Violation of Forest Laws in the state is rampant given the fact that almost all road projects comes within the designated Forest land. But then when the Recognition of Forest Rights Act, has not been implemented properly in the state, it is just matter of time that these projects will come up without any meaningful resistance.

As centre and state takes a step forward on developmental activities in the state, someone called up yours truly to inform about villagers felling trees so that they could avail forestation schemes from the centre!  This obviously was carried out in full consultation with the district administration!

 

 

 

(8.Sep. 2010)

Living a monitored life

Tongam Rina

Imagine living in a state where we need a third party to check and monitor corruption! For a state dependent on tax payer’s money for every possible need, it’s no mean achievement.

Corruption has reached such a sickening level that state government has to keep aside .5% from total project cost to ensure that projects are implemented.

The state government on Sept 2 made it public that based on consolidated Monitoring report submitted by North East Development Finance Corporation Ltd. (NEDFi) for East Siang district for SPA funds 2008-09 suspended BDO Mebo for alleged embezzlement of funds.

If records are not twisted, the BDO Mebo officially finds his name written in the record books as the first victim of the monitoring system.

Many more will find its name in the records book soon if the reports are read carefully by the government. But given our short memory and shorter vision and selective performance when dealing with cases of corruption, it is unlikely we would see many more names.

On the other hand, the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for the year 2009 is another predictable yet engaging copy to read. If one has the time to read 176-page report, one would seriously want another third party monitoring here too.

If reports of the departmental performance are put in, yours truly would be accused of being repetitive. Added burden would be unlimited abusive phone calls, threats and finally tempting offers! Fortunately or unfortunately the Report is a public document hence the hands at this side of the table are tied!

Well, the lexicon is all too similar year after year. Embezzlement of funds, doubtful payment, wasteful expenditure, undue benefit to the suppliers, poor planning, violations of guidelines, and the list goes on.

Yours truly is just grateful that we don’t have to face taxpayers directly.

It would be too humiliating a time if at all a system comes when taxpayers demand a direct explanation from us how their hard earned money is being spent. We would not know where to look leave alone explain.   

One must appreciate the patience of the tax payers and centre for letting us get away with such daring misdemeanor!

 

 

 

(22.Sep.2010)

Democracy it is!

Tongam Rina

Given the fact that our state had vibrant village democracy till it was diluted by Panchayat Raj system and politically appointed Gaon Burah, sometimes it’s surprising that we don’t have any space for dialogue and discussion.

It’s a sad reflection on our society but one thing that’s conspicuously missing in our state is debate and discussion.

We always seem to arrive at a conclusion without ever looking for a way out through discussion or a consensus.

The decision to give permanent residential certificate to communities from outside the state is one glaring example. The mess could have been avoided had the government tried to inform beforehand of its intention to give PRC.   Citizens do understand that we elected them to take decisions on our part but at the same time we expect that they will not take such sweeping decisions where citizens are forced to ask questions. Not that anyone will actually listen. Worse part is there is not even a space for them to ask questions.

Since there is lack of space, citizens do come up with their own way of protest. One example is bandh. In most cases, organisations call a bandh when they want to make a point, not necessary valid. Reasons for calling bandh vary. Some want to announce their arrival, which most of the time will begin and end with the space they get in newspapers while at few times, there are genuine points.

No matter whatever the reasons citizens gleefully play along.

Whether we agree or not with the cause, at least the residents of Capital Region never misses a chance to enjoy the breaks the recurring bandh brings along.

The bandh call the other day by some unknown organisations demanding the resignation of Chief Minister managed to shut down the Capital Region. Was the total shut down any endorsement of the demand or was it an indicator of our total lack of concern and utter laziness?

No matter what ever may have been the reason, it was just another example that we don’t have a faculty that’s capable of questioning. The situation is compounded by lack of debate and discussion.

Yours truly recall two incidences.

A few years back, a group of scholars of repute were stranded in Gohpur because some of us refused to let them inside Arunachal because we did not agree with what one of the scholars had to say in a private email on Inner Line Permit. The private mail was thoroughly circulated and that was the end of it. The seminar never happened.

One more incident happened in Assam where representatives from Arunachal were invited for a regional consultation.  Among the invitees were Chakma refugees.  Some members who were part of Arunachal delegation walked out when the Chakma refugee representative started speaking.  This time platform was the problem. It was beyond our dignity to share the same platform as the refugees.

Today with grant of PRC to non APST, there is a question mark on relevance of ILP. Refugees have found their names in the electoral list. To borrow a line, today when a Chakma refugee sneezes, their lobby around the world catches a cold. So much so that India will sit up and prescribe a medication. Unlike us, the refugee community has been successful in sharing what ails them.

Our response would be a state wide bandh. Predictable that will be called a democratic protest! Democracy it is!

 

 

 

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(4. Aug. 2010)

The opt repeated Govt recipe

Tongam Rina

Even as the state awaits justice for Late Jumchi (Tachi) Nguso who died at the hands of State Police on July 15, there is yet another report of police brutality that resulted in a death. This time it was Miti Mepo, a father of four children who died after being given the infamous Police treatment last night at Roing.  

Allegedly, he was beaten up so bad by the IRBn personnel that he died within half an hour after he was brought to the hospital.

The citizens took on from there. Frustration, anger and despair drove the people to take out their anger at public property.

Time and again when the justice fails, it is only matter of time people takes law into their hands because they know unless they use force nothing tangible is going to come out. Be warned that this is just the beginning.

The People First government and its Home Ministry need to answer to its citizens. It needs to look beyond opt repeated recipe of announcing compensatory money, a govt job for the victim’s family and suspension of the erring personnel in uniform and enquiries that takes ages to complete. The recipe so often used by the government to legitimise these heartbreaking deaths is almost laughable and it borders on absolute apathy.

Going by the precedence, it looks like government is contemplating to create a department that would exclusively dish out compensatory money for those at the receiving ends of the Police brutality.

Is the government daring its own citizens or are they on a mission to test the patience of the people?

IRBn has for long been associated with violence. These young boys who are barely out of their teens instead of being upholders of law have been in news for a long time for taking law into their hands.

Intriguingly the government has legitimised the brutal actions of these mindless young boys by refusing to do anything substantial. It’s about time, government take control of these boys before citizens start acting.

And going by the Naharlagun and Roing incidents, it’s only a matter of time, citizens decide for themselves what they want to do to ensure public safety. Gone are the days, when people accepted whatever they were given.

 

 

 

(18. Aug 2010)

The border   

Tongam Rina

“Should you sit upon a cloud you would not see the boundary line between one country and another, nor the boundary stone between a farm and a farm. It is a pity you cannot sit upon a cloud, wrote Khalil Gibran.

Allegedly, 1951 one man Boundary Commission demarcated the Assam-NEFA border sitting upon a patch of cloud. It sounds more fiction than fact, but the revered Gopinath Bordoloi, according to the grapevine sat down in his room with a couple of government officials, armed with a map of Northeast demarcated the boundary of Assam and NEFA based on plains and hills. Thus the fate was sealed.

On 10 February 2006 the Supreme Court granted three weeks to the Centre to decide whether to set up a Boundary Commission to resolve the boundary dispute among Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.

The Commission was set up. Nothing much has happened over these years because the states refuse to agree to a point.  It is unlikely that the hearing scheduled for August 23 in Arunachal by Local Boundary Commission constituted by Supreme Court would come up with anything substantial. What has so far happened is hearing and objection. The façade will continue while the people residing at border continue to bear the brunt of encroachment after encroachment.

But Supreme Court constituted Commission has come as blessing in disguise for our politicians. Whenever an encroachment happens at Gumto, Likabali, Shimhokho or Kamkuh Russa, Kimin, we are promptly reminded that states should maintain status quo.  

To add to the woes of the citizens residing in border areas, border skirmish, which often results in violence  among the NE states is not a big enough problem to grab the attention of the centre. The lack of concern is for all to see.

As if to validate the indifference of the centre, respective governments in Arunachal have been rather silent when it comes to borders. To take an example, in some portions of West Siang, people pay land revenue for their agriculture land to Assam government. Interestingly these phenomena started much after the Arunachal attained an entity of its own.

Apart from few mentions here and there, border areas and the people living there hardly figures in the schemes of things. Heeding to public outcry, Border Management Cell was created. But that was it. The department in an effort to maintain status quo seems to have forgotten why it was created at the first place. While the people living along the border fight for their land and property, it is about time government takes the issue seriously. A onetime reinforcement is not a solution. It must come up with a tangible solution even if it means give and take.  Or else everyone at the helms of affairs might as well give up and let the people at the border decide how they want to take forward the issue.

But the fact remains that we are not sitting upon a cloud and there are boundaries that need be fenced properly.

 

 

 

(27. Aug .2010)

The defining moment to PDS in state   

Tongam Rina

The arrest of former chief minister Gegong Apang in

PDS scam is a watershed in the contemporary political history of Arunachal.

There is a lot of talk on the streets regarding the timing of the arrest, the manner in which it was carried out and even about possible motives behind the overdramatized unfolding of events.

As due respect extended to a senior statesman, was the sanctity of the process of justice upheld, was it law of the land that was followed or the law of the landed few? These are questions which perhaps time and the court will answer.

The manner in which arrest was done left a lot of bad taste in the mouth.  The way it was executed made Bollywood plots and sensationalist news channels look unintelligent.

To see this happening in an honour-bound tribal value system was hard to swallow- after all age does need to command respect.

 If we step back and consider the core issues in the entire episode somethings remains unexplained. Why does a PIL filed in 2004 regarding the PDS in the state of Arunachal raise its head only in fits and starts and that too in well timed moments?  That needs explanation.

But the timing of the arrest could not have been more perfect and it deserves accolades as it managed to divert the attention from some issues. The media in the state had a field day as the events unfolded. What more, the Assam based media houses so far busy fuelling tension in Assam and Arunachal on boundary issue too was distracted. Devoid of media intrusion, at least people along the boundary are talking peace!

On the other hand, Apang was to meet the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Aug 25. The meeting was seen important by Congress watchers given the fact that Congress party elections are just around the corner.

This is not the first time that the Congress party has seen such a crisis prior to party elections in the state.

Perhaps a mere coincidence but in Dec 2007, Wangcha Rajkumar, a contender to the party leadership in the state was mercilessly killed.

 The arrest also has brought to the fore many questions regarding the functioning of PDS in the state.

Even though the government would like to believe that PDS have been overhauled in the state, citizens continue to bear the brunt because of poor delivery system. The Food Corporation of India is not too enthusiastic at taking over the PDS in the state even at the request of the government. As the drama continues people are at the receiving end.

Even as FCI and state government figure out what to do with PDS, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar informed the Parliament that delivery is off track. Apart from poor delivery of rice and other items in the state, there has been almost 100% diversion of wheat!

The centre has threatened to withdraw allocation of wheat and has raised serious question mark on the delivery system. These are larger issues that the government needs to take in account if it is serious about PDS in the state.

Even though we are made to believe that state does not have a hand in arrest of Apang, arresting him obviously is not the final solution to the problems confronting the PDS in the state. One could just hope that the arrest is a catalyst to book all the guilty as well as rectifying the crisis that continue to hit PDS in Arunachal.

 

 

 

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(8.Jul.2010)

Badge of honour

Tongam Rina

Anyone who has worked in media in Arunachal would vouch that after a point, nothing rattles us. We have faced it all. Intimidations, law suits, threats of law suits, physical and verbal abuses, which are often on a daily basis, are nothing new.  We take it as professional hazards and get back to work. Sometimes the causes of these threats are so ridiculous, we often discuss it among the fraternity and have a laugh or two.

But there are times when  it not only amuses but shock us too. The other day, a gentleman walked into this office.  He pulled a chair and sat down very comfortably. Before I could ask what it was, he says, “I met you at the Police Station”.

Some two years, we had indeed visited the Itanagar Police Station when an uncle was killed in a road accident at Bank Tinali. Some citizens had come forward and helped us during those difficult times. I presumed he was one of them.

But his next sentence took us by surprise. “I am out on bail and you know what it means” he said.

Truly at a loss of word, I asked him if there was anything we could do. As he took out a copy of previous issue of the daily, his chilling response was “I could go back to jail again if you don’t stop publishing this”. He walked out as unceremoniously as he had walked in.

Here was a man flaunting his trips to jail as a badge of honour!

Apart from the fact that he was a coward, this despicable act made me wonder where we have come as a society.  It’s a reflection on our society which has no respect whatsoever for the laid down rules and our deafening silence when things go wrong. As citizens, we don’t have the courage to stand up when things go wrong. Except for some villages across the state where traditional village councils still have a say which ensure that citizens not only follow the dictate but strictly abide by it for the common good, in urban areas individuals often call the shots. Who cares what happens to the society as long as you have the right connections, muscle power, political interference and money.

When we should be bending down and still have a say, we crawl.  End of the story.

Look at Itanagar-Naharlagun. After so much of hullabaloo by the media, we got the zebra crossings.   But drivers will not stop at the designated zebra crossings even if there are tens of pedestrians wanting to cross.   If there is an accident, we refuse to go the police stations or insurance company. We would rather ensure that unlucky one not only dish out money as compensation but pay for mending the car too.  

Apart from what happens within the demarcated roads, that look more like river banks, it is likely that you would end up in someone’s house, once you step off the road.  That’s the beauty of this city. And they say widening of roads, beatification of the city and action against illegal encroachment is on. But how would one possible take action when the entire areas have been encroached upon and converted into one shapeless concrete jungle? Responsible ones are the high and mighty government officials, politicians and moneyed ones. Almost all the government quarters have been encroached upon. Even the spaces at ministerial bungalows are not spared. Forget about responsibility towards the state and Capital Region, going by the records, they are busy being responsible to their greed and upkeep of their families. That’s a reflection on our society. We have very conveniently kicked our tribal habit of self righteousness. Instead of just harping about our tribal identity, where justice was the name of the game, except in few cases, it’s about time we decide as a society what we really need.

 

 

 

(21. Jul.2010)

Arunachal Pradesh Police versus the citizens   

Tongam Rina

Unlike other places in North East where Police and Army personnel are epitome of everything that can possibly go wrong in a civil society, in Arunachal they commanded some kind of respect. But that came crumbling down on July 15 when APST Bus conductor Jumchi (Tachi) Nguso died a death no one deserved.

If we believe the media reports, the Police categorically said that he jumped into the car with an intention to commit suicide. Yours truly might sound as ridiculous as the Police but anyone in their sane or insane minds would choose other ways of committing suicide rather than walk on a road specifically targeting a vehicle belonging to Chief Minister’s Security cell to come hit them.

Speculation apart, the fact remains that Nguso was denied medical attention for two long hours. Even in bad road conditions, BTM Hospital and Niba Clinic is mere three minutes drive from where he was hit by the vehicle. The Naharlagun General Hospital is mere ten minutes drive. Rather than medical attention, the officer took him to Police station setting a perfect bad example of inhuman treatment and violation of very basic human right.

We would never know what exactly happened at the Police station unless the Police come forward which is almost next to impossible. Today honesty is not something we associate with the law keepers.

Despite SIT, Magisterial and independent enquiries, it is unlikely that we would ever get the details of what happened in the last hours of Late Nguso’s life.

The public outcry after Nguos’s death was unprecedented. Despite our common Arunachalee heritage, hardly have we come forward for a common goal. But on July 15, led by students, irrespective of their affiliations, tribal and non tribal came out in open against Police. This should be a message for the Arunachal Pradesh Police. When law keepers do not respect their profession and wear their uniform with pride and responsibility, citizens will not go out of their way to tolerate them. There may be good men and women out there in uniform but when the department is subjected to such public humiliation, something must be terribly wrong.  

A couple of months back, the Home Minister Tako Dabi had Arunachalees squirm in acute embarrassment when he proudly announced on a prime TV channel that it was okay for Arunachal Police Personnel to have a drink or two while on duty.

Later on the Minister went on to become a hero when he campaigned for the cause of eunuchs by writing to the Home Ministry that they be included in Police forces.

Yours truly would hope that he campaign for an Arunachal where Police takes an injured to a hospital and where common citizens could walk on the road whenever they want to, devoid of any fear and intimidation.

 

 

 

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(9.Jun.2010)

What ails APPSC?   

Tongam Rina

Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission must be the only Commission in the entire country, which is dictated by the aspiring civil servants, other job seekers and court verdicts. Going by the records, it would be a better option to let candidates, job seekers and Court search the talents for the time being.  In the meantime, Commission could introspect what stops them from learning from past mistake or take lessons on how to improve its functioning.   

A Constitutional body constituted with effect from 1st April 1988 under Article-315 of the Constitution of India vide Notification OM-15/88 dated 29th March 1988, the Commission advice the Government of Arunachal Pradesh on all matters relating to state civil services and publish notifications inviting applications for selection to various posts as per the requisitions of the appointing authorities, conduct written tests and interview...strictly based on their merit and observing the rules of reservation as and when vacancies are reported, says the Commission website.

Yours truly wonders how a Commission so inapt in handling its own affairs can possibly advice the govt.

The latest in the strings of inappropriate handling by the Commission was rejection of candidates 27 after they cleared the Prelims of APPSC-2009 Examination.

Six of those who knocked the court of Justice are being allowed to sit in the exams while the fate of 21 candidates is not known.

How would one possibly justify such irresponsible actions of a Constitutional body?

It is not only a mockery of the Commission itself but tantamount to intentionally ruining careers of many youngsters of the state.  

Due to space constraint and lethargy to rummage through the archives, yours truly would restrict to 2009 APPSCCE.

Initially, 1735 candidates were rejected to sit for the prestigious exams for reasons best known to the Commission but they were allowed to sit as pressure from outside the Commission mounted.

Heeding to some more advice from outside, the Commission took another extraordinary step. It extended the dates for Mains from May 31 to June 8.

As if it was not enough, the Commission debarred 27 candidates after they crossed their prelims only to be reprimanded by the Itanagar Division of Gauhati High court for having separate sets of rules.

Surprising of all is the silence of the government. Maybe instead of waiting for the advice of the Commission, it’s about time the government remind the Commission  that trips to Court and being dictated by outside force is not part of the job.

The Commission since its constitution in 1988 has a history of committing blunders when there should be no place even for minor mistakes.

It is about time Commission sets its house in order.

 

 

 

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(28.May.2010)

When People first govt looks the other way     

Tongam Rina

The unmindful firing and lathi charge on innocent villagers protesting takeover of their ancestral home land, once again brings to the fore the debate on people’s right versus government’s ideas on developments.

The horrendous firing and lathi charge at villagers of Pongging who do not want a 2700 MW power project in their area is not only a shame on the state but a big question mark on the Congress government.

The People’s First Government did not think twice before allowing the CRPF to beat up, throw tear gas and fire on air to disburse the citizens who do not want their resources taken away.  

Otherwise how would one possibly explain the lathi charge and firing?  

The East Siang district administration had already warned that it would take action if anyone dare take law into their hands. However, it did not explain what it exactly meant by taking law into hand. If protest by hundreds of men and women against a power project means taking law into their hands, the Administration handled it with apt and accuracy never seen anywhere else in the state.  

There has been no debate so far on Hydro power projects in the state. Successive governments in the state just made sure that MOAs and MOUs were and are signed to take the state out of its present penury.

Once the projects are inked, it’s on the power developers to take it forward. Coercion in the name of development follows. Roads, schools, hospitals and financial help come easy.

Unfortunately, not all villagers buy it. However going by the use of force currently being applied, villagers might ultimately have to make away. The cries of human rights violation do not make sense when powerful corporate houses are backed by the state.

One instance is 3000 MW Dibang project. The citizens stopped at least ten public hearings but it did not stop the NHPC from going ahead with the project. Though the construction is yet to take off, the so called social corporate responsibility is in full swing.

The 2700 MW project has been in news for quite some time for all the wrong reasons. First undertaken by the NHPC, in the course of time, Government of Arunachal Pradesh decided to execute the project through private developers and allocated it to M/s Jaiprakash Associates Ltd. vide Memorandum of Agreement dated 22.02.2006 on Build, Own, Operate and Transfer basis for forty years after its commissioning.

This was not the end  the Jaiprakash Associates Ltd pushed its way through.

It was only after the intervention of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, the proposed public hearing was called off by Arunachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board as the scope was raised clandestinely from 2205 to 2700 MW.

According to information available on government websites, the project spread across three Siang district will directly affect 32 villages due to the various components like dam, colony, camp areas, and submergence. Some of the villages set to be affected are  Bodak, Ayeng, Rengging, Rottung, Babuk, Kebang (Radha), Pangin, Pangin H.Q, Sissen, Pangi, Komsing(Karo), Komsing(Kumku), Yeksi, Lokpeng, Tarak, Koreng, Boleng, Lileng, Rengo, Parong, Jeru, Pongging, Silli, Pessing, Biri, Jomlo Mongku, Jomlo Mobuk, Pangkeng, Logum Jini.

According to preliminary studies, total population of affected villages is 12776 and nearly 15000 are expected to come from the outside of region, which is more than that of affected villages.

In such a situation, it’s just a matter of time people starts questioning.

Instead of resorting to use of force and bulldozing its way, government should at least make an effort to educate and seek consensus.

But it’s unlikely, given the fact that government is yet to come out with any sort of clarification on whole lathi charge and firing incident at Pongging. People first government indeed.

 

 

 

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(30.Apr.2010)

Rono Hills: the fight for supremacy     

Tongam Rina

Nestled in beautiful Rono Hills, for more than two decades, the Rajiv Gandhi University has churned out many individuals who are assets of the state. But the same University today finds itself at the centre of controversy and is synonymous with violence. We would have expected that one of the reputed centres of higher learning in the whole of Northeast would teach us lesson or two on how to take the state and the region forward. But sadly it looks like we have to wait for some more time before the University realizes the huge positive role it can play.

So far, it chooses to be a battle ground of sorts ignoring the facts that thousand of career are at stake and funds for development of the institution are freezing.

All this is happening because the head of the university and students cannot sit down and talk. So estranged is the relation they would rather talk it through the media.   This despite the fact that all of them stay at the same tiny campus!

Tragedy struck the University when the Registrar Dr Deepak Pandey committed suicide. The Police continue to investigate the case, but perhaps we will never know what actually led to Dr Pandey’s suicide, notwithstanding the three suicides notes.

Even before University could gather itself from the tragedy,   came the shameful event of manhandling of the Vice Chancellor right in front of the whole University.

If Police records are correct, those people who came and assaulted the Vice Chancellor in the campus were outsiders. The audacity is such.

Some weeks later, the students decided to go on rampage. The police made its entry after the damages were done, despite the fact that agitated students were on a 48 hours bandh.

Citizens would have really liked to see democratic ways of protests and an amicable solution for the sake of the institution and the state. Instead University was and is on a warpath. Students and authorities would rather fight it out in open for everyone to see as if the university was a personal fiefdom. Talking it out or taking the course of the law does not seem to be an option.

But than future leaders of the state and learned teachers does not seem to be too bothered about the well being of the University.  

Today the Institution which was set with much hope has been reduced to a non entity as individuals fight for supremacy.

 

 

 

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(17.Mar.2010)

Let them have the last words

Tongam Rina

More than anyone else, Arunachalees long to be self reliant.  We all feel that it’s about time instead of depending on centre for all our needs; we exploit resources available with us. Though there are many options, we look at power projects in the state as ultimate savior to get us out of our financial miseries.

After all, we are sitting on power potential worth more than 50,000 MW!

Now, the debate is not whether we should harness power potential of the state. The debate is how big. But we would hear none of it. As long as we are self reliant, forget about seismological threats, displacements of indigenous communities, submergence of forest and community land. We will dismiss all these as unfounded fear! We would dub whoever raises any question on the future of state vis-à-vis power projects, as Anti Arunachal. Chances are we might be booked under National Security Act for daring to say that we don’t need such big projects generating 3000-4000 MW.

Cajoling and coercion are generously used where ever there is word of protest against these projects. The project proponents would do anything to ensure that it’s a smooth sailing.  Citizens would recall that the Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh who also held the Ministry of environment and Forest laid the foundation stone of 3000 MW Dibang project even before it got the environmental clearance from his own ministry.  Protests by students and people of Lower Dibang Valley against the project were systematically ignored.

Going by records, Environmental clearances and other technicalities all are farcical. The powerful power lobby has the ultimate say. If they take fancy to a particular river, a project will come up.  It’s as simple as that.

Most of us are not very concerned about these power projects. It is not because we don’t care but because we don’t know what is happening. By the time, we know, it is time for public hearings. We know what happens at these hearings. Promises of compensation for lost forest, jobs opportunities, contract works, roads and civic amenities.  End of story. For a villager who is deprived of even basic amenities, such allurements are hard to resist. A member of family employed as grade D staff or a small time contractor supplying boulders is enough.

Of the 104 proposed hydro projects, several of them are Run-of the-River, which the government says will have less submergence of land and displacement. Citizens would like to be further enlightened on these projects as experiences have shown that these have same effects as the projects with big reservoirs and dams.

Environmentalists have already spelt out the cascading effects these projects will have on Arunachal and Assam. But these concerns have been brushed aside as handiwork of few with vested interest.

We don’t have to get into a debate on whether power projects with dams or run of the river are good or bad for the state. But there are few facts we can’t ignore. The Ranganadi project is testimony. Those living on the downstream know what is to live in constant fear.  River goes dry in winters while the summers spell trouble because of floods and landslide.  Aquatic life has vanished; the land around the area is not as fertile as it used to be. Those responsible for Ranganadi hydro power had even issued a circular stating that it is not responsible for eventualities after the release of water from the dam!

An average citizen, yours truly would blame global warming if anything  goes wrong.

One thing that caught the attention of those questioning power projects in the state was the recent alarming statement of Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu dubbing those opposed to power project as anti Arunachal.   

 Whether one likes it or not, in a democratic set up like ours, it is natural that people will express themselves if things are not moving the way it should. More than anyone he should know better. After all he is the same man who came to power with promises of transparency and people’s first policy. One just wishes that people have the last say.

 

 

 

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(20.Feb.2010)

Smiles to hope for    

Tongam Rina

ITANAGAR, Feb 19: Remember Pinki? The 8 year-old girl from a small village in UP called Rampur Dhavaia, who was the subject of the Oscar winning documentary "Smile Pinki" and was at the award ceremony. Born with a cleft lip and palate, Pinki Sonkar was condemned to isolation and suffering, taunted and tormented.

Her life was magically transformed after a surgery made possible by ‘Smile Train’- the world’s leading charitable organization dedicated to helping people with cleft lip and palate. With thousands of partners and programs in 76 of the world's poorest countries, the organisation’s mission is to help the more than 4.7 million children in developing countries who are suffering with unrepaired clefts. As part of their initiative, they provide free cleft surgery to children from poor families that give children not just a new smile, but also a new life. Now in its tenth year, The Smile Train will help its 500,000th child this year.

Though not all are lucky to go Hollywood, such success stories are found even in Arunachal, thanks to the Smile Train's reach in the state.

Two doctors read the stories about the Train and wondered if they could do anything to help the many children even in our state who are ostracized because of this deformity. Dr Moji Jini and Dr Nirmali Taba approached the organization and soon they were onboard.

The Niba Smile Project under Niba Hospital in Papu Nalah came up in 2008. So far 116 people, including people from Upper Assam, with cleft lip and palate have been successfully operated free of cost. The surgery takes less than two hours on an average and a patient is discharged after three days. For stitch removal they have to report back after seven days and again after a month for post-operative check ups. Blessed with a new life,  many however do not bother to come back for post- operative check ups.

Dr Taba shares that letters were sent across to DMOs all over the state to refer cases of cleft lip and palate so that people with such problems avail a chance to get the corrective surgery free of cost- which also includes the cost of medicines, operations and stay at the hospital.

A parent whose daughter was born with the problem could not hide her emotions after she saw the transformation. “God gave me a daughter who was born imperfect. But saviours on earth have given her a perfect life” she shares.

In the meantime, the doctors at Niba wait for more Pinkis and more smiles to share.

 

 

(10.Feb.2010)

Have we given up on Tirap ?    

Tongam Rina

The arrest of top NSCN (IM) cadres in Tirap has once again brought to the fore some uncomfortable truths.

It is painful to admit, but the fact remains that both factions of NSCN calls the shots in Tirap. It interferes at every level of governance. No government scheme takes off without writing off a sizeable chunk to these organizations. Government staffer part away with a portion of their hard-earned salary every year end.

Unfortunately, despite being aware of these facts, the government is yet to come up with tangible roadmap for the district.

After two decades since both factions of NSCN made inroads into Tirap and Changlang, not much have been done to address the problem.

Remarkably, Changlang managed to take control. Though insurgency remains a problem, people of the district have been resilient. They continue to suffer but they have not let these forces dictate their lives.

On the other hand, the situation in Tirap is precarious. Today, the state of affairs is such that in Tirap, both factions are running a parallel government, apart from doubling up as drug peddlers. Interestingly, the two organizations from time to time, even serve notices to few users!

The state government in a hurry had created Department of Tirap and Changlang some years back. But it’s for all Arunachaless to see that department does not seem to have delivered much. The department on the other hand has become an added burden for the state exchequer.

The schools continue to function without adequate teachers, hospitals cry for need of doctors and medicines. What would one do when necessities are absent? Choices are easy to make more so when lured with promises of better life once they join the “cause”.

Teenagers walk across the border without a second thought.  In Tirap, parents are too scared to lodge a complaint against such missing children. They know its fighting two forces at the same time against which they have absolutely no control.

However, unlike other states in the NE, where citizens are often at loggerheads with Security Forces, in Tirap the scenario is different.

Though use of force by the security personnel is alleged to be widespread, most of the people still look up to them, more so the 19th Assam Rifles.

Some 2500 personnel consisting of CRPF, Assam Rifles, Indian Army and State police take care of one lac citizens in Tirap district.  This is in stark contrast to some five hundred personnel engaged to take care of the lives of the precious few policymakers in the state.

The government must act. The state government instead of shifting the blame on the centre must initiate something concrete  for the welfare of the people. It needs to rehabilitate those who have returned. A one time surrender ceremony is absolutely no answer.  Financial security should be ensured to these young men and women by engaging them in productive activities.

Government has to chalk out a road map to deal with the extra constitutional forces and restore peace and security to the people of the district.

Very soon, people of the state would want an explanation why teenagers just walk across the border.

To start with, one wonders why a star performer like Ankur Garg of the Indian Administrative Services who managed the district with super efficiency was relocated to Raj Bhavan.

 

 

 

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(6.Jan.2010)

A big fat smile   

Tongam Rina

The other day, a man walked into the office of this daily with a big infectious smile and a fat envelope. At a time, when people have forgotten to smile and laugh, the smile almost called for a celebration.

With smile intact, he hands over the envelope to yours truly. Inside was a smiling photograph of a politician with a long press release. As mental note was being made where to place it, the gentle man handed over another fat envelope.

A little tired and irritated at the prospect of another long press release with no substance whatsoever, yours truly opened the envelope. Dear reader, you guessed it right. The fat envelope contained no press release or photographs.

 “chai pani ke liye..aap log inta kaam karta he hamare liye” he said.  

Well, predictably a long lecture on bribery and promotion of corruption followed. The gentle man fortunately had the decency to walk out with the half-torn fat envelope. He still had the smile on.

The incident was a shocking reminder on what happens in the name of chai-pani.

Bribery, nepotism, corruption are so deep rooted in our society that most of the time we don’t even realise it. It is just accepted as a way of life. And it is so effortless executed that there is no place to complain.  At every level there is “cut” ready. No one actually has to do anything drastic to get that cut. It’s all earmarked. They say poorer are those who donates it unwittingly.

I don’t have any concrete evidence to support my claim and pray that no one actually hauls me to  the jail and court to substantiate the claims.

Let me share an interesting episode that happened at the Legislative assembly some years back. An angry member declared, “When we make schemes, some percentage of the fund should be earmarked to pay as bribes in Delhi and elsewhere. We all end up paying from fund meant for particular scheme resulting in sub standard work”.

I am not sure whether his words were expunged.   

Hope the New Year will usher in something productive for all of us and our beautiful state. Yours truly just wish some infectious smile for everyone. Hopefully without having to pay for the smile!

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