Go develop the Hills; From slogan to action : A live case study

Benjamin Maikho *

 Chief Minister N Biren Singh inaugurated Behiang Police station at Singhat (CCpur Dist) on June 24 2019 :: Pix - DIPR
Chief Minister N Biren Singh inaugurated Behiang Police station at Singhat (CCpur Dist) on June 24 2019 :: Pix - DIPR

Under " Go to Village' the Chief Minister has initiating a few measures to reach out to the hills neglected since the foundation of statehood on 21st Jan 1972. But it is more of cosmetics like personal grievances platform, gracing some festive occasions as chief guests handing over few wads of cash to function organizers, collect memorandum of demand mostly village community centres and distribution of central welfare subsidies even as the State has no source of revenue due to no industrialization.

These are nimble tokenism not going to develop the hills unless core basic infrastructure like roads, health care, irrigation, electricity, farm incentive, urbanization & review of land revenue policy for monetization being sensitive topic, banking, and access to market agriculture produce and above all change of work culture, operation of BDO offices being the federal structure of governing system in the country.

Else accusation that the resources received from Centre are mostly cornered by valley and hills continue to be deprived with no means of economic empowerment. Manipur is the only state, with no State Public transport in the country whereas state like Maharashtra, (most developed) all villages are connected by public transport to talukas/district HQ.

The most affected are the ordinary villagers who continue to live tribal life while few influential people who are able to corner govt jobs/contracts are the privileged ones and others went out of the state for private jobs/business. There is gap between the two that the ordinary villages are just staring at the sky to catch up the life style of the govt employees and contractors in the age of consumerism.

So here a live case of a great opportunity of transforming around 30 villages, covering 2 blocks offices in the form of executing a PMSGY project connecting Maram-Koide – Purul with cascading effect in entire senapati district.

Let me begin with old wise fable – A farmer one day discovered a fortune that his goose laid a golden egg. This continued for some time and life has since changed for him and his family. One day he hit upon an idea to get all his fortune altogether instead of getting one each day, killed the goose, cut open to get all the golden eggs it may lay in future.

To his disappointment there wasn't any more golden egg. This analogy is repeated in the hills in the form of non-operation of Govt Offices and poor contract execution due to high profiteering by contactors in collusion with Govt officials & elected representative besides poor participation of citizens by remaining mute spectators/ not aware how to complaint against this menace.

A live case : On 20th July '19 Mr Romesh Meitei, has been awarded contract for building PMSGY road of 22 kms stretch between Maram –Koide- Purul by Manipur Rural Road Development Agency vide work order No 6924/PMSGYPh XI(B-II, 2017-18) RT(Pt). The bid is for Rs 11.46 Crores to be executed within 18 months, work to commence on 2 Aug'19 but the deadline missed. Purul is already a non operational block since more than a decade. The same stretch was also awarded PMSGY during 2006 -08 but built shabbily and seems not even completed, far from being vehicle worthy and people are back to same as they were in 1990's.

The reason I believe is, we have time and killed the golden goose whenever it lays the golden egg like the farmer who believed in getting rich too fast. Sans PMSGY, expecting a road from manipur govt seems a dream that may not realize in next one decade. The stake holders of the road are; the govt, its servants (the officers), contractors who execute and biggest being, the common public who utilize the road. Being the biggest social infrastructure project awarded so far and the stakeholder esp Purul & Koide youths have formed a Work Execution Monitoring Committee to monitor, doesn't want to leave it to MSSRDA to deliver having seen the bad experience of accountability in the previous PMSGY 2006-08.

Besides an association of concern citizens are on a watch to see the progress and if need be ready to take up with Ministry of RD New Delhi for intervention. Till date only some excavation works are seen in patches and basic works quality seems not as per IRC SP 20 / Hill Road Manual (IRC SP 48) no proper board as per PMSGY III mandate para 11.6 has been displayed thereby giving apprehension of accountability to the villagers. Chief Minister needs to seize this opportunity to ensure this road is built as planed/funded as its benefits will have positive effect in the whole of senapati because the road connects NH- 2, at maram, three other PMSGY roads, phaibung block encompassing 20 villages, senapati HQ - imphal and will impact will be as follows

1. Urbanization

Purul a non-nonoperational Block until now will be operational once the road quality is good as the Govt officers/ staff posted will have no more excuse and will the first enabler of slowly turning purul into a town. Office goers can commute from village to senapati & vice versa and return the same day. Students in Maram Don Bosco/Senapati institutions now residing can engage bus and stay back thereby save on education expense which is the highest spent.

Purul Koide with not less than 40 kms circumference have enough land and water to set up even factories for industrialization. The current SUVs operating with limited trips at time unpredictable will eventually give way for public transport (bus) to operate from Purul Koide to Imphal and of course another route to Nagaland via Lakhamai – Phaibung – Lai. One of the reasons why Maharastra is most progressive states is all its villages are connected by public transport to district HQ and big cities.

2. Irrigation & Farming:

The land is naturally fertile for any cultivation esp cash crops. With vast area not under cultivation, there is huge scope for organic farming for a niche market in Senapati – Imphal area. Currently it is not economically viable due to poor road connectivity, time taken & cost incurred to reach the market. There is no better place than Koide Barak areas for building dams for water storage for irrigation. Purul too situated below the mountain range has sufficient space for dams.

Pisciculture which involves raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosures such as fish ponds ,terraced paddy fields offer another opportunity. This would require agri entrepreneurship and progressive agriculture practice with govt supports.

3. Banking & economic inclusion & economic Activities

Purul to Senapati with around 46 kms can start many other peripheral economic activities for which banks are required. Still unbanked and moneys are still buried with no interest but once the road is made, banks will start & enable financial inclusion besides the financial literacy & business acumen will improve. Today one has to spend a day & incur at least Rs 350 to withdraw or deposit money from nearest bank in Senapati which is ridiculous.

No society would progress without economic activities for which road is fundamental. Another basic, electricity is already there and of lately reliance Jio has connected the last few villages by internet. Much cheaper credit will be available from bank against the current prohibitive interest rates from money lenders ranging from 36 ~ 60% annual interest which make any trading impossible to make profit & even compounding in case of failure to repay.

Impact is many fall into debt trap and are exploited, as there is no business, which gives return of 60% p.a. There will be more sense of security & comfort in the stretch due to better & faster means of commutation that, more women will also participate in the economic activities resulting in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth.

5. Time is money

Unnecessary time and expense can be saved. Time is money for people who are working and engaged in productive work. A day is spent in travelling to Senapati for routine activities like shopping, seeing a doctor, visit an office which actually should take about 2 -3 hours spending a min of Rs 350 for fare, meal and tea/coffee. But if the road is good one can complete in max of 3 to 4 hours.

6. Better health Care:

There are three levels of health care; preventive which is periodically check if there is any illness or potent illness and take preventive health care. Second curative; when sick get treatment for cure and third is life-saving ; when you are in life threatening emergency, you need to be rushed to nearest hospital for saving life and the nearest tertiary heath care centre being Imphal about 100 kms away and with the state of current road one cannot reach the sick to the hospital in case of life threatening medical emergency and could only watch our loved ones helplessly.

With Good road our health care can be much better now that Govt Manipur Govt had started issuing Ayushman Bharat card which offers hospitalization expense of upto Rs 5 lakhs per floater family per year to defined poor people, of which many of our villagers not employed would be eligible. Currently most people incur medical expense out of pocket while many burrow at prohibitive interest rates between 36~ 60% interest p.a another cause of debt trap.

7. Rural Tourism

Rural tourism which is natural adventure and experiencing rural life can immediately take off since this does not require capital investment or much infrastructure where tourist normally stay with house hold. This is very popular in leh ladak area but soon people can venture into full-fledged tourism facilities.

There are natural beauty spots like terraced paddy fields, mountain climb & panoramic views and so many oral folklore historical places to visit if not take them to mountain peak for sunrise and sunset views. This area is already a treasure unutilized. Many hills states in the country thrive on tourism. We can start in a small way initially by targeting even Manipur tourist.

Role of villagers:

a) Make road for you first and others will come to you: In my early childhood till 1990's that whenever a minister or Govt official were to visit the village, Village Authority would be ordered to summon villagers to repair the road so that, the rickety Jeep could manoeuvre to the village.

People used to believe that on such occasions it was their duty to repair the road without any wage or if the road was bumpy the villagers pride would be at stake. Time has changed, now rather than villagers it should be pride of ministers / Govt officials at stake because building road is Govt's duty.

How long will our villagers dig this never ending road? The fact remains that since 1960' onwards to date, many villagers have put in a few hundred man days in digging this road for expansion/ repair/clearing for the Ministers/Govt Officials, without any wage even today.

Road is public infrastructure and it is government duty to build the road. In case the road is not complete, the public should not repair the road and leave it as it is, so that they (ministers and officials) should experience the pain of villagers when they visit.

b) Our Society need to change our priority:

The top priority in hills is to build solid public infrastructure, empower people to enable them stand on their own feet and enhance quality of life & walk towards self-sustainability.

Some time I feel priorities in hills are misplaced like spending so much energy, money and time in celebrating jubilees, festivals commemorating the past and engaging elected representatives unproductively, but it is important we care for today and envision for future and put more focus, energy and money for present because future must starts now as aptly a chinese proverb put –'The best time to plant tree is now'.

This is a clarion call to leaders of all walks of life to ask for accountability from Govt, its Servants & the Contractors dealing with infrastructure projects meant for public utility like, road, public transport, irrigation, water supply etc and desist from profiteering.

And finally this is the time to test how we care for our social infrastructure that is going to benefit all and put public interest before self-interest. Inviting ministers/ officers cutting inaugural ribbons on completion of these infrastructure facilities would be much more meaningful than erecting monolith stones of social celebrations of the past. Profiteering on public infrastructure contracts projects which serves as golden goose would be selfish and detrimental to the growth and empowerment of people since our region is purely dependent on the central funds.

I request all senapati district citizens to support maram–koide - purul villages in ensuring that this time around all whether vehicle worthy road is built, the impact of which, the economic activities in senapati will expand and society at large will benefit.

CM sahib go develop the hills.

Views expressed are personal

* Benjamin Maikho wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is from purul working as HR Head (S&M) with Adventz Group – Agri Business, Bangalore
This article was webcasted on Janaury 10 2020 .

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