The untold story, lest it be/is forgotten
- Part 2 -

SK Singh *

In general, officers from other cadres coming to the state on deputation lack the critical element of ‘belongingness’ or ‘possessiveness’. I believe this would lead to dampening the spirit for ‘commitment’ in whatever they accomplish in the state government.

In effect, these elements are essential in shaping the modality of any venture, any initiative in development administration and thus go a long way in shaping the growth efforts of any government in areas of social and economic prosperity in a given time frame.

True, investments in the arena of development be they economic or social, need resources, often huge. Sizeable funds need to be pumped in to secure certain levels of development. The two are twins and both play critical rolls in shaping any effort for advancement. The issue therefore boils down to strike a balance between the level or extent of development and the depth of resources at our disposal or generally available to the government.

An imbalance would be costly often seriously. Should development be accorded outright priority at the expense of constraint of resources, is itself a ticklish issue. Such demeanors attract the whip of Reserve Bank of India often leading to stalling of all kinds of expenses, be they even essential purchases, works in progress and the like, even mandatory salaries and pensions of employees.

As administrator therefore, the Chief Secretary would devolve strategies to ensure that development efforts keep picking up without impinging on the state’s resources, not one at the cost of the other. A balance is to be struck however critical, not one at the cost of the other.

I remember those days the state was too poor infrastructure wise; villages bereft of basic schools, constituencies without institutions of higher learning, even for high school standard, let alone college level.

Districts go without a college for the children to seek post matric studies. For these going to state capital for studies could be so expensive, most did not dare think about it, except for a handful that were fortunate to proceed to Imphal for college education. Similar disproportions were around in areas like health, power, water and so on so forth.

Those years the social sector was accorded apriority consideration at the national level. While China is talked about investing almost 5% of the GDP in education sector, India is rated as poor allocating barely 2.5 %. Dr Amartya Sen, the Novel Laureate, often is heard being critical of this poor priority in social sector in the country.

Poorer still our Sana Leibak where there is hardly any such fixation of a target for such important sectors like education. We go as it turns out year after year. The impact on this critical sector of human development is discernible. All around we find government-run schools fast losing shine, a few that are left are too fast languishing; even the pet-projects, so cunningly coined, ‘School Phagathanshi’ become moribund mostly.

We discussed earlier at length the prevailing deplorable state of health of most schools under the project in two pieces. The conditions of most of such branded schools are absolutely poor.

Setting aside for a moment this budgeting issue, we can recall how, many areas as large as a district those days, (now two districts or so after the reorganization), had not a single government college in the mid-nineties. I recall how natives of Tamenglong and Chandel districts in 1996, had to lick the wounds for want of any institution of higher learning.

The students, a fragment of the whole by any standard, had to manage in hostels or even worse, some had to find ways in some relative’s house for college studies. The bigger question is how many families can afford this, may be 2% or less, at the most 5%. What will be in store for the fate of the majority of the students? The loss is irreversible for sure.

In 1996 as I was looking after Education sector, we noticed such impossibilities. Some constituencies as big as, say, Heirok had no government high schools. Two districts Tamenglong and Chandel had no public colleges; one private college functioned in each with all verities of inadequacies. I was instrumental in motivating the then Minister in charge of the department, late Prof. Gangumei Kamei to work for setting up one government college in each.

I rate myself as superbly fortunate to have worked with Prof Kamei, a known personality in the academics, soft spoken, amiable and a great human. He is endowed with that rare attribute of appreciating gaps in education sector, more so in the early days in the area of education, himself having faced himself those disproportions in his early days. He was only too quick to appreciate the gaps prevailing those days.

Proposals were set on motion for setting up one Government College each in the two districts. Cabinet papers were prepared with relevant details, like the present status of educational institutions in the two districts, pressing needs vis-à-vis the gaps faced by the natives in securing higher education, the likely strain on their pocket in sending their children to Imphal, the estimated financial burden on the government etc.

The issue of dire need of funds on the face of the general constraint of resources too was gone into. I faced, however, the wrath of the then Chief Secretary (CS), KK Sethi charging me for, according to him, ‘instigating’, the minister to move this proposal of setting up two government colleges. My ‘reason’ with the minister for a good cause, had been transformed into, kind of inciting, conspiring, instantly.

His view was perhaps, but for my articulating the dire need of institutions of learning in far off places, the Minister of Education would not have proceeded with the proposal. The apprehension of the CS could be the likely impact of the two would-be-government colleges on the exchequers of the state.

In any case there would be additional cost which would impinge on the state’s shaky financial health those years. The issue boils down to kind of, choosing between ‘development at the cost of finance’ or ‘saving at the expense of stagnation’.

It was touching for an officer of Secretary-level to get such direct reprimand that too from the senior most officer of the secretariat, the Head of the secretariat directly on the face. Prima facie, the intention could be from his consideration that the proposal as and when sanctioned, would end up with incurring extra expenses to the government. Any additional expenses over and above the existing level should be withheld if the expenses are to be in check.

A further analysis of the whole scenario would be to strike a balance between new projects and state resources. This is what governments do and should continue to do. If one is more concerned about avoiding any kind of excess expenditure, certainly a couple of projects would have to be stalled. The question in such a scenario is to go into the cost-benefit analysis of the proposal.

Whatever be the economic and social ramifications, the government approved of the setting up of two government colleges. The proposal was part of the Annual Plan Proposals of Higher Education for the year 1996-97. The matter was examined by the Union Education Ministry and finally examined by the Working Group (WG) of the Planning Commission (now NITI AYOG).

The background was discussed in the WG chaired by Adviser, Education, a certain Sharma. After details were gone into, the then existing status appreciated, the Chairman advised us to shift two colleges from Imphal area, one in each of the hill districts.

Their reason, too many colleges were around in Imphal. I had to highlight the enormous difficulty, perhaps impracticability to be faced in effecting uprooting of an existing college in Imphal to some other area. The WG finally appreciated with the submission of impracticability of uprooting an existing institution.

The Government of India too was by and large, governed by the thumb rule of ‘avoiding extra expenditure’ in all possibilities. The Chairman soon closeted with his officers for a couple of minutes in a hush-hush tone, scribbling some figures on their note sheets among themselves. Sooner than later, Mr Sharma raised his head rather triumphantly only to announce that, ‘the proposal for two new colleges could not be approved of, because of severe constraint of resources’.

My apparent elation as they sat down to scribble was dashed; I had no option, kept my cool though. I replied saying that his decision to reject the proposal could not be questioned, it was final. I requested however, if I could make a submission.

Readily agreed at this retreat, I submitted, “Back home I have to report to the government about what had happened to this proposal. Kindly therefore record all the points raised by the state team in the minutes of this Working Group”.

The Chairman appeared to be slightly taken aback at this rather strange request. He sat down again with his officers, did a couple of quick calculations only to announce that the proposal for the two colleges was cleared with an allocation of Rs 30 lakh each. What do we learn from this, can I name it, ‘encounter’?

To my mind all this is the resultant effect of lack of ‘belongingness’, a kind of arbitrary concern more for protecting resources at the expense of development even for critical areas. Their apriori consideration is conserving resources at the expense of everything others, come what may. That is by and large, the mind set of people lacking commitment, sense of belongingness, feeling alien and the sort.

For Mr Sharma the Chairman of the Working Group on Education, the principle is normal. He was no officer of the government of Manipur. For our CS, it was otherwise. Look at the scenario following the recommendation of the WG. I as Secretary of the department had the responsibility to brief the CS about what had happened in the WG in the morning. That afternoon the Adviser (Planning), of the Planning Commission would review the recommendations in various WGs with the CS.

When I approached the CS with an air of accomplishment, briefing him about the recommendation of two new colleges, his response was one of ‘astonishment’. Looking up at me rather sternly, he observed, “Don’t be too happy”.

Of course, I know what bothered him hard.

* SK Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 06 2022.

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