Sunday, November 28, 2010

Governance issues in the Northeast

1) Op-ed on governance in Assam: Linky

Assam has been facing poor governance for past few decades, with the present Congress-led coalition ministry indulging in corruption of all kinds, as often reported in the media with specifics. Our Chief Minister talks of transparency and accountability, but lacks the courage to declare the assets of the ministers and put those in the public domain. There is no rule of law in this State, which is fast going the erstwhile Bihar way, with hooliganism by rowdy elements and lawbreaking by crooks of all hues becoming the order of the day and thereby making the life of the common man totally insecure. Our opposition parties too do not have people-oriented selfless leaders with the vision and unassailable integrity like that of Nitish Kumar.

2) Meanwhile, Namrata Goswami writes on the bandh culture in the Northeast:

The most important indicators of good governance are institutions based on rules, absence of disorder, riots, murders, unwarranted state closures, and violence of any nature. As far as we can see, the Indian state since independence has been committed to individual rights based on the constitution, and no one group or community has the right to deter the free movement and entrepreneurial aspirations of another.

In stark contrast to this optimal understanding of governance in the Indian context, the culture of ‘bandhs’ (state closure) paramount in the Northeastern states like Assam, Manipur and Nagaland goes against the notion of individual rights, is a stigma on the effectiveness of local governance structures, and is unconstitutional to say the least. For instance, Manipur suffered from ‘bandhs’ almost every day during the two month-siege of the state by Naga groups earlier this year as a protest against Thuingaleng Muivah, leader of the NSCN (IM), being refused entry by Manipur to his native village due to security concerns. When the author was in Manipur in August 2008, there were nearly 19 bandhs in that month alone due to protests related to the doping controversy of Monika Devi, the weight-lifter from Manipur during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This resulted in all roads being closed, prices of basic commodities tripling, and a loss to the local economy in crores. While the ‘bandhs’ were underway, called either by armed groups like the United National Liberation Front of Manipur (UNLF) or the Manipur Civil Society organizations, the state functionaries including the Secretariat merrily closed down as well without any accountability whatsoever. For local government officials, it was just one more holiday added to their list of holidays in the official calendar for which nothing is deducted from their monthly pay. So, state government employees might be absent for nineteen days of the month including Sundays and other holidays and effectively work for less than 10 days a month and yet get their full monthly salaries.

This ‘bandh’ culture, while coming down drastically in states like Mizoram and Tripura with a pro-active public and responsive state governments, is a disease in Assam and Nagaland. The call for ‘bandhs’ in Assam are issued by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the All Assam Students Union (AASU), or any other local group through local newspapers, and is strictly observed by the local people. ‘Bandhs’ in Assam have a rippling effect all over the Northeast as most basic commodities like rice, pulses, medicines, vegetables, poultry, etc., reach the other states via Assam either by road or by rail. In Nagaland, ‘bandhs’ are called by either the NSCN (IM) or the National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by S S Khaplang [NSCN (K)] and is followed by the local people for fear of being killed, despite great hardship caused by multiple ‘bandhs’ in a month.

While the fear of the locals to abide by the diktat of the armed groups is understandable, what is perhaps not acceptable is the adherence to these ‘bandhs’ by the local state authorities. The very fact that state governments cannot negate this ‘bandh’ culture, and are unwilling to ensure that common people are secure during the ‘bandhs’ even if they defy it, smacks of the lack of legitimacy and democratic grounding of these governments. It is also an abysmal state of affairs when armed insurgent groups like the ULFA or the NSCN (IM) with a membership of 1000 to 5000, respectively, can hold the entire population of a state amounting to millions hostage by just issuing the call for a ‘bandh’. This culture of ‘bandhs’ has resulted in crores of rupees in losses for the local economies, especially the private sector. The most affected are of course the daily wage workers, who are dependent on day-to-day earning to feed their families.

3) The vicious circle continues as documented below: Linky

Omar must also note what happened in Manipur after its Chief Minister decided to arbitrarily remove AFSPA from parts of the state in 2004.Following the prolonged protest on Thangjam Manorama’s killing in August 2004, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 was lifted from Imphal’s municipal zone of four districts and the Army withdrawn. However, Manipur Police’s special force, the Manipur Police Commandos (MPC), who replaced the Army in Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur became notorious for extra-judicial killings, and, in particular, fake encounters. In 2008, there were 27 recorded cases of torture and killing attributed to the MPC. Whereas earlier, they conducted ‘encounters’ in isolated places, they soon began doing so in towns and cities, in broad daylight. One example is the killing of Chungkham Sanjit. Photographs of the alleged ‘encounter’ by a local lensman and published in a tabloid clearly revealed that contrary to the official version, Sanjit was standing calmly as the police commandos frisked him, spoke to him, took him inside the storeroom of a pharmacy, shot him and brought his dead body out. While photographs of this ‘encounter’ embarrassed the Okram Ibobi government, it never stopped Manipur Police ‘commandos’ from repeating such acts.

Besides, the partial removal of AFSPA in Manipur, led to terrorist-related violence trebling since mid- 2004 and shot up further post-2007. The trend in 2008 indicates an even further acceleration. With 388 deaths caused by terrorism in 2007, 484 in 2008 and 369 in 2009, Manipur remains the most violent in India 's troubled Northeast, leaving behind Assam and Nagaland, much larger states. Manipur, with just 8.52% of territory and 6.12% of the Northeast’s population accounted for as much as 47% of terrorism related fatalities in the region in 2008 - i.e., four years after AFSPA was lifted from parts of the state.

During that period, terrorists in Manipur made at least three attempts against Ibobi, including two at his residence and at least two attempts on Manipur’s police complexes. That is not all. In September 2009, a Maruti car loaded with explosives was detected in the Raj Bhavan complex, and this, when the Governor Gurbachan Jagat was in residence.In August 2009, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram expressed alarm on the declining law and order situation in Manipur. Chidambaram has also said that Manipur remains a major stumbling block for improving the North eastern region.

4) Unused welfare funds: Linky

Unutilised funds of about Rs 112.78 crore, which is lying with the welfare department, drew the ire of Jharkhand’s chief secretary A.K. Singh at a review meeting today. “Every year, the Centre sanctions Rs 78 crore for the welfare of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Last year, the welfare department could utilise only Rs 2.53 crore of the total fund allotted. It is a matter of concern that despite having money, the department is not being able to produce good results,” said Singh. He added that a detailed plan report on utilisation of the Centre funds would soon be prepared.

5) The never-ending circle of corruption as the NC Hills Scam takes frontpage news:

It is now an established fact that huge amounts of money provided to the NC Hills Autonomous Council by the Central and State Governments were misused over the years, but has now come to light that the Council also lost substantial amounts of revenue due to large-scale irregularities and the name of a former Governor also cropped up in the report of the special audit of the accounts of the Council carried out by the office of the Accountant General (AG). The report of the special audit, which is available with The Assam Tribune, reported that the Council lost substantial amount of revenue because of the irregularities committed in supply of bamboo to the Hindustan Paper Corporation (HPC), while, the Council also lost huge amounts due to the failure to collect the land revenue.

Meanwhile Tarun Gogoi responds:

Reacting sharply to Opposition leader, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s demand for his resignation, Gogoi dismissed all the allegations of wrongdoing on his part. He contended that he is yet to see the CAG report. “I don’t know from where he got the report,” he said. The CAG report was first carried by this newspaper leading to a fresh round of exchange of words between the Opposition and government. The CAG report would first go to the Governor, who will then place it in the North Cachar Autonomous Hills District Council, though a copy would come to the State Government eventually.

Interestingly, Gogoi chose to tread cautiously over the CAG’s finding, given the surcharged atmosphere at the Centre over the fallout of CAG’s report on 2 G spectrum allocation imbroglio that cost Telecom Minister, A Raja his job. “If the CAG report reveals misappropriation, we will refer it to the CBI for further probe,” he said. “Even the National Investigation Agency’s report related to the misappropriation was referred to the CBI. We will take action against anybody, no matter who,” he said. “I will quit politics and challenge him (Mahanta) to prove the allegations,” he thundered. “Where is my involvement in the scam? It was I, who called for special audits in 2008 on the basis of the Manisana Committee’s recommendation. It led to arrest of Mohit Hojai and R H Khan in 2009. On the other hand, the man who is calling for my resignation was himself involved in the multi-crore rupee “LoC scam”, he charged.

The Chief Minister, however, admitted that N C Hills may have received excess funds. It happens all the time and it has happened in the past, as well. There may be such irregularities in some cases but the question is whether there has been misappropriation. The Public Accounts Committee, which is always headed by the Opposition, looks into such cases of release of excess funds, he reasoned. Mahanta, quoting from the CAG report had alleged that auditors detected irregularities to the tune of over Rs 400 crore, against the State Government’s estimate of Rs 40 crore. The Chief Minister also refuted the allegation that only eight of the 30 departments were handed over for audit. “The CAG is free to audit any departments it chooses, though the State Government at times may identify some departments, if it has any suspicion,” he contended.

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