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When boot is on other foot

Patricia Mukhim |

So, the former Meghalaya United Alliance government MLAs, many of whom did not jump fences, have suddenly seen the light of day. They now know that not having uninterrupted power supply hurts. They even want to know details of why power slips below the radar of the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited, which as we all know is teetering on the edge, unless some radical recalibration happens.

The MLAs of the Opposition would have us know that the rules of the road are not implemented in letter and spirit. But the laxity in implementation of rules did not start on 3 March.

Too many of the ills that plague Meghalaya did not start after the MDA Government occupied the Secretariat. There were many wrongdoings that were happening right under the noses of the present members of the Opposition except that when they were sitting on the hot seat they did not see or feel those hardships that the public faced.

It’s not the public that is suddenly complaining — they are long suffering and know that it takes time to reverse the wrongdoings of the past. As of now the public is more concerned about the slow progress of the case pertaining to the education scam. The public is also keen for the government to give its undivided attention to the task of finding the killers of Jonathone Sangma and his supporters and also that of Sohan Shira, leader of the Garo National Liberation Front. This matter cannot and should not be allowed to be swept under the carpet. Thankfully, this cut motion was moved by two Congress legislators. One feels, our collective conscience is still alive and kicking!

So the Opposition is actually well-placed to know what they have left undone or messed up. Their former colleague, the present health minister, who held the same portfolio when he was on the other side of the fence, is the person to grill because he must be knowing why the maternal mortality rate is still at a spiral; why infant mortality is also not going down in Meghalaya. Women in their child bearing years suffer severe malnutrition and/or under-nutrition.

There are far too many teenage mothers in the rural areas. They were the ones who actually ran from one candidate’s home to the other carrying their little babies behind their backs to get their pound of flesh in the once-in-five-years electoral jamboree — the only time when they feel a sense of importance.

Health indicators in Meghalaya are not improving; the family planning programme has failed big time in our villages and urban slums. Meghalaya still has the highest fertility rate and is the state with the lowest condom use. Some who run churches have been preaching that a big family is a happy family. All fine, except that the church does not provide free meals, free education or free health care in their hospitals. So those who say family planning is against God’s dictum have to explain how that works.

But let me get on to more serious matters, which previous governments running this state have left orphaned. First, the North East Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, located just a few kilometres from the Secretariat, has never received the attention it deserves from the state government, which in the main, was led by the Congress although the institute is named after Congress icon- Indira Gandhi.

Not all is well with this Institute and we only have to make a surprise visit to know that it is not progressing along the right track. Granted that all seven chief ministers of the North-eastern states should have taken an interest in the functioning of NEIGRIHMS but they haven’t, although several patients from Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and even the Barak Valley of Assam go there for treatment.

The trouble with NEIGRIHMS is that it has suffered from the absence of dynamic leadership. All have come on short tenures. The post of deputy director, which should actually be filled in by a person with administrative experience, is manned by a technical person (engineer). While it is true that NEIGRIHMS is coming up with additional infrastructure and a technical person is needed to oversee construction activities, the institute should have created a separate wing for that.

Administration is no cake walk and it takes experience and expertise to run an institution as diverse and demanding of administrative acumen as NEIGRIHMS. The institute was never envisaged to be an undergraduate medical college but a post-graduate teaching and research institute. Apparently the medical college was started due to pressure from some quarters. An institute should have a vision and follow that with zeal and not be pushed to take up populist ideas. As a result post-graduate studies are suffering. Those who know the nitty-gritty feel that the NEIGRIHMS is on a downward slope.

Every institution has a governing board that directs its activities and can hold it accountable in case there are glaring defects in its functioning. NEIGRIHMS too has one headed by the Union health minister but it has not met even once in four years. One of the board members, Toki Blah, says he has never been invited for a single meeting in the last four years. So who is NEIGRIHMS answerable to? Only to the Union health ministry? If so this is a great wrong that must be righted and that is where new chief minister Conrad Sangma is expected to intervene.

The MDA government needs to take an active interest in the affairs of NEIGRIHMS because there is a certain climate prevailing in that institute, which tries to intimidate the media from “intruding” into its affairs although that is called for in the interests of transparency. The present director, a dermatologist from JIPMER Pondicherry, changed a few rules the moment he stepped in. One of those rules is that all doctors should go on vacation only in December-January. As a result, patients needing surgery had to be put on hold because there were no anaesthesiologists.

Is there any hospital anywhere in this country (barring Gorakhpur) that faces such a situation? What happens if a patient needs emergency surgery? The tragedy is that outstation patients return to their villages without a complaint to their respective state governments. Polite tribals that we are, we are not used to taking on authority. But enough is enough. It’s time to right the wrongs and for us as stakeholders to refuse to accept heads of institutions that have no track record of having managed any institution anywhere, only because they are appointed by the present dispensation. Conrad Sangma ought to brief the Prime Minister and his office about the malfunction of NEIGRIHMS after he is duly informed.

The other institution that is steadily losing its, “University with the Potential for Excellence” tag or, has already lost it, is the North Eastern Hill University. It is a fact that only those students who can’t get into Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University or some other leading universities apply to NEHU. Hence there is already an atmosphere of mediocrity. I don’t think we can say much about the quality of faculty either. Barring a few, the rest coming from some of the North Indian states see their tenures as a cushy job with no one seeking any outcomes, since the head of the Institution — the Vice-Chancellor is himself found wanting on several quarters. It is NEHU’s fate that it cannot reach the potential it is capable of because there is no sense of stakeholdership either from the local community or the state government.

Considering that NEHU is located in Meghalaya, it is the duty of the citizenry here and the state government, as well, to question the functioning of the university and to help sort out the mess it is in. Talk to any of the faculty in NEHU and they will recite a litany of woes. The students too have their misgivings but have never seriously taken up the issues that could get the university on the right track. Is this because a central university is centrally funded and only the Union ministry of human resources development has the right to interrogate its functioning?

Conrad Sangma is a dynamic young chief minister who inspires hope. His education minister, Lakmen Rymbui, has already spoken about bringing education on the right track. We have great hopes that this young team of ministers will deliver. We also hope that they will not have to spend their time trying to safeguard their seats.


(The writer is Editor of the Shillong Times and can be contacted at [email protected])