Dialogue  October-December, 2012, Volume 14 No. 2

North-East Scan

Our diabolic mix of sleaze

D. N. Bezboruah

Sometime back, Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of Assam confessed that he had failed to curb corruption in Assam and to bring about a more acceptable work culture in the government offices of the State. He admitted that there was corruption in every department of the State government and that not a single department was free from it. He also confessed that the work culture in government departments had remained deplorable. In making these confessions, he was only stating what is visible throughout the State. What he did not tell the people of Assam was (a) what he proposed to do with the worsening situation in the coming years and (b) what was regarded by his government as a corrupt practice and what was not.

At a time when corruption is ubiquitous and rampant all over the country and when all professed initiatives to deal with it are merely cosmetic and ritualistic in nature, it is important not only to see corruption as a crime but also to realize that many of its manifestations have had such social acceptance that the task of even identifying corrupt practices has become exceptionally difficult. For instance, permitting foreign nationals to vote in Indian elections violates the Constitution of India and is therefore a crime apart from being a corrupt practice. However, the Indian National Congress in Assam has long depended on the illegal votes of foreign nationals to win elections. This has been done by encouraging illegal immigration of foreigners into Assam, pretending that all of such illegal migrants are Indian citizens and packing the electoral roll of the State with the names of foreign nationals with remarkable speed for a government agonizingly slow in other matters. As such, one cannot expect the government of the State run by the Congress to regard this exercise of adding the names of foreign nationals to the voters lists as either a crime or a corrupt practice. After all, it is this corrupt practice that enables the ruling party to win elections and return to power without any performance.

In the same way, the ruling party also does not see the failure of government departments to utilize the Centreís development grants as a corrupt practice even though the principal motivation for failing to utilize such funds hinges on the corrupt practice of finding devious ways of siphoning out government funds from the exchequer into private coffers. But this is a corrupt practice because it is the duty of paid bureaucrats to use such development funds for the greatest good of the greatest number. What is often easily forgotten is that the real beneficiaries of the development funds of the government are the people in the rural areas and the poorest of the poor. Well paid executives of corporate houses living in big cities and the bureaucrats themselves are not in need of the kind of development benefits that arise from Central grants. They do not use government schools, government hospitals and other public facilities meant for the poor. In fact, because they generally travel by air they do not even need the roads built with Central grants. The failure to use these grants expeditiously and well in time constitutes a crime against the poorer sections of society. And because bureaucrats and engineers fail to utilize public funds where there is no scope for siphoning out money despite the fact that they draw their salaries for such responsibilities, this lapse, stemming from greed constitutes a corrupt practice. Unfortunately, it is not seen as such.

This is a facet of corruption that is much in evidence in the departments of the Assam Government. There is regular failure to utilize funds within the timeframe set for the task whenever there are difficulties about siphoning out funds for individuals. In fact, development loans and grants received from international financial institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank tend to be left virtually untouched for the simple reason that a far higher level of accountability is required in the case of such funds and the siphoning of money becomes a far more difficult task. So the failure to utilize Union government grants for development becomes a part of the familiar equation: the greater the difficulty in siphoning out public funds, the less the likelihood of such funds being utilized at all. An example of the kind of failure we are talking about should make it a little easier to understand the motivations that determine the implementation of development projects in our government departments. For the financial year 2011-2012, Rs 9,000 crore was sanctioned by the Planning Commission to the State government. Out of this, only Rs 6,350.41 crore (70.56 per cent) was spent and the remaining Rs 2,649.99 crore (29.44 per cent) remained unutilized by government departments. This is just one small example of how the State is unable to use development grants received from New Delhi. In fact, there are many departments that surrender a much higher percentage of grants received from the Centre because of their inability to utilize such grants in time and to furnish acceptable utilization certificates. As for the externally aided projects (EAPs), the situation is much worse. During the fiscal year 2011-12, the Crop Husbandry Department received Rs 137.35 crore, the Animal Husbandry Department Rs 5.90 crore, the Dairy Department Rs 2 crore, the Fisheries Department Rs 27.17 crore, the Forestry and Wildlife Department Rs 3.31 crore and the Guwahati Development Department Rs 351.31 crore from external financial institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. None of the aforesaid departments spent even a rupee from the allocations received. Only the Water Resources Department that had received Rs 121.68 crore and the Power Department that had received Rs 250.32 crore managed to spend Rs 50 crore (41.09 per cent) and Rs 37.98 (15.17 per cent) respectively out of their allocations. Likewise, the PWD (R&B) that had received Rs 155 crore for three schemes was able to spend just over Rs 46 crore on one of the three schemes. What stands out in bold relief is that our bureaucrats and officers in charge of various departments have lost their ability to prepare plans, spend wisely and expeditiously on development projects and to submit acceptable utilization reports and statements of accounts within the timeframe set for each operation. This was inevitable because like all human organs and faculties that atrophy from lack of use, even the ability to plan and use resources efficiently withers from lack of application when the mind is obsessively occupied with the means of siphoning out development funds rather than utilizing them efficiently for the good of the greatest number. As a corollary to this we have also noticed that funds more strictly monitored and calling for greater accountability are likely to remain underutilized because the requisite skills for efficient and honest management of public funds has almost disappeared in government departments. However, what is amusing and intriguing is that this aspect of the misuse of public money is regarded neither as crime nor as corruption in the prevailing administrative culture.

Something else that constitutes a corrupt practice and cries out for social condemnation is the discrimination of communities in respect of the application of rules and enforcement of administrative procedures. A glaring example of this is the present house-to-house search for clandestine weapons in the BTAD of Assam that saw violent riots in July this year. The State government has restricted this house-to-house search to only the Bodo inhabitants of the BTAD despite the fact that very recently the DGP of the State, on a visit to Kokrajhar, had said that clandestine arms were in the possession of miscreants from both groups (meaning the Bodos and the immigrants from Bangladesh). We fail to understand why the house-to-house search should be confined to just one community. Likewise, the State government is hell-bent on settling all illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who were in the relief camps of the BTAD during the riots in BTAD. The fact that not all of them had been living in the BTAD prior to the riots should be clear from the fact that over 55,000 of those who had sought shelter in the relief camps cannot be traced any more. All the Bodo organizations of the BTAD have rightly insisted that the resettlement operations should be confined only to those who have documentary proof of actually having lived in the BTAD. This is an ethical, just and reasonable demand. In the beginning there were indications that the State government would heed the just demands of the Bodo organizations. But of late, the State government seems to have abandoned this rational stipulation and is now determined to provide settlement in the BTAD even to those without any documentary proof of having owned land there or having lived there. This militates against the principles of natural justice besides being directed against the indigenous inhabitants of the BTAD and in favour of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh who are in the BTAD. These illegalities are sought to be perpetrated as a devious method of conferring Indian citizenship on illegal migrants from Bangladesh merely because they increase the size of the illegal vote bank for the ruling party. This is criminal activity and constitutes corruption since the grant of franchise to foreign nationals violates the provisions of the Indian Constitution. And yet, it is virtually impossible to find anyone in the State government who recognizes this fraud as a corrupt practice directed against Indian citizens in Assam. Corruption comes in different colours and forms, and what has been listed above does not even look like corruption to most people. And that is what makes the tragedy all the more poignant.


NSAB gets first hand account of NE problems

Patricia Mukhim

It was for the first time that the members of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) under the Chairmanship of former Cabinet Secretary, Naresh Chandra visited the region on November 18-20. Although the Board could not visit all the states the meeting at Shillong was attended by government officials, academicians and civil society members from the seven north eastern states. The Board wanted to get first hand information of the problems besetting the seven states so that a comprehensive security doctrine taking on board the special needs of the region is given to the Prime Ministerís Office. After the end of the Cold War security has assumed new dimensions. Countries are no longer at war with each other but many nations are wracked by internal dissensions arising out of ethnic and religious conflicts, competition over scarce natural resources and insecurity due to climate change, energy deficiency, new infectious diseases and the loss of forest cover which has other implications on bio-diversity.

Contrary to popular opinion military security is not the only issue that engages the mind of the NSAB. Its members include a cross section of intellectuals and experts in their field ranging from environment to foreign relations to manufacturing and a whole host of issues that secure the life of an ordinary citizen. This realisation comes out of an understanding that the state can only be secure if the lives and livelihoods of its citizens are secure. As can be expected the issue that was uppermost in the minds of both government officials and civil society was the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). And the discordance in their respective stances was interesting.

While the entire civil society is of the view that the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has no place in an enlightened, democratic society, the thinking within some governments of the North East is otherwise. Many administrators argue that it is often difficult for the State Police to operate against militants without this protective Act. My own experience after talking to ordinary people in Manipur is that they fear the complete withdrawal of AFSPA without an alternative instrument in place, as it would leave them defenceless and at the mercy of the sundry militant groups in that State. These dissenting voices coming from a State that has produced an Irom Sharmila who has been on an eleven year fast for repeal of the AFSPA speaks volumes about the situation on the ground.

There is no doubt at all that the police in many North Eastern states, particularly the troubled state of Manipur, Nagaland and Assam are not equipped for smart, swift, incisive counter-insurgency operations. This is no easy task and requires the skills of a completely dispassionate sharp-shooter. The state police lack objectivity when it comes to tackling militancy. In Meghalaya, for instance we have a peculiar situation where a number of former police officers and constabulary have joined militant outfits. Many have done it out of a sense of frustration of being in an underpaid force where life is often more dangerous than being in a militant group. In the state police a cop is accountable to the system. He cannot use firearms freely to maim or kill anyone, even an enemy. On the other side, however, a militant with sophisticated weapons has no qualms about gunning down potential victims of extortion who refuse to pay up.

It has also been the experience of Meghalaya that clan and kinship ties make it difficult for the state police to be completely objective. It might happen that an elder brother is in the police while the younger one might be a gun toting militant. This is a difficult proposition. Decision making is compromised. What is desirable perhaps is an elite force trained for counter-insurgency operations. I am not too sure whether the Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) or the Assam Rifles qualify to be this force. I am also not convinced that you need the AFSPA to tackle militancy if there is a special force for CI Ops. Mind you we donít have the AFSPA in the Maoist infested areas of central and eastern India. And yet the counter-Maoist operations continue. Of course you have casualties and several policemen have lost their lives but that is mainly because the CRPF are unfamiliar with the terrain. Local policemen are supposed to know such treacherous topography. But the fact is that large swathes of Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are unchartered territories. Development has not visited those areas and so there would not even be police outposts in many of these far flung territories.

Insurgency and its many avatars have actually made the states dependent on the Centre for exigencies. Each time militant groups unleash their reign of terror in Manipur, the State Government is quick to pleas for more central forces. So what happens to the state police? Are they incompetent? Canít they be reinforced with more man power and weapons? If the state police are incompetent then are governments not wasting money and resources on them? How do the state police feel about having to work with the Assam Rifles or the CRPF? Is there camaraderie or a feeling of one-upmanship? If that be the case can any operation be successful? These, of course, are issues that the state governments have never chosen to introspect on. Interestingly, while states clamour for greater autonomy publicly, in private, chief ministers are ready to cede even the autonomy they have on the law and order front to the Union Home Ministry. This despite the fact that law and order and other issues arising out of armed conflict are state subjects! This is a contradiction in terms and it is what makes the region what it is today.

Those who came from Manipur were very concerned at another bout of economic blockade called by the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) which came into effect on Saturday 17 November. KSDC supporters blocked movement of people in Kuki inhabited areas and attacked vehicles plying along the major lifelines of National Highway (NH) 39 and 52. This has been the plight of those living in the Imphal valley as artificial inflation begins to hit the common man. Last year the 121 day blockade called by the Naga organisations to press for their demands has thrown everything out of gear. All these real issues and apprehensions would not appear to be of great consequence if the members of the NSAB were to read about them sitting in Delhi. But listening to the agitated voices of civil society takes the NSAB closer to ground zero.

Another issue of concern flagged by civil society activists and academia from Tripura is the impending danger of alienating large swathes of forest lands previously occupied by indigenous species of trees to rubber plantation. They felt that rubber has adverse effects on the soil and could even alter the climatic condition. But of greater concern for the tribes of Tripura is the fact that many non-tribals of dubious identity are being settled in the new forest areas created by the government. Some activists pointed to the rubber glut faced by countries like Malaysia and its negative spin-offs.

Of common concern, however, was the manner in which the state panders to surrendered militants. The academicians and NGOs felt that surrendered militants should go through due processes of law and not be granted general amnesty considering the heinous nature of their crimes. Ironically the surrendered militants are allowed to leave their camps and roam around with arms. They continue to extort and intimidate. This has been a major problem in all insurgency infested states. Many are of the opinion that incentivising militancy will only create a vicious cycle which the government would find hard to tackle in the long run. As of today the whole model of paying money for arms surrendered is a defective model as arms are proliferating in the region. Anyone can get arms, declare himself a militant, surrender and get an economic package from the government. This is a negative precedence with diminishing returns.

Hopefully the NSAB will take this into consideration and prepare an intelligent document taking into account the needs and aspirations of the people of the region.


Naga dream: so near but still very far

Pradip Phanjoubam


December is auspicious festive month for much of Christian Northeast. In the Christian states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and to a great extent Manipur, red "Star of David" lanterns on numerous rooftops light up the cold evenings in the streets of Kohima, Aizawl, Shillong and Imphal, setting the mood for the celebrations and soul cleansing, as much reflections on the year that was. In trouble torn Nagaland and Manipur however, the celebratory mood is subdued. Hanging in the backdrop is the 11 year year old itch of the unsettled peace negotiation underway between the Naga underground group, NSCN (IM) and the Government of India, GOI. Ceasefire between the two entities began in 1997, and thereafter peace negotiations followed but the talks are still in dreadful stalemate, though each side continues to claim approaching a breakthrough and then blaming each other for this not happening.

The reasons for this stalemate are not far to seek. One, the Naga insurgent movement is fragmented, with factional fights consuming much of the energy and public patience. A reconciliatory move commendably brought some of these factions together this year, but not every issue is settled and internal strife and sporadic bloody mayhems still mark the scenario. But the second reason should be much more frustrating for those pursuing a happy reconciliation to a problem which is as old as Indian Independence. It speaks of a looming shadow of doubt of a possibility of the Naga dream if it is not moderated by an acceptance of modern realities.

Equally, at this moment, this moderation and the compromise called for seems too much for the Naga underground leaders to accept. The foremost goal of the Naga leaders at the moment being the creation of a greater Naga homeland which they have christened "Nagalim" by merging territories of other states neighboring Nagaland (and Myanmar) which they believe traditionally belonged to the Nagas. Once this is done, the degree of autonomy "Nagalim" is to enjoy within the Indian Union is to be negotiated. 

However the shadow falls at the very outset on this very notion of territory. This could not have been spelled out louder and clearer than in the tussle over the creation of a new administrative district called SADAR hills (Special Area Demarcated as Autonomous Region) in Manipur. This new district is Kuki tribal dominated and is to be carved out of the Naga dominated Senapati district. Kukis want it and Nagas think the idea itself is an aggression on the Nagas. The frictions between the two over the matter led to a 121-day blockade of Manipur recently. 

The issue is too entangled to present an easy solution. The principal GOI negotiator, a retired bureaucrat, R.S. Pandey, did give it an attempt with a recommendation he purportedly made to the GOI. His proposal of a "Supra State" status for the Nagas leaked and the publication of the information created quite a flutter in the region.

Although the intent to bring to a closure the Naga problem is admirable the pertinent question is has the model taken care of existing realities, some of which can cause extreme strife in the ethnic cauldron of the Northeast? What exactly was the Supra State meant to be, if at all this proposal exists? Incidentally, the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, has since denied any knowledge of the proposal. Even if his statement amounts playing the cards close to the chest, it does still indicate he too thinks the proposal is problematic. 

The "Supra State" in this context in all probability is a non territorial solution of the nature so many intellectuals, including late B.K. Roy Burman of Centre for Study of Developing Societies, CSDS, New Delhi, had advocated in reference to many of the ethnic problems in the Northeast, and in particular those of the Nagas. The model conjures up the Sami Parliament in the Scandinavian countries. The Samis are formerly nomadic indigenous reindeer herders, living in Scandinavia and the Russian Federation before the region came to be dissected by political boundaries. They now find themselves living in different countries, though their traditional world never had any conception of such national boundaries, precisely because nation consciousness dawned on them late. An arrangement has now been made so that they can call themselves one people and nation but with no territory earmarked for their nation.

The NSCN (IM) leadership and their supporters everywhere have been maintaining a deafening silence on the news of the proposal. Perhaps the proposal, if at all, was a unilateral one, put up by the negotiation interlocutor and not one on which there was a consensus amongst the negotiating parties. For indeed, if the proposal is modelled on the Sami Parliament, the NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah had in the past rejected it and it is unlikely he would have had a change of heart on the matter. 

Even if Muivah wanted to accept it, two considerations would have been the deterrents. One, if "Nagalim" is not to be, the solution would leave a major section of the NSCN(IM)ís top leadership and cadres out of the core of the solution, as they belong to Manipur and not Nagaland. Two, any solution that does not address the question of sovereignty, even if notionally, would have to be after intense negotiations with the Naga public first, especially in the core Naga territory of the former Naga hills of Assam (current state of Nagaland), who have had to undergo tremendous hardships and losses for over half a century precisely because of their dream for Naga sovereignty. 

While one hopes a solution to the Naga problem comes about soon, as of now, it is difficult to see such blueprints. The reported "Supra State" definitely does not seem to offer one. Again, whatever solution is worked out, the authorities should be wary that one "solutions" should not be the cause of many more equally vexing problems.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati