S Maxwell Lyngdoh
I can clearly recall an incident that took place many years ago when a certain worker was working on some repair work at home, who had then asked if I could help with an Epic Card. I told him it would not be possible since he is not a resident of Meghalaya. He confidently replied that it is possible and that he will pay for all the expenses. The matter ended like that after he noticed that I was not keen on pursuing his request further.
Every time I come across news reports of a certain Sordar, Daloi, Syiem, Acting Syiem, Headman, Heads of Raid and so, on with regard to issuing documents such as residential certificates, NOC, residential proof, etc., (illegally), I am reminded of this incident. It makes me reckon! On one hand, we are talking, discussing and demanding Inner Line Permit (ILP), while on the other hand, we are also indulging in all that it takes to absorb them illegally. The question is very simple . . . How and where do we draw the line?
- The after-effects:
The headlines hitting the newspapers in the State, all suggest that issuing of residential proof, NOC and others is merely misusing of power or because of some personal gains. Time and again, we get to learn that heads of various traditional institutions have done this on purpose, without sensing repercussions. These incidences happen in areas that are located at the border in a big way. The impact on the host community due to the influx of migrant labour has become a core issue of debate, especially in the last few decades. The concept of facilitation centre – Entry and Exit Point came up as a concession to the demands of local pressure groups to set up the Inner Line Permit and thus check on the entry of unwanted elements into the State.
The Integrated Facilitation Centre – Entry and Exit Point was proposed to be set up in all entry point areas of Meghalaya to address the issues of illegal immigration into the State. The influx of migrant labour will have both negative and positive impacts on the community and local environment. The labourer’s accommodation will have a significant interface with the community. The influx of migrant workers would lead to a transient increase in the population in the immediate vicinity of the area.
A document issued by the Meghalaya Integrated Transport Project (MITP) Funded by the World Bank (June 2020) mentions that construction work, being one of the main livelihoods in Meghalaya will demand a constant supply of labourers. While this stands as a known fact, the influx of migrant workforce will also put additional pressure to fill this requirement. The workforce normally consists of solitary migrant males and that can be a potential risk for the host population. However, in many cases, the migrant male member of the family might relocate his family with him.
Specifically, it went on record that the influx of labour force can lead to; risk of conflict and social unrest due to cultural differences between the labour force and local community, risk of spread of communicable diseases due to the interaction of the labourers and the local community, risk of gender-based violence, risk of violation of child-safety measures, a health hazard for host community due to lack of sanitation facilities and waste management, and lastly additional pressure on the local resources and social infrastructures.
- Expected roles(s):
What is the primary role of our local traditional heads, if not to protect and safeguard its own people? In a system where we still depend and rely on our local headman for all our necessary requirements within our ‘Dong’ and our ‘Shnong’ (locality, village, raids etc.,), the ‘trust’ factor is of utmost importance at any given time. While going through the role of the Syiem, it reads – Syiem is the head of the Hima. The literal meaning of Syiem is King but Syiem is an ordinary citizen approachable by any person and is supposed to be the guardian of all the people of his Hima (Tiwari, 2019).
Similarly, another important traditional head who is the Headman or the Rangbah Shnong is the head of the shnong – locality, village. He is the caretaker of the people and resources of the village. He presides over the meeting of Durbar and also the Executive Committee. Rangbah Shnongs have a Secretary who is the custodian of all the records and the office of the Rangbah Shnong. The responsibility of Rangbah Shnong has increased manifold as most government schemes implemented in the village are done through him and members of the Executive Committee. They play a major role in the implementation of community development as well infrastructural development schemes. Practically nothing moves in the village without the consent and or approval of the Rangbah Shnong and or his Secretary.
Decision making in the traditional institutions would include the Syiem Hima, Syiem Raid, Rangbah Shnong and others. The decisions with respect to policy and with regard to sharing of benefits and implementation of government schemes and programmes are taken in the respective Durbars. The Durbar has all the powers including promulgating new regulations and review and revision of existing rules. The Executive Committee can take day-to-day decisions particularly related to the implementation of the decisions of the Durbar. All decisions are taken through consensus. In case the decision could not be taken on a day due to the absence of consensus, the meeting is adjourned and the matter is opened again in the next meeting. Any decision taken is binding on all people living in the jurisdiction of the Village, Raid or Hima there is no scope of appeal or prayer for review except in matters related to justice related to criminal and civil matters.
- Prescribed stringent norms:
A news article that appeared in the Outlook, a couple of years ago stated that the Government of Meghalaya has approved some amendments in Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act (1979) to tighten the control of the government over the flow of migrant labourers. The Labour Department will implement the work permit system, in which all inter-state migrants will have to register and the permits will be valid for 179 days – one day short of six months. Such a permit should be renewed after expiry to continue working in the State. The ground reality however shows that once they have entered the State, such renewals of documents are never attended to, except for a very small percentage.
It appears that within the State, there are those who genuinely support ILP and are demanding for it, the other half, supports, yet are silent, a smaller portion is using and or misusing its power by going against it through such activities. The Act of 1958 and Rules of 1960 provide overarching powers to the KHADC and JHADC. These are well thought and well-drafted policies, that if correctly implemented will take care of many issues covered under Inner Line Permit. In fact, if each urban and rural ‘Dong’ and ‘Shnong’ take precautionary steps and implement stringent norms for entry and exit of workers residing temporarily in their areas, including those staying in rented houses, official quarters and others, there would not have been much of problems in following up with any mal-practices of either party.
One of the fears of the pressure groups in Meghalaya is short term marriages or cohabitations that take place with illegal migrants and which are done with dubious thoughts and intent. Such acts not only causes damage to the newborn but also to the community as a whole when illegitimate children are born to single mothers, in the event, the onus of which falls on the family and the clan. Things have become more complex now as compared to the olden days and will get worst if it alleviates beyond the current situation. Further, the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 may create conflicts and trigger communal unrest, an aspect that has had long-pending history in the State.
The continual support in terms of strengthening illegal documentation of those who are not citizens of the State will only cause more harm now and for the coming generations. Lets act before we miss the opportunity!(The writer can be reached at [email protected])