Published in a local daily in March 2016.
*I am not affiliated with the Land Resource Department nor do I work there. The department was touring for work purpose and I was a traveller kindly accommodated. This is an account of my interaction with department members, observations and a conversation that took place with the Director after the trip.
You can read more about the trip in my Tuensang Travel Logs.
Six and a half hours into an impromptu trip with the Land Resource Department of Nagaland in January 2016, I had a vague awakening that my personal staunch views of how the government functions was perhaps too harsh. Seeing the work done in the field and at the grass root level, it infused an understanding that I once believed would never dawn upon me.
The trip undertaken by the LRD was an assessment tour of their Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP), a government of India initiative implemented countrywide under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) scheme. Under the watershed development programme, the LRD also had a sub-project: Special Programme for Economic and Environmental Development, better known as "SPEED", a five-year programme. Initiated by the LRD Director, Mr. Mhathung Yanthan, when each department was asked to foster a project to commemorate the 50th year of statehood back in 2013, 50 villages of 50 to 100 households were adopted for this programme and is now entering its third year of implementation. The aim of it being to give more focus and emphasis on the selected villages and give a hand-holding support to develop them into economically empowered and climate-smart villages.
Longkhitpeh (pronounced Long-ki-pi) was the first stop and it is one of the villages chosen under SPEED. Within the short 2-year span, the village has made remarkable progress. They have attained total sanitation but more significant is their mosquito control. There have been zero cases of malaria since coming under the project.
Longkhitipeh, Ekhao and Nokyen-B were three SPEED villages visited in the region but it was the changes in Ekhao that was singled out. I was told that there were no boundaries between pigs and human. Each lived with the other and the concept of toilets didn't exist. This time, however, seeing the number of toilets under construction and the pigs being reared in proper sty's, the young WDT (Watershed Development Team) members were especially satisfiedcommending their absentee peer in-charge of Ekhao of a job well done.
The WDT members involved in the IWMP and SPEED projects are mostly young people between the ages of 27 to 35. They were not only hardworking but realistic and determined. Interacting with them made me aware of my ignorance on basic matters of our state. Educated in good institutions around India with futures that could've taken them far and wide, they made a conscious choice to come back and help their own people. Unlike the miserable half of us looking for the fastest exit route out of here.
The WDT members have tales of harrowing journeys during the monsoon season, getting stuck on the road at night to cutting across a mountain and getting lost in the jungles. To them though, it's all worth it. And it's not all just words to please their senior officials or a stranger in their midst. Their genuine concerns could be seen in the camaraderie with not only the villagers but among themselves as they discussed the village or programme they were overseeing and exchanging experiences and doubts. Mr. Yanthan feels that 90% of them have job satisfaction and that it is due to their commitment and sincerity that there have been achievements.
Having been a supervisory officer himself, Mr. Yanthan has made all the staff supervisory officer of one district or the other so that they will oversee the performance and time to time, carry out inspections â€œto get first-hand knowledge of not only monitoring the project but also to understand the problem of the people, their wishes and aspirations. So for that, I also undertake tours on a regular basis and my focus is on the difficult and remote areas.
Kengjung (also Kingjung) definitely proved to be one of those. While being one of the border villages (with Burma), it is also one of the furthest. As mentioned earlier, roads were only constructed a couple of years ago making this the first trip for the visiting senior officials. The way to Kengjung was via Sanglao and Wui. While the Nagaland Electrical Department claim to have 100% reach, it is seemingly confined to the bigger towns and villages as the village of Wui gets its electricity from the Assam electrical line. Kengjung, being just three hours away, has been inaccessible due to the challenging terrains. This has resulted to a unique alternative: the hydroger.
The hydroger is essentially a turbine pushing the force of water to create the needed electric surge. Although there is enough water supply to run an entire day, Kengjung follow a daily routine where the hydroger is turned on only after dark when it is essentially required. The hydroger was installed under the Nagaland Environment Protection and Economic Development (NEPED) Project when the commissioner secretary was the administrative head of both NEPED and LRD. A convergence of departments. A convergence that Mr. Yanthan hopes for if Nagaland is to move ahead.
"There are so many good government programmes and these programmes are supposed to work in tandem with each other which is not happening. Convergence is not happening in reality. Only in paper. Departments have their own agendas. It's also because of political interference. Political hand comes in especially in the project selection, site selection and people beneficiary selection."
If this convergence were to take place, let's say, I asked the director whether the question of who takes the credit will arise and cause tension. "It'll be the department that implements it" he said with a smile. However, he made it clear that the LRD is not so much after publicity and taking credit. "It's a thankless job. It is only the people, when anybody goes and visits (the villages) by chance or purposely, that mention our department because they (the visitors) get curious and ask them which department is doing all these things."
These changes were evident in almost all the villages we visited except for Wui, where a project is planned for later this year. The department inaugurated a community utility centre in Longkhitpeh, a rest house in Kengjung and Pathso-Nokyen. There was also a rice mill provided by the LRD in Ekhao as well as a sugarcane mill in Pathso. Interestingly, sugarcane cultivation was also introduced by the LRD and this was their first harvest.
Ultimately, the changes that are being brought in is with a vision that there will be an economic uplifting. Yet for that to take place, the department understandably had to put in some investment. How are finances in these matters decided? How much funds are released?
The answer was a cost-sharing formula. Mr. Yanthan admits that the cost norm is very limiting. Explaining it in terms of one hectare of a plantation or an orchard, a particular region is given Rs. 8, 000 to 9, 000/- for development. With difficult terrains and high level vehicular risks to account for, â€œit is a Herculean taskâ€. While some structures and programmes have been solely taken up by the department, most times the village provides their share of money from the village development programme (VDP) fund and also available labour and raw materials.
Mr. Yanthan's work ethics are much to be admired. He leads by example and most of time, it was impossible for us 20 something's to catch up to him as we trekked mountains. Having studied and specialised in agriculture, he knows the rubrics and demands of the job with clear-cut precision. A conversation with him was always educative and he has a very creative approach to his methods. The team has a high regard and respect for him, interacting with him freely while he was ever ready to advice, consult and listen.
A good number of people in my age group (mid to late 20s) scoff at the mention of ˜government jobs" because we don't want to get into the system. A system where the government is famed for running on greed and personal favours. Any sort of good work is ultimately cast off as an ulterior motive of personal gain. So when we decide to part ways with our parents' generation and with that, government jobs, it's done out of a personal opinion of what we see around us today. Rope in incidents like the internal political struggles of 2014/15, the still-unknown and unseen peace accord, evident backdoor appointments and even the infamous March 5 incident, it doesn't leave much optimism.
But this trip infused a sense of belief. My view of the government being the bully, "the bad guys" was too generic. The surface may look hopeless but there are some changes being made and being worked towards somewhere in the deep end. While it is vital that the senior officers be exemplary leaders, I think it is equally important to also have a group of dedicated youngsters so that they can be groomed and educated for the future. If every millennial with government service aspirations were like the ones I encountered during my week-long journey, the hypothetical hopeless future of Nagaland could well be rescued.