Sunday, December 3, 2023
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COVID-19: A Wake-up Call for Nagaland

The puny Coronavirus has dragged the mighty human species, albeit divided on ethnic and religious lines, down to its knees; the first time in living memory of the generation alive today. The minuscule virus, of no consequence till December 2019, has taught us, the self-assumed masters of the universe, a lesson or two for our avarice, our ever-growing demands and the hastening destruction of this lonely planet and all other creatures we share it with.

Nagaland has been very fortunate thus far, with not a single reported positive case. We do not know what the future holds in store for us, but our fervent prayers will definitely continue for an unchanged scenario. However, this was also the time that our people living/visiting outside the state were traumatised to a large extent as the rest of us here watched helplessly. We are scared the virus will make an entry into one of the greenest zones on earth, whilst it also has been heart-wrenching to see our people agonised with fear of the virus on the one hand and struggling to survive due to lack of water, food, shelter and a myriad of other problems, on the other. Social stigmatisation has further added to the misery of some.

Hopefully, the future generations are spared of these traumatic experiences; however, this hope is with lack of conviction. Reason! The world that was healing the past couple of months will start deteriorating rapidly, and make up for lost ground once the virus has loosened its grip on our throats. Life will be our normal again, with wanton destruction of the earth’s environment and resources to satisfy our greed, and wars for our hatred for each other’s religion, caste or race. However, these difficult times have taught us valuable lessons; it is for us to learn from them or be branded fools forever.

Many people have highlighted our numerous weaknesses and the acute lack of infrastructure and institutions in our state. Covid-19 should waken in us the reason to build for a resilient future. Nagaland is not a big state that requires vast resources. For the huge amounts of money pumped in by the Government of India (GoI) we should have had roads paved of gold. Unfortunately, we do not have anything to boast of. However, it is never too late to start.

It would be prudent on the part of the Government of Nagaland (GoN) to take serious note of the constructive suggestions given by numerous individuals in the recent past, which were only for the good of Nagaland and its people. Criticisms, both sweet and sour, have to be taken with a pinch of salt. This is the only way forward. No matter what, the Coronavirus has pointed out our acute lack of preparedness in dealing with problems thrown at us. It is time the GoN seriously studies and takes up wide-ranging issues so that the state is not thrown out of gear again in the near future. The few issues discussed below are those that have been constantly put forward in various forms by well meaning individuals of our small society.

All Hospitals and Health Centers of Nagaland should be upgraded and facilities enhanced so that every unit is prepared to face any eventuality, such as the present corona situation, in the future. All hospitals should also have the required staff strength. One reason often cited is the saturation of jobs in the Government sector. However, the medical units do need the required number of doctors, nurses and paramedics without any compromise (a solution, though bitter, is presented below).

A matter of serious concern is the huge army of highly insincere and inefficient government employees. Seriously take up the matter of terminating all these undeserving individuals from all departments, be they friend or foe, who are sucking our economy dry by way of the huge salary component. Go one step further, the GoI way – sack all unimaginative and unproductive employees who cannot contribute to the growth of the state. With such action, one thing is for certain – the GoN would immediately be understaffed and would require thousands of employees. Select and employ from the tens of thousands of highly qualified and dedicated unemployed youths of Nagaland who will be the driving force for the progression of the state.

A major problem faced this time was the disruption of academic activities. The students, particularly the school-going children, lost a lot. It is definitely required to promote them (Nursery to 8) though classes are not conducted, if the lockdown continues (if this decision is true). For some of those in the urban areas it is not much of a problem as their parents could afford home tuitions and mock exams with the help of tutors via whatsapp. Some enterprising Village Council members and teachers got hold of TV sets for online classes on Doordarshan for students in their Panchayat Halls. However, many interior villages may not have the facilities/resources. Many children, particularly those of lower income families, have lost most this time. These underprivileged children will find it very difficult to cope with their contemporaries due to the lack of brain exercise the whole year. Many families do not own a TV, nor can most of them afford a smart phone. The Government should do something about this. This measure need not be for the corona season only but can be part of continuing education, in addition to normal school activities. If would be great if the Government equips all villages, khels (in case of larger villages), colonies/wards, etc. of Nagaland with large TV sets and satellite dishes, strictly for the furtherance of education of the children. The Government need not shell out any funds for this venture, but can direct that the same can be procured from the VDB funds or other grants as a one-time affair. This will help resolve numerous problems for the weaker sections and rural populace.

The Government should also identify and sponsor the best teachers (no compromise on quality) from the Government as well as Private schools to prepare good presentations, an initiative of the Government recently, on various topics covering the entire school curriculum. These presentations have to supplement that taught in schools by the regular teachers at suitable periods, even after the current pandemic. These presentations should be widely disseminated through Doordarshan or other media that is accessible to all.

For higher education, net connectivity is necessary. All college and university students avail one scholarship or the other so they can afford smart phones or laptop/desktop computers. At the cost of repeating, this small state can afford to have good internet facilities. But most of the time people from many areas keep pleading with service providers to help resolve their network problems. The government should take stringent action on these companies/groups for making the public suffer. Therefore, the poor facilities have caused much hardship to these students as well this time.

Vocational courses should seriously be included in the curriculum. For instance, High Schools can have animal husbandry courses for those interested, which does not require much investment as the trainings can be imparted by farmers involved in the trade, at their convenient time, as their contribution to society. It is time for public participation in education. Other courses may include agricultural practices, various other trades, technical trainings, etc. This will ensure that the students will one day be self-employed or become successful entrepreneurs. Setting up more institutes on the ITI pattern to train young people in masonry, carpentry, plumbing, electrification, painting, etc. is the need of the hour. Most of these categories of employees are from outside the state at present. This is the reason our resources are being drained out of Nagaland. A fully trained workforce comprising people of Nagaland would ensure that in any future pandemic, the people of Nagaland are in the state, and not stranded outside, as at present. This will also ensure that the workforce from outside will be negligible, so the management of migrant labourers is minimal. Most of our resources will also remain within Nagaland.

The people of Nagaland should be encouraged to cultivate their/community land, rear cattle, involve in horticulture, pisciculture, etc. With proper management and use of organic manure, Nagaland probably has sizeable cultivable tracts to produce enough rice to feed the bulk of the population, besides producing vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs, fish, etc. Factories can be set up by local entrepreneurs for production of tea, oil, flour and spices, to name a few. But to effectively achieve this, the government should ensure the market. This translates into breaking the backbone of the existing syndicates that have destroyed the market of the agrarian society of Nagaland. All the criminals and their notorious gangs involved in these illegal businesses should be prosecuted and thrown behind bars. But can the GoN do it? Where there’s a will, there’s a way! This has been a long standing demand of the ACAUT and others. If local produce has a booming market, migration to the urban areas will drastically reduce, except for employment, education, etc. In fact, it is desirable that the trend is reversed, because rapidly growing urban populations put pressure on the environment through demand for resources such as land, water and energy. Moreover, our young people would not have to go out of the state in search of jobs, as Nagaland itself would have huge potential. If our agricultural market can be sustained, imports can be drastically cut down. In the event of another situation like the present, there would be no cause for worry as we would have enough food and the population that really matters, the weaker sections, would be home, safe and sound. This would also lead to huge savings for our Government and prosperity for Nagaland. This however, requires proper and massive planning, which will ensure a future of adequate shelter, food, water, sanitation, health and other basic amenities. This can also be achieved without compromising the natural environment. For all this, it is vital that the legislations and policies are implemented in letter and spirit. Rural development, in the true sense, and poverty alleviation are a must.

Another problem this time is the large number of students who are outside the state for education. Setting up of Engineering and Medical colleges and a host of other institutes, and upgrading those already in existence would ensure that most of our students, particularly those from the less privileged class, do not have to go out of the state. Good and well-equipped hospitals and a Medical College will definitely deter patients from going out for treatment, which was also a cause for concern this time.

The massive population growth due to huge influx of illegal immigrants has caused great upheavals in society, leading to the sidelining of the citizens of the state and bringing to the fore, a host of problems. Further check of immigration is as important today as recognising and deporting these people, without exception. Most of our resources are shared with the illegal immigrants, thereby depriving the weaker, rightful citizens. Herbert Spencer’s thoughts ring true here: “The deserving poor are among those who are burdened to pay the costs of caring for the undeserving poor”.

The Nagaland Government job sector is super saturated. The private sector is virtually non-existent. Self employment is an option, but without the ominous presence of the friendly neighbourhood, AK-47-wielding, gunman lurking in the shadows for his hefty cut, even if the profit margin is very low or there are no sales. Moreover, to start a venture, capital is required. No point in giving the youth’s long sermons on the merits of self-employment, when they have no means. The only way forward is to help entrepreneurs by adequately training and providing them soft loans for their projects. One self-employed youth will employ dozens if everything goes well. Our past was very filthy, with a few having looted the treasury with impunity. Even the little granted by the GoI for the weakest of the weak had been pocketed by some of the wealthy. However, whatever happened has happened. Let us now give to society what belongs to society. The funds granted by the GoI for specific purposes, should reach there.

If we act promptly and sincerely, why should we always be parked in Delhi for extra funds? We can, and should be nearly self-sufficient. The human population in 1999 was 6 billion and in 2019 it exceeded 7.7 billion; the projected population for 2050 is 9.7 billion. This is bad news for all governments of the world that are already struggling. The GoI is no exception and therefore, cannot and will not be generous with us forever. This is a wake-up call to be self-reliant, which alone can make us self-sufficient. This in turn will ensure that our funds are not drained outside; it is important that our money circulates within Nagaland.

The government also has to play a proactive role in imparting technical expertise for large scale soil conservation and regeneration, bio-fertiliser production, irrigation, watershed management and water harvesting. Public awareness on numerous other issues and on the dignity of labour is equally important. We definitely have sound economists in the state and in the region and professionals from a wide range of disciplines to advice, if the government is serious.

Thank You Corona, for showing us the light!

Prof. G.T. Thong

Lower Agri Colony