KOHIMA, MAY 16: September 3, 2020 was a big day for 23-year-old Zekuobeituo Kire. The results of the Self-Reliant Nagaland Challenge 2020 were out and his project had made the final cut along with 12 others from various districts of Nagaland.
With the Rs 3-5 lakh assistance package promised by young Minister Temjen Imna Along to each winner of the Challenge, Kire’s entrepreneurial dream of owning and managing a farm seemed at hand. But 7 months have gone by since that day, and not a single paisa has come Kire’s way.
The global perception of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s high-pitched call for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ or a ‘Self-Reliant India’ has been taking a beating with the country receiving and seeking aid from all over the world to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile in Nagaland, the reliability of promises made by BJP Minister Temjen Imna Along on the lines of making Nagas self-reliant is also being questioned with winners of the Self-Reliant Nagaland Challenge 2020 reportedly yet to receive the promised assistance.
Since Modi’s call for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in May 2020, politicians affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had taken to social media announcing schemes, #SelfReliantIndia trended across major social media platforms.
The days following the Prime Minister’s grand announcement, Minister of Higher Education and Tribal Affairs, Temjen Imna Along, known for being social-media savvy, had taken to hash-tagging #SelfReliantNagaland challenge on social media platforms calling for submission of ideas/concepts from aspiring entrepreneurs of Nagaland for start-ups wherein a financial help between Rs 3-5 lakh (depending on the project size and feasibility) will be awarded to all the winning teams from each district of Nagaland.
A total of 2,147 applications were received from all over Nagaland and results were declared on September 3, 2020.
Nagaland Page has on numerous occasions, over the past 7 months, contacted the office of Imna Along to enquire about the status of the Self-Reliant Nagaland Initiative, and also its funding pattern only to be given a new date every time for response from the Minister.
Meanwhile, winners of the contest from 5 districts – Kohima, Wokha, Kiphire, Longleng and Dimapur, who Nagaland Page managed to get in touch with, have informed they are yet to receive the funds as promised.
No help despite repeated assurances
Talking to Nagaland Page, Kire, whose project was selected from Kohima district, said: “I along with winners from the other districts have contacted the Minister on several occasions through WhatsApp and we have been assured about the monetary assistance. But he (Imna Along) keeps on extending the date with a variety of excuses.”
Narrating how his dreams have been shot down, Kire said, “On learning that my project was chosen from Kohima, the thirst to realize my dream became stronger and it instilled confidence to reach for greater heights since a massive financial help was promised to all the winning entrepreneurs under the Self-Reliant Nagaland initiative which is yet to get processed.”
Sharing his worst fear, Kire said, “Who knows what state I’ll be in if I had borrowed money from people with interest.”
“I was fortunate to have good friends who lent me money without any interest or deadline or else it would have been a different story,” he added.
Initially, Kire had spent Rs 1.15 lakh, which included his savings as well as the money he borrowed from his trusted friends, and has further spent Rs 50,000 in managing his farm over the course of 7 months.
Kire further opined that someone in power should not make promises, which one cannot deliver since it demoralizes the spirit of the youth.
He further maintained that the Minister was supposed to send a team of experts to the winners within 2-3 weeks’ time after the declaration of results, to recommend and help set up the blueprint of the winning project but even that team is yet to contact any of the winners.
Henom Phom, the winner from Longleng district said, “When I came across this Self-Reliant Nagaland Challenge, I saw it as an opportunity not only to make my life better but alleviate the plight of my people.”
Phom shared that her project which got selected was for the set-up of a Piggery Farm at her native village, Namchong, which will provide an endless supply of meat to her village and the neighbouring villages.
“The road condition from Naginimora, which is the nearest commercial point for the Namchong village and 8 villages surrounding it, is so poor that it becomes hard to procure meat and daily necessities during the rainy season and it is my intention to fill this gap,” said the 29-year-old graduate who is currently pursuing her B. Ed course in Dimapur.
“We’ve been informed that a survey team will be sent to our location to inspect the site but we are yet to receive any calls towards this, leaving aside the funds that were promised,” Henom added.
Likewise, 31-year-old Shanbemo Patton, the winner of Self-Reliant Nagaland (Wokha) who is a music teacher currently based at Dimapur, said that he is just waiting for the funds to be processed so that he could set up his own establishment in Wokha District.
Tsuten T Thikir, the winner from Kiphire district is skilled in painting and woodcarving. He said that he had rented a shop to set up his business after receiving the monetary assistance, but had to let go of his claim on the shop since the fund is yet to reach his hand.
While most winners of the Self-Reliant Nagaland are in need of hard cash to kick-start their promising enterprises, Aleu Metha, whose project got selected from Dimapur, has already made some leaps in the entrepreneurial aspect without the help from the State Government.
Metha narrated the trials and tribulations his company went through ever since they learnt that they were chosen as the winner of Self-Reliant Nagaland (Dimapur).
“On the night the result was declared, Imna Along had called and congratulated us. Following this, we searched for investors and started our business on a larger scale. Time went by and our company started to grow as our products found a base at Nagaland House in Delhi and companies like Mahindra and Hyundai but there was no update from the Self-Reliant team. Regardless, we contacted our Minister Along and enquired about it but we were told that the fund was delayed because of the bye-election,” he said.
“At one point of time, our company was on the verge of bankruptcy but we somehow staved off this crisis by sourcing investment from private investors. However, in the last week of December, we received a payment of Rs 10,000 from the Nagaland Government,” Mehta informed Nagaland Page.
According to him, by this time the company had sold hundreds of machines in Delhi NCR and Northeastern states within a short period of time.
“As of now our machine is certified under International Organisations for Standardisation (IOS) and we provide a 1-year warranty and we guarantee that we can do without the help of the Government. However, at one point it was such a humiliation for all of us that we wasted our time and money waiting for financial support when we needed it most from our Government,” Metha added.
It may be noted that two teams/winners were chosen from Dimapur because of its size.
The whole idea of Self-Reliant India was conceived amid the nation-wide lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, with the vision to equip and assist aspiring entrepreneurs in every nook and corner of the country so that its populace will be self-sufficient despite the lockdown.
However, the second wave of the pandemic has arrived and as the nation goes into a lockdown for the second time, the aspiring entrepreneurs of Nagaland find themselves abandoned by the agency that promised to give wings to their dreams.