Our engineers

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It is not a great time to be an engineer, particularly a Public Works Department (PWD) engineer in Nagaland these days. There is a growing loss of public faith both in competence and social responsiveness of engineers. That faith has been further fanned by revelations that have progressively tarnished the image of the engineering faculty. The image of the engineers is largely of a faculty besmirched by inefficiency, corruption and lack of devotion. “The society ought to look up to the engineers as those who create assets for the State, which adds to the comforts of the public, but today, the society looks down on engineers as those who create problems and difficulties in the form of liabilities, overdrafts, financial mismanagement, etc.,” said Limanaro, vice president of Federation of Nagaland State Engineering Service Associations (FONSESA) at the annual conference of the association on August 23. FONSESA is the apex body of all the constituent association of engineering departments including all engineers serving in different departments and organizations under the Government of Nagaland. She asked members of FONSESA to be determined to reverse this trend and opinions to gain the rightful place in the society, while also calling upon Naga engineers to be committed in their assigned responsibilities towards creating assets for the development and progress of the state thereby regaining the rightful place of being ‘asset creators’. Indeed much of the antagonism towards engineers today stems from two main reasons. Firstly, the belief that policies and programmes developed by development agencies don’t sufficiently respond to the real needs and concerns as the people perceive them and they find no direct means of influencing or shaping their policies. In other words, people are dismayed at a narrow and elitist consultation of issues that can impact the lives of thousands of people. Secondly, people perceive that many of our ills are the result of planning without sufficient understanding of environmental and social effects. Besides, there has been a change in public consciousness which has unleashed a wave of public intolerance. People no longer accept their inability to make rational comparisons and judgments here and elsewhere. Obviously, engineers can neither be exonerated from all responsibility nor any irregularities or lacunae on their part be ever condoned. But to view an engineer in isolation of the system is bound to produce a uni-dimensional stereotype and to blame engineers wholly for all ills of development, without considering the complexity and often conflicting goals that government agencies have to countenance, is like, as a cynic put it, upbraiding Einstein for failing to find a cure for cancer. If we delve into our system, into its past, we find that official morality has, generally speaking, been non-existent. In our state it is estimated that one-third of development funds drain away in exchange of gifts, but no disgrace is attached to this, everything is regulated and above board. And any young engineer who was initiated into the system soon realized that honesty elicited scorn and any departure from the established system meant arbitrary transfers or sticky postings. After a while he begins, in a curiously innocent way, to believe in the system. At the same time, over the years we have witnessed the emergence of a new class of contractors who are intimidating, abusive and ready to go to any depth to have their way. Most of the ‘contractors of yore’ have retreated from the domain dominated by these new breed of contractors. The more recent development has been the growing presence, in office, of shadowy characters masquerading as vigilantes. The ubiquity of such persons is dispiriting to the dignity of engineers and has largely put the engineers and development works on the back foot. The point is that to overhaul the system we require people with a sweeping vision who are able to see the invisible, to see any oversights and to identify the lacunae in their entirety. In other words, we need a self-correcting mechanism. To put the onus on some prowling ambivalent characters who have seized opportunities for personal gain, or to settle some old scores not only forecloses the possibility of any self evaluating and self-correcting mechanism, but in the long run may also prove perilous to development.