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Op-Ed

My Years in Service

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By EMN Updated: Feb 20, 2014 11:44 pm
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It was regretfully disheartening to note that almost all our schemes showed an investment of Rs.5.00 lakhs or less, meaninglessly spread all over the State with or without potentiality. Politically driven considerations played a damaging role even within this chicken feed budget. In fact whereas even the chickens ignored our departmental budget, the politicians didn’t. The Centrally sponsored schemes were equally haphazard and limited in scope with an average of Rs.7.00-10.00 lakhs being funded for inconsequential projects.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE wonderful dreams that Mr. S.C Jamir, the Chief Minister of Nagaland had painted, wanting to convert Nagaland into a Hawaiian tourist destination, was backed up with a budget of Rs.3.00 crores out of which Rs.2.60 crores would directly go towards administrative cost of the Department such as salaries for the officers and staffs, office stationery and so on. I was being expected to transform the whole of Nagaland into a tourism hot spot with the balance amount of Rs. 40 lakhs. The decent curtsy of speaking to me first before transferring me to a nonexistent hole was certainly acknowledged, but there was no real necessity for the CM to have tried convincing me of how important a Department of Tourism could be. It was his prerogative to place any officer anywhere he wanted. Having said so much to me and then allocating a budget like this dampened my spirit to say the least. No matter how hard I tried, I was never able to shake off a feeling that Mr. SC Jamir always appraised me through the prism of my cousin brother Mr. K L Chishi who was considered a political thorn in his side. The merit of my service rendered was never taken into consideration by him or for that matter all the other Chief Ministers after him.
Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, an internal departmental meeting of all the Tourism Officers was called to assess the overall efforts of the past. There was nothing, literally nothing to write home about. The question of Nagaland becoming a tourist hot spot was a fictional perception far removed from the reality. The severe communication bottleneck and insurgent ridden landscape overrode all the natural beauty of God’s creation and the hospitality of the Nagas that we boasted about. Who in their right senses would take a vacation to Nagaland not knowing whether they would get back home alive? It was regretfully disheartening to note that almost all our schemes showed an investment of Rs.5.00 lakhs or less, meaninglessly spread all over the State with or without potentiality. Politically driven considerations played a damaging role even within this chicken feed budget. In fact whereas even the chickens ignored our departmental budget, the politicians didn’t. The Centrally sponsored schemes were equally haphazard and limited in scope with an average of Rs.7.00-10.00 lakhs being funded for inconsequential projects.
I took a stand that henceforth the Centrally sponsored scheme would become the mainstay of the Department’s activities and our proposals would have to be projected from Rs.20.00 lakhs and beyond. Though Mr. K. Ovung, the Director, Tourism vehemently objected that this might lead to Nagaland not getting any funds at all, I was prepared to dare that it was more honourable not getting any help from the GoI rather than pretend that their investment had been of any consequence. It was also considered pointless at that time making efforts to spread the projects to the interiors because of communication and security constraints. The Inner line regulation was a serious roadblock as well in terms of tourism convenience. Recognizing these ground realities, the only possible access points that the out-state tourists would at least dare to come to would be the area that we would pay attention to at that time. Along with my Er. Patton SDO, we therefore focused on Kohima District and Dimapur Sub-Division to identify potential recreation spots and trekking routes, more as a focus on domestic tourism.
The first trek we undertook was up the hills of Setikima to check out the waterfall which was then being frequented by the Patkai Christian College students. A good crowd of friends banded together for this pleasant trip. It was midsummer and the heat was stifling but at the end of the day it was a fulfilling trip. The waterfall presented a serene environment with the forest green surrounding. This falls had three staggered stages and so I christened it “The triple falls” that day. Above the falls was a cool looking pond with thick forest overhang. A project was designed for embankment of the river to create a more ambient swimming pool, a cafeteria, a camping site and a gazzabo development in the up end of the falls near the pond, with a projection of approximately Rs.23.00lakhs. We were informed of another waterfalls at the upper ridges beyond Chumukedima Village. According to the stories heard, it was supposed to have been the haunt of the Hornbills in the ancestral times and though this was not too significant a falls it was named “The Hornbill falls”. Around RS.20.00 lakhs was earmarked. Both these falls did not have too voluminous a flow of water during the lean non- monsoon season but it still provided a pleasant ambiance. The condition of our Tourist Lodge at Dimapur was in a deplorable state of neglect. A renovation plan was made for an estimated amount of Rs.79.00 lakhs. The Kachari Ruin was also put into the scheme of refurbishment with an approximate estimated projection of Rs.32.00 lakhs for a small library providing the historical background of the ruin, cold drinks/coffee kiosks for the convenience of the visitors, children’s park for leisure etc. All the schemes we presented over the years had favourable acceptance at the Centre. The Ministry of Tourism GoI was headed by Mr. Baezbaruah, a senior IAS Officer from Assam, as the Secretary. The North Eastern States used to have a separate scheme review meeting. From the point of equity, Nagaland was receiving the second highest percentage of funding as compared with all the other sister States except for Assam. I was initially feeling quite contented with the overall placement of funds until Mr. Bazebaruah lambasted the lot of us. He said, while all the mainland sectors were proffering major schemes in terms of crores, the North Eastern States were projecting insignificant proposals for a few lakhs and that we needed to wake up. And here I had a Director who was desperately scared to project major schemes, being proudly satisfied with 16-17 small schemes of no real consequence.
The department was now beginning to rake in more funds from the Centre in comparison to the State outlay of the department and we began to attract more political attention as never before. The operational principle was to carry out the project implementation with a strict focus on the quality of work and timely completion. The officers of the department were strictly cautioned on the issue of expenditure and a hassle free coordination with the contracting firms. All things were sailing reasonably smoothly until the State Assembly election was held. The earlier Minister Mr. Kongem, who had worked in close tandem with the department was unfortunately changed after the elections, and the department was ‘blessed’ with the arrival of Mr.TCK Lotha as the Minister of Tourism.
Even prior to Mr. TCK Lotha taking over the Department, I was informed that when the discussion of the departmental budget for infrastructural expenditure came up in the Directorate, it was carried in Lotha dialect between the Director and the DDO, both being from the same community. Joint Director was Mr. Alem Pongener, but he had been sidelined to minor inconsequential sectors. Whenever a departmental roundup was had Mr. Alem would join the discussion with a repeated “I don’t know”. It was as much frustrating for him perhaps as it was for me. As the second in command, keeping him out of the loop was unacceptable. Finally an internal order was issued with the instruction that all files be routed through the Joint Director to the Director. Despite this, the Director continued to ignore the instruction. When I summoned the Director to verify why my instruction was still not being followed, he took a very belligerent stance telling me that he was already an officer while I was still in college and since this system was an ongoing norm even during his predecessor’s time he would follow that existing management norm. By all account Mr. Kompemo Ovung seemed mentally short by .01%. A sensible discussion was considered useless and therefore he was instead given 24 hours to explain why he had failed to follow Government’s standing directives; and to either conform or else face necessary disciplinary action for insubordination. He rendered his official apology affirming that the system would be followed as directed. On the other hand the total inaptitude on the part of Mr. Alem was equally damning. Despite the standing order in his support he was totally unable to commandeer his station. In utter frustration, I reviewed this matter with his younger brother Mr.Manen, a senior IAS officer, requesting him to advise his elder brother on this. Being a senior in rank didn’t make much of a difference to Mr. Alem. The traditional status as the elder brother overruled all sensibility. Mr. Manen couldn’t help him though he tried. To make matters worse, Mr. Alem had approached the former Minister Mr. Kongam and then me, requesting us to make him the Drawing Disbursing Officer (DDO) in the directorate. His reason for requesting this assignment was simple: he had been trying to construct his residential building for a very long time but thus far he was only able to erect a few posts and pillars. Being the DDO would change this inability. His intention was clear. Minister conferred with me on this with a disgusted smirk in his face. We then tried to test the waters by proffering the DDO responsibility along with the Planning cell as well…he had no brains for planning subject and therefore quietly withdrew his request. We had expected that and we were not wrong.
Such was the internal scenario when Mr.TCK Lotha took over the Department. Mr. Kompemo Ovung, who was sulking in the corner, came to life once more. Together, they conducted a coordination meeting with the Kachari community concerning the Kachari Ruin refurbishment plan without any intimation to me. They carried out the discussion with aggression and threats and finally landed up with the Kachari community being offended. They took a very belligerent stand against developing anything within this complex. The department could not proceed with this development despite funds being available. This was followed by the Minister’s meeting with the contractors of the Department in which personal welfare percentage was discussed. Things were going out of gear when my transfer order finally arrived.
Despite it all, a small footprint that we left behind was the mega ‘Naga Heritage Village’ proposal at Chumukedima original abandoned village site above the present NAP HQ, Dimapur. The concept was to create a village consisting of ten traditional houses of each Tribe set around a Morung as the centrepiece. Each of these ten houses would accommodate ten selected professional craftsmen from all the respective Tribes along with their family members, produce their wares and use the Morung as a retail outlet. Apart from the traditional establishment, a whole range of general infrastructure such as 3 star accommodation, gym and health centres, swimming pool, indoor stadium, a shopping arcade, sports complex, theatre etc. were all comprehensively envisioned. An area of 1000 acres was acquired for Rs.1.00 crore, from the Chumukedima Village Council. The old abandoned village approach road to the hill top above the present NAP establishment was renovated with a huge retaining wall erected on the cliff side to expand access into the project site. The project cost was estimated at Rs.50.00 crores. The Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, GoI, had come down to Dimapur to take stock of the ground situation. The Chief Minister also joined this visit at site and we had a sumptuous outdoor picnic that day. This scheme was approved in principle. What happened to this proposal after I had left…God knows. The present day Hornbill Festival being annually celebrated in the Heritage Village at Kisama grew out of this concept.
The writer is retired IAS Officer.
Forest Colony, Kohima

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By EMN Updated: Feb 20, 2014 11:44:53 pm