My Years in Service
Khekiye K. Sema
After explaining the working structure of the VDB, I let them know that in fact the Church could be the greatest asset to create general awareness towards honest and transparent application of the rules governing the VDBs. The dishonest cracks of mismanagement had begun to visibly appear within the VDB functionaries everywhere. The Church could invoke Christian honesty as a management standard in the VDB and encouraged them to get involved. The government had laid no bar against the Church from active participation in this process.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ITH the understanding that I would be in Wokha for a short duration of six month at the maximum, I wanted to spend my time as meaningfully as I possibly could. My residential gate would always be kept opened by 6.00am and public ‘darbar’ became a common occurrence. Many an elder and local public figures would frequently drop in for a general discourse with me out on the front lawn over a cup of tea. We covered various subjects concerning Wokha. This would sometime include the public who would come with their personal problems, but get drawn into the discussion beyond their personal agendas. It afforded me a better insight into the cross section of the people in this corner of the world that invariably included the clan equations within their Tribe. I too learned that as a Chishi clansman, my counterpart clan in the Lotha parlance was an Ezung. No harm done in being identified as an Ezung I guess, but knowing the sensitivity of the clan sentiment within this Tribe, I restricted this knowledge gained, to myself. It probably would not have served my cause in any way to publically have Khekiye K. Ezung as the DC of Wokha. Mr. Renchio Yanthan, the then President of the Lotha Hoho, was my constant companion and an enthusiastic participant in most of these discussions, interjecting with his infectious laughter.
One morning Rev. John, the Executive Secretary of Lotha Mission Field dropped by. He wanted to know a little bit more about the workings of the Village Development Board(VDB) that I had often been referring to. In our time in the RD Department we were hectically pursuing the priority of having VDBs established in every recognized villages and so our interaction with the Churches was more or less non-existent. As a result the misconception among the Church functionaries that VDB was a Government’s programme where they had no role to play, could not be sufficiently corrected. I was glad Rev. John had come to clarify this. After our discourse his interest had been revved up. He wanted me to address his Mission field staffs over dinner, which I did. We had a gathering of Reverends and Evangelists along with the staffs in the Vangkhosung Mission Field. After explaining the working structure of the VDB, I let them know that in fact the Church could be the greatest asset to create general awareness towards honest and transparent application of the rules governing the VDBs. The dishonest cracks of mismanagement had begun to visibly appear within the VDB functionaries everywhere. The Church could invoke Christian honesty as a management standard in the VDB and encouraged them to get involved. The government had laid no bar against the Church from active participation in this process. In fact it would have been worthwhile having the Church officially designated as an awareness campaigning partner in this process. The message was reasonably received but the duration of my stay in Wokha was much too short for me to check back on the success of this meeting at the field application level.
Wokha was no different in the mismanagement of VDB funds including the Grant-in-aid. I carried out an official test check of Wokha Village. In a huge public meeting I made open enquiries of utilisation for the past three years where an approximate amount of Rs.33.00lakhs had been sanctioned under various Rural Development programme for the Village. Transparency was obviously lacking in their management norms and this was a surprise news for the public. Right then and there the public became restive and questions were begin raised as to how this amount was utilised. The VDB Secretary’s response was getting shouted down that many of the developments being referred did not exist within the village or were perfunctorily executed if at all. A Village Audit Committee was activated through a public demand and within a few weeks there was a recommendation for change of guards in the VDB Management Board…induced by transparency. It is a pity that that even though the present day VDBs are being funded quite generously which could change the face of the whole rural landscape towards a more affluent community, the lack of transparency in the management has greatly made such funding redundant. The RD Department must understand that the success percentage will show marked improvement only when special attention is paid towards mass awareness rather than limit their focus on VDB Secretaries and VCCs alone..who in fact are the direct perpetuators of transparency being stifled in the villages. As Chairman of the VDBs, all DCs should also be given a crash course on the operational norms of the VDBs for a more stringent operational control based on thorough understanding of the governing rules and regulations of the VDB. As of now, most of the DCs seems to be limiting their involvement to signing the cheques of the VDB without seriously putting their minds to the grassroots implementation aspects.
Meanwhile, I was gathering more and more information of the past concerning land owners overexerting their authority rather arbitrarily. One such area of highhandedness was their collection of tax from everyone who had any kind of a function held in the local public ground. The most unfortunate aspect that afflicts most of the Districts is that the original revenue maps from the time of the British administration to date have mostly been tempered with or does not exist at all. Wokha was no different…giving the land owners an undue clout. It was at this time that the Nagaland Cricket Association had met me, wanting to organize an Inter District cricket tournament at Wokha. I gladly welcomed it. The organizers later told me that the land owners were harassing them for tax for the use of the local ground. I instructed them to let the land owners know that any issue of land tax should be taken up with the DC directly but that the organizers have been forbidden to deal with the issue independently. They did not pay this tax…and the land owners also made no effort to meet me directly for the same. The tournament was successfully conducted and concluded without the questionable land tax being paid to the land owners… a practice unattended to during the years of my predecessors. We were now instituting a new trend in place to reduce this unreasonable pressures of the land owners.
The morning chat at the front lawn had become a regular feature more or less and one such chat led to a remarkable chain of events. One morning, Yikhum village representatives consisting of elders and Deacon paid me a visit along with their Pastor. They had come to request me to participate in their village forthcoming Church Centenary programme with an exhortation. I gladly agreed to do so. In course of our discussion I asked them, out of sheer curiosity, whether they had swept all the pending village cases/disputes in the Village Council under the carpet as was commonly practiced by the Sumi during the Huba? I recounted that the Village Councils would normally issue a dictate that no cases will be allowed or be taken up in the village before the completion of a religious function (Huba)…then go for each other’s throats after their prayerful conference was over. Would you believe it?…for a moment, there was a pin drop silence as each had that ‘how did he know’ look on their faces. Finally they confirmed that, that was exactly what they too had done. I shared a very simple message with them. A Centenary celebration would not happen again for another 100 years. They were the blessed generation being opportune to cross this once in a lifetime milestone. In honour of the Centenary, I recommended that they clean up all the village disputes in a good Christianly spirit and embrace the Centenary with a clear hearted feeling of brotherhood. That, I told them, would be the most meaningful celebration everyone would truly rejoice in. They left with a determined look in their faces that morning. They were happily back within a week to confirm that, as advised, they had settled all the pending cases within the village and had had a village community feast in thanksgiving. Something prompted me to ask whether they still had cases pending outside their village jurisdiction, since each of them kept emphasising ‘within the village’. Yet again they looked at each other and then admitted that they had a fifty years old pending boundary dispute case with their neighbouring Humtso village…a case which had reached High Court with a final verdict that they were unprepared to accept. They were contemplating on going to the Supreme Court. I was totally unaware of this case and therefore asked for a background feedback. They said that the final boundary delineated by the High Court entailed a loss of huge tracts of land belonging to seven families of their village…that Humtso village knew this to be a fact and had accepted the High Court’s ruling. Yikhum was not prepared to concede. We concluded the mornings’ meeting on this note. The next meeting on the lawn was with Humtso village GBs and elders, summoned to hear their side of the story. “Sir”, they said, “Yikhum village has only spoken half truth with you. Yes, we were apportioned the land belonging to their seven families but they did not tell you that we also had to sacrifice a much bigger land in comparison to what we received. We are tired of this continuous feud for over fifty years and so we have decided to end it by accepting the High Court’s judgement”. I thanked them for their time. This was followed up yet again with Yikhum Village Council members, elders and deacons…over 15-20 of them had come that morning. We sat on the lawn over a cup of tea and I bluntly accused them for telling me a half truth. When the version of Humtso was placed before them, they too agreed that it was a fact. I delivered a sermon of a lifetime in the form of an advice. Going the Supreme Court way was froth with burdens that the Village would never be able to shoulder. A civil suit would take ages. The retainer’s fee of Supreme Court Lawyers would be astronomically exorbitant. The Lawyer would charged the same amount even for a court appearance to postpone the hearing. The village representatives would have to appear before the Lawyer at Delhi to get their claims in order before the filing of their suit in the Supreme Court and then be present each time their case was heard. This, they would be required to do throughout the whole hearing process, which would drag into years. In the end, Yikhum may have to sell their village to cope with such an expenditure. Having unsettled them to a degree, I offered them an alternative solution in the form of a suggestion. Since Humtso’s village land demarcated into their boundary was supposed to have been larger, divide that land to the seven families, commensurate to their loss and the remaining land be converted and conserved as their village community property. The sensitive issue of ‘loss of face’ by giving in after having confronted each other for over fifty year had to be addressed. I told Yikhum that they would never get a better opportunity in the future to compromise if they let this moment pass. In the name of the forthcoming Centenary make their peace with Humtso Village gracefully without a loss of face for them or for Humtso. They had listened to me with rapt attention…then requested for time to consider my proposition with their villagers. Within a few days they came back with the news that they had done exactly what I had suggested…distributed the land to the householders who had lost their land and the remainder declared as their village common reserve….and confirmed their acceptance of the High Court’s judgement. Rev. John had also coincidently dropped by that morning. An official joint village reconciliation meeting of Yikhum and Humtso was immediately fixed at the Vankhosung, Lotha Mission Compound with an overall prayerful supervision of Rev. John. The community feast was arranged by Yikhum to host this remarkable event. It was a wonderful moment of human nature at its best…within the four walls of the Mission Chapel, the elders from both the villages candidly went down the memory lane reflecting upon all their respective vindictive misdemeanours over the years. Each humbly asked the other for forgiveness of their past…and each honourably received it. Thereafter a pre-prepare document of reconciliation was signed by both the parties and endorsed by Rev. John and self. Fifty years+ of conflict and animosity between these two warring villages had prayerfully come to an end…all worked out on the front lawn of the Deputy Commissioner Wokha without a day of their appearance in a formal court. A meaningful chat led to a meaningful conclusion.
The writer is a retired IAS Officer.
Forest Colony, Kohima