My Years in Service
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ARCH 1981: Merapani, was a literal hell hole not only from the perspective of climatic condition but even from the point of creature comforts. This is one of the important lifeline station for the Lothas that has all the potential of becoming a commercial hub akin to Dimapur. However the same cannot be realized as long as the Lothas are unprepared to make the necessary sacrifices of physically settling down in this sector. Claiming site from a distance without creating infrastructure or self occupation is not an answer. It only sets the clock backward before a potential future can happen. When I took over the charge it was more heavily overpopulated by mosquitoes with very less Lotha presence to feast on. Therefore what did exist was not a commercial hub but a malaria hub, a premium ailment of the few Lotha families in the area.
My designated accommodation consisted of two small roomed hill type palace without a kitchen facility. Border dispute with Assam has been a consistent issue since the inception of Statehood and yet the total apathy and the lack of seriousness displayed by the Government of Nagaland in its address to this subject was frustratingly non-existent. I don’t suppose things have changed much even in the present days. The officers were simply thrown into the wild without any infrastructural support to assist them in their work, down to the barest elementary accommodation facilities not being provided in most cases. Expecting concrete results from an indifferent application of mind is asking for the moon. Posting Border Magistrates seemed more an exercise to ease out awkward NCS officers who had no political connection so as to make way for the ones who have the requisite clout to be given more comfortable assignment. In my case I did have Mr. KL Chishi as a brother in the political club but it was more a liability. His political friends were more wary of his political ambition and anyone linked to him was treated with the same suspicious yardstick. Unlike many of my colleagues in the NCS I was averse to campaigning for cushy postings and my very own cousin brother was oblivious to issues such as this. As a result I had the privilege of being posted to God forsaken outposts which most officers shied away from, during my junior years in service. This was one such instance along with all the other posts already covered.
I spent the first week’s joining time collecting raw materials and with the helping hand of a few local residents, constructed a small rudimentary kitchen first to reconcile the functional convenience between my stomach and my body. Thereafter I went up to Wokha to report to Mr. Sunep IAS, DC to let him know that I had joined my assignment. On arrival at his Office I was informed by his PS that I was required to fix an appointment first to meet the DC. I began to wonder whether I had come to the right place. Was this the South or the North Block, New Delhi? This was the first instance that I heard of the need for Administrative Officers to seek prior ‘formal appointment’ to meet their own DC to report and review mutual field problems and issues concerning his District. The DC was apparently sitting with one of his DB. I presumed they would not be discussing earth shaking top secret National security issue and so I walked into his chamber despite vehement objection of his PS. The DC looked surprised and none too pleased that I was violating his regulated turf. He reluctantly dismissed the DB. He gave me a cold inquiring look and waited for me to speak. I introduced myself very formally as his Boarder Magistrate at Merapani reporting for duty…and whether the DC had any instruction that I needed to know or follow. He had none to offer. He made me feel that Merapani was a subject outside his jurisdiction and concern. After thanking him for the few minutes of his grudgingly given time, I withdrew. Before heading down to my station I met the other NCS officer colleagues. They confirmed that all outpost officers met their DC on a pre-fixed appointments only and were surprised that I had met him without doing so. They gave an impression that they were serving Hitler, so completely subdued. In a sense they were literally servants of Mr. Sunup first and Govt. of Nagaland next. Unless it was absolutely necessary I decided to keep away from the unhealthy autocratic environment in the future. Constantly being exposed to malaria at Merapani was more than enough.
The overall picture of Lower Lothas was that of a laid back attitude of a dog in a manger. They claimed ownership of land from a distance and disputed within themselves but were completely unprepared to fight for it when it had to do with Assam. The handful Lotha residents of Merapani were mostly malaria infected docile lot with an exception of a scar-faced Mr. Yankhao. One afternoon, the Assam Police came to my make shift Office looking for him with a warrant of arrest. In fact Mr. Yankhao was with me at that time. As soon as he spied the Assam Police, he had slipped into the makeshift kitchen. I was surprised at his sudden disappearance but understood a few minutes later when the Assam Police explained that this gentleman was a suspect, wanted in connection with his involvement in some case in Assam Merapani sector where death had occurred. I gave them a verbal assurance of cooperation and saw them off. Mr. Yankhao was a gutsy individual, a quality not very noticeable in the Lower Lotha range, and was fairly conversant with the Assam Nagaland border. He offered to accompany me on my tours to the border areas which I accepted, knowing well that I would be travelling with a wanted suspect from the stand point of Assam Police (AP). It made my tours more adventurously suspenseful, especially while crossing the AP check gates, in the otherwise boring routine. So much for cooperation that I had assured the AP.
What disappointed me most was the complete lack of connectivity. The Govt. of Nagaland had done precious little to development this sector. Not a single road was constructed in the foothills and I had to traverse the entire border area on roads from the Assam sector with numerous check points. Within a month I had acquired a reasonable picture of the Nagaland boundary. The critical fault line that was glaringly noticed was that most of the so called Lotha villages had more non-local Miah population with very few Lotha households, similar to that of the Western Sumi establishments in Niuland. Assam encroachment was rampant but the Lothas were more inclined to complain to the Administration rather than take a Tribal initiative in most circumstance. In Roni village for instance, the Head GB was evicted and an Assamese Elementary School was established in his house. The Lothas did not react to this at all. This had happened way before my joining this assignment but during the coordination meeting with my Assam counterpart I raised this issue. Other than take cognizance of my complaint for a report to his superiors, he was as helpless as I was in rectifying the default. My counterpart was adamantly unwilling to take a joint tour. Huge tracts of land were being encroached and cultivated by the illegal Bangladeshi migrants within our boundary and registering our objections officially was paid no serious attention. Assam was deliberately perpetuating this situation by flooding the border areas with Bangladashi illegal immigrants. Our Lotha brothers were not too far behind in harbouring the illegal immigrants as well. There have been many instances when these non-locals changed sides with the encouragement from Assam to claim the land for themselves after settling in the area under Lotha protection initially. In most cases the Lothas were unable to reclaim the lost ground with their remote control management norms. Seeing the consistency of helplessness of our people, the need to register dominance over the area was felt. It was then that I planned out an aggressive retaliation action. All Lower Lotha range villages were called for a highly confidential meeting. The sowing season was over and if the crops were destroyed, new crops could not be generated. This would discourage the illegal settlers and check their reckless encroachment. I asked the village representatives whether they were prepared to take up this assignment in the identified encroached sectors. They willingly agreed to do so. However this plan was frustrated before the enactment. During the next boarder coordination meeting, my counterpart raised this issue. He in fact had the details of the plan that was hatched. Some Lower Lotha rats who had attended the meeting had already spilled the beans to the other side. Lower Lotha Range was a big disappointment. Though I denied everything, it was pointless for us to proceed further after this fiasco and so the planned raid was called off.
During my tenure, there was an inter State boarder coordination meeting between the Commissioner Nagaland and Upper Assam Commissioner at Dimapur. The DC Wokha and I represented the Wokha sector. When I raised the Roni Head GB’s eviction case and the establishment of Assamese village school and the setting up of several undesignated Police and Forest outposts along the border, the upper Assam Commissioner responded with a denial that no such thing had happened and questioned the credibility of my report. It was my word against his. Mr. Sunup the DC and Mr. L.L Yaden, now the Commissioner, were totally unable to back me up on this without concrete evidence. I felt utterly frustrated and let down. Later, when the coordination meeting with Assam was over, the Commissioner Nagaland convened a round up session. It was during this meeting that I vented my frustration and demanded that the Boarder Magistrates should be issued with at least a camera each so that photographic evidence could be placed in record and be used during the future meetings with Assam. The Commissioner agreed in principle but never went beyond that principle agreement. We never got the camera.
During that period Nagaland had an effective control right up to the river that divided Assam Merapani with our side. Nagaland won the Merapani War but lost a huge tract of land that had been under our effective control before the war was fought. At this rate we could lose Bhandari next if we had another war with Assam. There was a Veterinary Department’s quarantine gate with a small office at the entry bridge into Nagaland. In coordination with the Electricity Department we made plans to electrify this establishment. Electrical poles were dropped along the road side all the way to the quarantine gate. The Assam Police raided these poles closer to their side before the department could start the work of erection. One evening, during an evening petrol with our NAPs we caught a couple of Assam Police personals trying to steal our electrical poles and were arrested for theft. I had them immediately transported to Wokha but was as promptly released by the DC without even a consultation. The DC’s utter disregard for coordination and disdain for his subordinates was unpalatable. I had only done three months of slogging but it was then that I gave up. In total disgust I applied for a few months earned leave, packed up lock stock and barrel and proceeded on leave before receiving the actual sanction. I had no intention of returning this hell hole if I could help it. This was a very unproductive and a disappointing tenure thus far ventured.
Mr. A.M Gokhale was then the Secretary of the Department of Rural Development. When we met during my leave period, he seriously suggested that I join him in his Department. I gladly accepted his proposition and thereafter he did the rest. By end June 1981 my 8th transfer order from Merapani to Rural Development Department was received. I had neither the stomach to go back to Merapani to complete the formality of handing over my charge nor the desire to go back to Wokha for a courtesy call on the DC Wokha before departure. The norm of pre-fixing appointment to meet the Royalty was a deterrent. I handed over the charge of Merapani to the incumbent from Kohima and joined The RD Department.
Here again there was no officer other than Mr. Gokhale and I as his Under Secretary. Serving under Mr. Gokhale in contrast was perhaps one of the most rewarding experience in my entire career.
The writer is a retired IAS Officer,
Forest Colony, Kohima