Sunday, December 05, 2021
Khekiye K Sema

My Years in Service

By EMN Updated: Oct 24, 2013 11:53 pm


Khekiye K. Sema 

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]eople, I’m back to the VDB main road as promised. I got a little bit distracted by the damning underground taxation issue and the urban-centric women empowerment issues last time and if I don’t concentrate I’d be tempted to get drawn right back to it again. So here goes VDB focus: I should have said this at the outset that Village Development Board is perhaps the only potential grassroots planning and implementation machinery in Nagaland which could transform the rural villages into a vibrant mini self-sufficient townships provided transparency becomes an operational yardstick. Unfortunately Mr. Transparency has long since been expelled from the village complex while the Department of RD focuses its attention on ‘every other complex ‘percentage calculations’ at the cost of seeing this happen. At the inception, we had spent quality time investment to create awareness and transparent execution of development process and this should have been sustained over the years. Things could have been entirely different by now. Nothing really grows well in the shadow… and shadow is all we have at the rural base.
Mr. Gokhale had been receiving reports that despite several months of efforts put in by the DC and his subordinate officers, they had failed to set up VDB in a village called Mungya in Wokha District. I was finally asked to check this village out and see whether our direct intervention could make the difference. At a prefixed date I reached Wokha and was met by a good number Mungya town dwellers awaiting my arrival to accompany me to the village. Mr. Akuto Zhimomi, then SDO(C) (Bhandari) had also volunteered to join me in this venture which I gladly welcomed. At the outset what was noticed with concern was the critical interference in the village affairs by the town dwellers who did not seem to see eye to eye on most issues concerning the village welfare. Their differences was overflowing into the village with all kinds of bickering lobbies. Many of the villagers had still not returned from the kheti when we reached the village at around 3.30 pm. We wanted every adult to participate so we waited.
Though dinner had hurriedly been prepared I refused to waste my time on it and started the meeting at 5.30PM. What amused me was that this village was a Christian Revivalists crowd. We began with a prayer which was concluded with “Praise the Lord!” “Praise the Lord!” “Praise the Lord!” three vociferous times. Mr. Akuto, who also was a VDB enthusiast, then took the stage and encouraged the villagers to capitalize on the opportunity when the Department was directly sending its officer and to catch up with the rest of the other villages in Nagaland who had already established the VDBs or be left behind. I wanted to absorb as much information that I could get as to why they were unwilling to form the VDB and so time was liberally given to the villagers first. One after another the town dwellers usurped the proceedings with their clannish inclination and opinionated differences which obviously had a great deal of negative bearing in the village. Unlike the town dwellers, the actual villagers living in the village proper did not have too much to say and most of all showed no aversion toward forming the VDB.
It took me sometime to diagnose the nucleus problem … The town dwellers. A good number of them were VC members though permanently settled in the town. I then decided to take over the proceedings with questioning their faith rather insultingly. “What is the use of hypocritically praising the Lord when you are unwilling to let go the strangle hold on your neighbour’s throat?…when you are unwilling to give in an inch or temper your differences?” I asked them. I pinpointedly condemned the town dwellers for their role in fuelling ill will in the village from a distance without any sacrifices being made. “The mundane problems of the village are routinely faced by those living in the village and they should by right decide their fate, not the town dwellers”, I insisted. That night I decided to clean up the Village Council first before tackling the formation of VDB. I proposed as per the Village Council Act that all VCMs would have to henceforth live in the village without exception failing which they would have to resign. I strongly suspected that this was what the village dwellers wanted most but were unable to openly defy their town dwelling ‘supremoes’. The latter found themselves awkwardly positioned to oppose this after all the open condemnation. The proposition was endorsed by the house majority. The one vacancy in the Council was also to be filled that very night.
With this active guideline set, I offered them an option to complete this exercise on their own or else I would oversee the proceeding and have the VC formed. They opted to do it on their own and reformed the VC themselves after several hours of wrangling. Mr. Akuto and I waited very patiently taking down mugs after mugs of black tea. The end result showed all members being village residents for a change. An exclusive sitting with the new resident VCMs in the absence of the town folks for forming the VDB then became a simple formality. But the whole process took us a marathon sitting of almost 9.00 hours involving approximately 30 mugs of black tea or so and answering the call of nature 10-12 times past 2.00 am in the morning. The majority of the adult population were still wide awake. Mungya had a reformed VCMs in place and a brand new VDB. They were presented to the village population amidst a huge applause. End of story.
In order to ensure sustainable resource continuity for development, a grand design of Matching Cash Grant (MCG) scheme was introduced. The Villagers were encouraged to open their VDB Fixed Deposit Account (FDA) to a maximum ceiling of Rs.75,000/- (seventy five thousand) in any Bank in their jurisdiction which would be matched by the Department and make it Rs. 1,50,000/- (I understand that the Govt. has now up scaled the maximum deposit ceiling to Rs.2,50,000/- being matched by an equivalent amount). Despite an incentive such as this the rural response was generally very disappointing. All villages were trying to mobilise their share of FD but were struggling with limited resource crunch. During the training session at Kiphiri Sub-Division, I was informed by Mr. R.S. Bedi, NCS, Additional Deputy Commissioner, that Sitimi village was having Rs.75,000/- in their possession for hosting ‘Huba’, (a religious conference). He had tried to convince the village to open a FDA several times but had failed. After the training was completed, Mr. Bedi and I decided to head for Sitimi Village, giving them pre-information for an emergency meeting with all the elders.
In minute detail I explained to them the benefit of this scheme. Once their deposit was made and was matched by the Govt. they would have Rs.1,50,000/- in their Account and that they could take 75% loan from this to host their ‘Huba’ but still continue to have Rs.1,50,000/-after the function was over. The interest accrued from their FD would go towards slow recovery of this loan without having to struggle for repayment. In contrast if they directly spent this money for Huba they would have nothing left after the hosting. It was a win-win situation all round if they did as was being bid. When I asked them why they had hesitated to deposit this amount already in their hand, the elder spokesperson candidly confided in Nagamese saying, “ Akijeu (Sir) Ki misa kobo (why should I tell a lie), for us Huba is a serious business. We have broken our backs for the past few years to raise this fund. Though the ‘khalami’ (outsider) ADC had asked us several times to do what you are telling us to do, we do not know him or know where he comes from. So we were not comfortable. If tomorrow he goes away we would not know where to look for him. We therefore did not want to take the risk. Now that you have come to persuade us, we are prepared to do what you ask. At least we know you and know where to find you should something go amiss. We only ask you to kindly give us a written guarantee that we will be allowed to take 75% loan when the time comes. If you agree, we will have the deposit made tomorrow”. All this was said with utmost seriousness. Mr. Bedi and I were amazed by their absolute lack of banking knowledge but leave aside rural populace, banking attitudes among the Nagas were generally non-existent even in the urban sectors those days so their ignorant apprehension was quite understandable.
We couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing though. I slowly turned to Mr. Bedi, observed him for a while and then concurred with the villagers’ assessment that he did look suspiciously undependable and laughed some more. The villagers were not too sure what they had said that had caused the two of us to laugh so hard but they too hesitatingly joined us in the laughter, bewildered nonetheless. Mr. Bedi had failed to capture the critical misconception that was playing in the minds of the villagers which made all the negative difference. They had presumed that the FDA would be under ADC’s sole control and could be taken away with him when transferred. I told them that the money would be deposited in the Bank in the name of their village and not with ADC; that the ADC would have absolutely no control. The money would remain in the bank even if ADC was transferred and could be withdrawn by them anytime only under their signature and not by anyone else. Though unnecessary, I wrote a guarantee letter that they were authorised to take 75% loan too, to ease their nervousness. I promised them that their MCG would be sanctioned within a week after they deposit and would be announced over the All India Radio as well. The next day’s deposit was confirmed through wireless message by ADC. The rest was followed through as promised within the week. Kiphiri had its first MCG deposit.
Then came the challenge round. Mr. Gokhale proposed that he would personally take charge of Phek District and I Zunheboto District and see who between us would produce the first concrete result of success from the projects we both initiate. I gladly accepted his dare with a couple of conditions: a vehicle should be made available for the convenience of mobility at will without having to disturb him every time. It was necessary to have a fair playing ground and therefore I requested for project sanctioning authority which I did not have. In both he agreed. His Jeep was placed at my disposal on a more regular basis. Sanctioning power too was granted, to be sparingly used only on project viability criteria. In general he would uphold my estimated projection unless it was unreasonably out of proportion. That was Mr. Gokhale, a Secretary challenging his Under Secretary on an equal footing. Have you ever heard of such crazy happenings within bureaucracy? The rules for the tournament were set. Play ball.
While general coverage was still maintained as before, a more pointed focus on Zunheboto was now added to my duty basket. After winding up the training at Suruhuto Hqs, a separate village meeting was scheduled at Sapotimi. The BDO, Zonheboto and Suruhuto Area Council Chairman (ACC) joined me on this trip. The village public meeting concluded at around 11.00 PM and we were heading back to Suruhuto. We were generally discussing the potentiality of Suruhuto area when ACC mentioned bee keeping. “Which village is best known for bee keeping?” I asked. ACC said Kholeboto was perhaps the best of the lot. “Where is it located?” I inquired. “Sir, it is smack on our way. We in fact will be passing this village in another 20 minutes or so” he replied. It was 12.00 midnight when we reached Kholeboto Village. We rudely woke up the Head GB and requested for a hot cup of black tea without sugar.
As we sat around his kitchen hearth with the wife making the fire all the elementary information about the village was got. This was a small village with around 37 households and every single householder reared bees, harvesting a modest 100-125 litters of honey annually. The Head GB alone had around 50 bee boxes. He also informed me that the Horticulture Department was giving them 250 apple saplings to start an orchard which eventually would be useful for the bees. Apple was doing well in this village. A healthy apple tree in his kitchen garden had borne quite heavily he said and quite juicy and sweet as well. There was a perennial small lake nearby that facilitated water which was also another essential element for the bees he said. Kholeboto was ideally situated for bee keeping. I then wanted to see their indigenous bee boxes with my own eyes and so requested him to show me his rearing area. We went outdoors with torchlight. The bee boxes were all arrayed under the eaves of his house, rows and rows of it. It was all crafted out of wooden logs three feet long, split in half, dug out in the inner centre, reassembled, tied together and the slit sealed with cow dung for temperature retention. A small passage hole was punctured in the middle of the log to facilitate the bee traffic. I requested the Head GB to open one and show me. He did.
They had already harvested the honey and signs of new hiving were already in the making. Over a cup of tea I asked him whether the Govt. had given them any help. Apparently Bee boxes was issued to them by the Industry Department but the bees wouldn’t hive in these Govt. boxes because of the quality of wood used, so it was of no real help. They made their own. When I asked how much it would cost them to make a hundred homemade boxes to start a community bee keeping, he thought for a while and said “Rs.3000/- would do just fine”. A community bee keeping project worth Rs.5000/- was sanctioned for hundred bee boxes in that unearthly hour of the morning. Before departure when I thanked the Head GB and his lady wife for their hospitality despite the very late hours the aesthetic Hd. GB said, “ Oh no, thank you Sir, and please wake me up at 12 midnight more often”. That was a productive meeting. It made me feel worthy.
The 1982 Assembly election was nearing. I had done an extensive VDB campaign in most of the villages in Atoizu range and though I had stuck to VDB issues unwaveringly, clouds of suspicion was building up that I was politicking on behalf of my cousin brother K.L. Chishi. I decided to change the VDB campaign station to Satakha area. After a gruelling session with the VDB Secretaries and VCCs we headed for Xuivi village to have them open their FD since they were supposed to be having funds close to Rs.75,000/-Though it was not quite sufficient to reach the maximum ceiling level it was reasonably close. They assured that FD will be opened. The next station was Kilo (Old). On reaching Satakha a wireless massage was waiting for me: “Come back immediately”. Political sensitivity had finally taken over and my outings had been put under the scanner. Since Kilo (Old) had already been informed earlier in the day I decided to complete the exercise before heading for Kohima. The situation of Kilo (Old) was similar to Sitimi. Here too, they had a little more than Rs.75,000/- in their hand for hosting Huba and was intending to spend it directly. The meeting began after 9.00PM and concluded positively at around 11.00PM. They would open their VDB fixed deposit.
Having achieved my objective I headed straight for Kohima from Kilo (Old) that very night. Thereafter, like a small naughty boy, I was grounded till the election was over. I didn’t comprehend the political clout that others thought I had…which I didn’t. I was just doing my job as best I could.
However, I had pegged off one plus point of concrete result over Mr.Gokhale without the need to sanction any amount. He concurred.

The writer a retired IAS Officer, Forest Colony, Kohima.

By EMN Updated: Oct 24, 2013 11:53:38 pm