Hundreds of residents of villages located along the India-Bangladesh border in East Jaiñtia Hills today took to the street to protest the alleged step-motherly treatment meted out to them by the Meghalaya government and the Centre.
These villagers from Huroi, Hingaria, Lahalein and Lejri marched from Sonapur road to the office of the Deputy Commissioner in Khliehriat to press for their main demand – construction of the Rymbai-Bataw-Borkhat-Sonapur road, which is around 70km long.
The road which is in a deplorable and muddy condition has been left unattended for many years resulting in severe hardships to the villagers.
Carrying placards and banners, the villagers were accompanied during the protest march by Sutnga-Saipung MLA Shitlang Pale, Narpuh MDC Emlangki Lamare, Bataw-Lakadong MDC Dr. Sanky Shangpung and leaders of KSU, ENJC, HANM, MPLU among others.
The protest march was organised by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) which is an umbrella group of headmen and villagers of the four border villages.
“Our people are suffering but the government is adamant. It seems we have been denied of basic rights to live in dignity. We are being treated as animals,” JAC adviser Kynjaimon Amse said.
Stating that the people of the area were angry with the government for not honouring its promises regarding road connectivity, Amse said that people are determined not to take part in future elections if their demand for road was not met.
“In the coming days, we will go and meet Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and ask him whether he is willing to construct the Rymbai-Bataw-Borkhat-Sonapur road. If he says that the government has no money we will tell him to go to Delhi and get funds from there,”Amse said.
He also said that due to the pathetic condition of the road, the cost of transportation was more than the actual price of materials.
“For those constructing houses, the price of sand is just Rs 5000 per truck whereas the cost of transportation is Rs 7000,” Amse said adding that the sick and pregnant mothers were the worst hit.
JAC secretary Raja L. Suchen said that this time the villagers are holding a peaceful protest as they wanted the government to pay attention to their demands.
Commenting on the road condition, Suchen said, “From Huroi to Umkiang we have to trek for three to four hours. People who need medical treatment had to go to Bangladesh as from Huroi to Bangladesh, the distance is just ten to fifteen minutes. The Meghalaya government has abandoned us as if we are animals.”
Sutnga-Saipung MLA Shitlang Pale in his speech castigated the government for repeatedly claiming that it had no fund to construct the road.
“I have spoken to Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong on this matter but every time he gave me only assurances,” Pale said.
Narpuh MDC Emlangki Lamare said that he was pained to see the plight of the border villagers of East Jaiñtia Hills.
“If the government does not pay heed to the voice of the people, we will have to organise stronger protests. The people cannot be abandoned in this manner,” he said.
Bataw-Lakadong MDC Dr. Sanky Shangpung said the government should immediately construct the Rymbai-Bataw-Borkhat-Sonapur road and provide better telephone connectivity and power supply to the border villages.
Assistant headman of Lahalein village, Lamsing Tynsong said that pregnant mothers had to cross the river to reach the nearest health centre at Silchar in Assam.
“Some of them died on the way,” Tynsong said.
ENJC publicity secretary Mehi Rymbai said the government should be held responsible for the loss of lives due to the bad condition of the road.
Others who spoke at the protest march include KSU Jaiñtia Hills president Ohibait Dkhar, HANM East Jaiñtia Hills president Coming Soon Dkhar, Huroi village headman Golden Marbaniang, Hingaria village headman Moses Khonglam.