It is one of the most prestigious Health project in the entire north-east and a third of its kind in the country. However, why is NEIGRIHMS (North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences) project hibernating in cold storage with occasional news every now and then? Even the interest generated by the sensational twin murder, has died down for now. This 422.60 crore-project spread over a sprawling 306 acres, in Mawdiangdiang Shillong, has been in the offing since last 16 years. Hopes were raised again ' after the initial delays almost to the point of getting scuttled, subsequent to laying down of the foundation stone by Raajeev Gandhi in 1986 ' when the Union Minister of Health and family Welfare Dr. C.P. Thakur had laid down the foundation stone again, on August 2000 and promised that he will personally take interest and monitor the progress of the project. However, the project is pathetically lagging behind schedule and it seems a long way to go before it becomes a reality and fully operational.
It is a Boon to the people of north-east, as this project can give tremendous boost, to the socio-economic development of the region. Therefore, it is in the interest of the people, that this project does not delay any further. Designed to be the hub of health infrastructure in the entire north-eastern region it aims at establishing a specialized and advanced health care system and envisages a post-graduate Institute with 35 teaching disciplines in different specialties and super specialties, along with 500 bedded hospital and a college of nursing with an annual intake of 50 students. Although the claim by the Minister in August 2000 was, that the first phase of the Institute, which will be a self-contained township with all modern facilities, would be commissioned within about two years time, this still looks like a distant dream. The project work is pathetically lagging behind schedule and no one is able to read the pulse of the problem. Nor put a finger on what ails the project. Multiple problems, which includes governmental delays on giving go ahead for jungle clearance initially, stringent unpractical specifications, unnecessary over documentation, bureaucratic hurdles, fear psychosis leading to labor problems, raw material shortage and periodical unavailability, as well as inclement weather conditions not to say the least hinders the progress of the project.
In fact, the biggest culprit for the initial delays had been the concerned government departments itself. The schedule date of commencing the work was 19/04/00 for one package of the project, dealing mainly with dwelling apartments, but the forest clearance was received only by 23rd Nov. 2000; full Six months time was taken by the concerned authorities, for giving clearance for a government project that was in the offing since 1986. Labor license was obtained by 22/01/01, nine months after the official date of commencement. I wonder why various No Objection Certificates are required from the government authorities, when the government itself, already clears the project. Why these factors are not taken into consideration since the inception of the project itself? Why there is no coordination between all the government departments, required for the clearance of the project to work in coherence for all the documentation required? For example, due to shortage of aggregate i.e. stone chips and metal, a crusher unit was planned to be set up at site itself, to solve the problem. For a simple go ahead for this unit meant solely for the project and for the duration of the project only, all the documentation, beginning from N.O.Cs from NEIGRIHMS, HSCC, Headman of the locality, Pollution control board etc was required all over again. To this day, the crusher unit is yet to be set up, while the aggregate problem stays where it is.
Raw material like Cement and steel is procured from, as far as 1500 Km away. MCCL the locally manufactured cement, is not allowed for structural works and even for utilization in non-structural works, the clearance was given only by 26/07/01. Why, it can be anybody's guess. MCCL seems to have failed the strength test; well I do not see any building in Meghalaya coming down because of MCCL cement. Moreover, to top it all penalty is levied for each bag of MCCL cement used; so much for boosting local brands. Ironical a bag of MCCL becomes costlier then L&T Cement. Even steel from Barnihat, ISI marked and rolling the same Sail Steel as Sail itself, has not, even been considered for the project. While there is a specific Clause in the main Agreement that says that if particular make is not available locally then any other brand of equal specification and ISI approved could be used. In fact, many a times the project came to a grinding halt due to non-availability of specified brands. However, how come matured and old departments like the C.P.W.D., M.E.S, Border Roads, NEEPCO, are using locally available Raw Materials like Cement and Steel in prestigious Hydro Electrical projects, Dams, Airports, and Highways?
What I fail to understand, is that, why is it required to get Cement and Steel from such distance when brands of equal specification and ISI marked are available locally too. In the interest of the work and for speedy progress why such makes are not considered, especially when the specified brands are in short supply or not available? No body has the answers for this, at least not the people who are sitting in Delhi and laying down conditions without looking into the ground realities and the local conditions here.
Now, who cares if the progress slows down? Do the stiff-necked and the white collared officials care? They seem to go in for a Roller Costa spin, only if the higher authorities come and then in three days time they want a progress of three months. The whole look of the project changes with face-lift given. The higher ups come swarming, followed by lesser officials filling them with frivolous and superficial facts as to why the project is lagging behind. Then they whisper 'the insurgency' NGO problem' into their ears. 'Oh!' They exclaim and nod agreeably, never looking into the root of the problem and the real issues; they glance fleetingly at the sites, click a few photographs, a proof of their site visits. Then they go back and fill the Ministers with same junk truth and whisper insurgency into his ears. The Minister gives a nod and they all nod, they have one big scapegoat. 'The insurgency Problem', for once they have something to blame it on' for all their inefficiency, indecisiveness, lack of on the spot apt action to tackle the problems inflicting the project. The file then goes back to the shelves to catch another layer of dust. Until, it is touched again and dusted, when the minister comes out from the bout of amnesia before another annual visit. Moreover, it should be the month of May, when the in Delhi heat is killing, the summer holidays of the Kids are on and they are looking for some cooler pastures for putting up their legs for a few days and that also, all paid up and free, at the cost of the tax payers money.
So, while real issues are left biting the dust, non-issues are made into issues. The project in the past specifically suffered from delays in procurement of raw material of specified brands or shortage of the same and procedural delays in approval of the same or any other suggested or proposed unspecified brands not mentioned in the main Agreement between HSCC the consultants and the contractor. And with every consignment of the approved and passed make, a test report is required, and if it is not attached with the consignment then message has to be sent 1500 Km away to get one and the steel can rust in the mean time. In any case, the Raw material is difficult to procure, but the documentation part will delay it more. And after the test report arrives, then the testing would be repeated all over again by HSCC and further delay will be caused' for example in one of the sites of NEIGRIHMS a simple PCC casting of the pits could not be done since the 19th of June 2002. It was finally done only after six days on the 25th of June after great difficulty. Only because the test report of MCCL cement done by HSCC could not be obtained in time. Contrary to the fact that MCCL is already in use in other sites of NEIGRIHMS. Nevertheless, even if each consignment is accompanied by test report of the factory, it has to be again tested by HSCC. Each testing and retesting has to be done repeatedly, for the same materials belonging to different packages of the work, retarding progress and costing dearly to the contractor in terms of time and money. Ironically, even for Sail Steel an approved make for the project the clearance took nearly six months for the HSCC to give. And very recently even local water, failed the test for concreting. I was wondering how was the concreting in the project done earlier. Did the water come from Delhi? Consequently, PCC casting delayed for more than a week because the test report of water had failed. And of course the concerned officials were very happy to stall the work as that harasses the Contractor and one knows what that means!
In the mean time the contractor who has arranged the laborers with great difficulty from Bihar and further on, tries to contain his laborers giving Idle allowances. However, by the time all the procedure and documentation is over, half the labor force runs away. The weather too, is not kind enough, so by the time laborers are rearranged, the rain catches on. The vicious circle continues. The project gets delayed, spiraling the costs upwards, making it difficult to work and losses occur. The Contractor goes for Arbitration, invariably he wins, as most of the time it is departmental delays, inactions, indecisiveness, that hinders progress. Financially, The Contractor is compensated to a certain extent. So who is the loser ultimately? Not the government surely, nor the stiffed collared officials, certainly it is the tax payers, whose hard earned money paid to the government as taxes goes down the drain, benefiting no one ultimately. In addition, the country also loses in terms of interest paid on the loans taken from the World Bank. However, no one is even held accountable, while story goes on', and we remain a third world country forever ready with the begging bowl to beg from the international community.
Labor problem is another major hassle, although the problem at Barnihat Infiltration gate was no more there for a few months as the gate was lifted. However, recently the infiltration gate has come up again and the most recent casualty was; thirty laborers of one of the Contractors of NEIGRIHMS were sent right back from Barnihat gate. While the earlier misdemeanor at the infiltration gate has, left a bad impact on the mind of the laborers and there is fear psychosis of being beaten up and harmed. The Twin murder case has not helped the cause either. It has only deepened the fear and the insecurities of the workers. Moreover, as there does not seem to be any reprisal on such issues, the culprits going scot-free, the fear psychosis persists, causing major labor problem in this labor intensive industry.
The main worries are not the NGOs or the terrorists, I feel they are, least of a bother, rather it is the terrorists and extortionists within the system that trouble more. They can hamper progress, and delay or cause hindrance in any project if their demands are not met. The tool of authority given in their hands is used more for hindrance, than for progress. Hindrance is a means to their end. While, demands could be anything right from fanning their inflated egos to materialistic gains. Camaraderie seen earlier amongst people involved in the same project is no more there, rather manipulation, greed, materialistic approach seems to be the order of the day. People are consumed by materialism and corruption has seeped into the very nucleus of our Social system.
So while NEIGRIHMS limps and drags in normal times, strutting only if some higher up throws a glance, in a year or two. The people of the state are deprived of proper medical facility. Meghalayans who have only one doctor for a population of 4,758 as against the national average of 2,083 still have to consider going outside the state for every little unexplained complication or illness. To the rich it could be a much-deserved holiday but for the poor a painful exhaustive experience costing their pockets dearly. Until some constructive changes are made in the working of the said departments, we have a long way to go before the medical facilities at NEIGRIHMS see the light of the day. I feel it is time that NEIGRIHMS the main Employer becomes more vocal and starts monitoring and taking active participation in following the progress of the work. In addition, take some constructive decisions regarding the procedural working conditions, considering the difficult and compelling working conditions here in the North East being remote and far-flung.