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SHILLONG | By Lamphrang Nongpung:
The year 2020 was indeed a tough year for people living from hand to mouth in Meghalaya. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted normal life across the world and Meghalaya is no exception.
But the pandemic was not the only thing that Meghalaya experienced in 2020. Tears were shed, hardships were overcome, protests gained momentum and political developments took centre stage.
Here is a list of events that rocked Meghalaya in 2020:
With the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019, the demand for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) was reignited in Meghalaya.
The anti-CAA and pro-ILP demands by several social organisations were raised at several platforms since January before the onslaught of COVID-19.
It was during one such meeting at Ichamati in Shella block under East Khasi Hills district on February 28 that a clash between a few non-local residents and members of the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) broke out. This led to the death of its member, Lurshai Hynniewta, a resident of Khliehshnong Sohra in East Khasi Hills.
The violence at Ichamati spread to Shillong where around 10 non-locals were stabbed by miscreants at Iewduh market a day after the incident leading to the death of one of the victims.
Even before coronavirus reached Meghalaya, the state government had imposed a total lockdown on March 17 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, this did not stop the infectious virus from plaguing Meghalaya. It was in April when Late Dr John L Sailo Ryntathiang, the 69-year-old founder of Bethany Hospitals, tested positive for COVID-19 and, later succumbed to the virus on April 14, making it the first COVID-19 death in the State.
In its fight against coronavirus with effect from March till September, the Meghalaya government had spent Rs 399 crore. According to Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong, the money was sanctioned from different departmental heads, nodal agencies, besides grants received from the centre. The huge expenditure incurred in this fight had raised many an eyebrow with civil societies demanding transparency in the utilisation of the Rs 399 crore.
While denying that the government was indulging in any illegalities, Chief Minister, Conrad K. Sangma had justified that the state government had spent Rs 399 crore for ensuring the safety of the people of the state facing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The demand of the BJP, an ally of the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) coalition, for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the alleged corruption in the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) and the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC) did not go down well with the National People's Party (NPP) as it was of the view that the BJP should have raised this issue in the MDA coordination committee.
BJP State president Earnest Mawrie had gone hammer and tongs against the NPP, accusing it of large-scale embezzlement of funds in the two Autonomous District Councils. He also took a swipe at the Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma.
The Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) led by Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma had survived the no-confidence motion moved by the opposition Congress in the Assembly through a voice vote during the autumn Assembly session in November. The Opposition had raised several pertinent issues during the debate on the no-confidence motion especially accusing the ruling coalition government of allegedly allowing illegal mining and transportation of coal, management of the COVID-19 situation and also on the discrepancies in the power sector.
NPP state president Dr Wanwei Roy Kharlukhi was elected as the Rajya Sabha MP on June 19. Kharlukhi defeated Congress candidate Kennedy Cornelius Khyriem by a margin of 20 votes. Kharlukhi secured 39 votes while his opponent Kenndy Khyriem secured 19 votes. In the house of 60, the MDA has the support of 41 MLAs and the Congress has 19 MLAs. He took oath as the newly-elected Member of Parliament on September 14 after nearly three months of his election.
Meghalaya's veteran political leader Hispreaching Son Shylla passed away on August 07. Shylla was a former minister of the State and former Chief Executive Member (CEM) of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC). It may be mentioned that Shylla had won the Assembly election in 1988-1993 and 1993-1998 from the Nongkrem Assembly Constituency. He was also a former Deputy Speaker of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly, a Cabinet Minister, the Chairman of the Meghalaya State Law Commission, the Co-chairman of the Meghalaya State Planning Board, besides other positions and appointments.
An 80-year-old man was allegedly buried alive in West Khasi Hills district on October after relatives suspected him of practising “witchcraft”. Eight people, including three of his nephews, were arrested in this murder case. The body of the deceased, Moris Margnar, who was resident of Nongdisong village under Nongstoin police station, was exhumed from a pit. The accused persons had suspected Marngar of practising witchcraft on his niece, who had been unwell for a long time.
The banned militant outfit, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) is trying to regroup and making its presence felt especially in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. The HNLC had recently claimed responsibility for the IED blasts at Star Cement factory on December 12 and at Soo Kilo under Sutnga Elaka in East Jaintia Hills district on Nov 26. Interestingly, the HNLC, on the other hand, is also keen to come forward for talks.
With the Centre refusing to comply with the demand for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP), pressure groups in Meghalaya resumed their agitation since November. It may be mentioned that the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly on December 19, 2019, had adopted the resolution to urge upon the Centre to implement Eastern Bengal Frontier Regulation, 1873 or ILP.
Fresh controversy over the Ichamati issue was re-ignited following allegations of harassment to Bengali-speaking people in Ichamati-Bholaganj under Meghalaya’s East Khasi Hills district, levelled by a section of people. Representations on the same were also sent to President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Governor Satya Pal Malik.
The much-awaited entry-exit point at Umling in Ri Bhoi district was inaugurated by Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong on December 21.
On the same day, Meghalaya tourism which was closed for almost a year now was finally reopened with the launch of the first Shillong-Delhi direct flight.
His Holiness Pope Francis has appointed Most Reverend Victor Lyngdoh (64), currently Bishop of Jowai, as Archbishop of Shillong. The announcement was made public in Rome on December 28 afternoon corresponding to 16:30 hours, Indian Standard Time (IST). The Shillong Archdiocese was without an Archbishop following the tragic demise of Most Reverend Dominic Jala on October 10, 2019.
(Edited by Ibankyntiew Mawrie)