How to escape the human resource desertification of Manipur

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By Pradip Phanjoubam

In approaching many of Manipur’s endemic problems, two very enlightening TED talks by reputed British educationist now settled in the US, Sir Ken Robinson, should provide interesting insights. In particular, this would pertain to issues of human development, such as education and indeed employment generation. The first talk is on whether schools kill creativity, where Sir Ken argues elegantly and convincingly the case for teaching liberal arts, including dances, in schools. In a nutshell, he says liberal arts are about nurturing, not merely understanding, human creativity. This creativity he says often even transcends ordinary boundaries of scientific logic and must be encouraged.

One of the examples Sir Ken gives is that of the city of Las Vegas in the US. Development of the greatest cities in history, or for that matter any city anywhere anytime, normally follows definite logics. As for instance, they normally happen in river valleys, because these valleys are fertile and produce enough food, the rivers provide perennial water and also easy navigation, the surrounding hills are natural barriers providing security etc. But Las Vegas is different. It sprung up in the middle of the desert, and still prospers. This is an instance of the faculty of human artistic enterprise transcending the boundaries of routine logic and intuition acquired through ages of shared experiences. The city therefore represents, among others, the spirit of enterprise, adventure, engineering and architectural imagination and above all the vital human need for innovation, he argues – plenty of food for thought in there, indeed.

It is however Sir Ken’s more recent TED talk, titled “How to escape education’s Death Valley” which should provoke engaged interests of human resource planners in Manipur. Death Valley, is the valley in California and Nevada in the US where it does not rain at all, therefore practically nothing grows. After many decades however, about two years ago, because of some freak weather conditions, it rained, and soon enough, in many areas of the valley flowers and plants, to everybody’s surprise and delight, sprouted for a season.

Sir Ken then drew the very obvious conclusion, one from which Manipur will have plenty to learn from. There have been tremendous worries in the US at the declining standard of education, especially in the liberal arts and fundamental sciences. Many remedial measures had been suggested, but all of these, Sir Ken contends, were knee jerk responses which were predicted to remain localised and therefore unable to change the education scenario in the country as a whole. He urges policy makers to take the cue from the phenomenon of the sprouting of flowers in the Death Valley, and instead of attempting to plant flowers where they do not grow, they should strive to make the rain happen.

In the area of efforts to generate human resources, this analogy should have a déjà vu quality in Manipur. So many of its most vital agendas are transforming into virtual desert like landscapes. Take school education. If not for private school doing the yeoman’s service, the entire project would have flowed down the drain long ago. Many, if not most government schools today have become ghost institutions, both in the valley as well as in the hills. Many of them have only teachers and no students, precisely because these institutions have forsaken their most important responsibility, in fact their very raison detre: that of imparting education and preparing children to face life’s myriad challenges ahead of them.

No prizes for guessing why this is a crime. Private schools by the survival logic of the market in which they exist, do not subsidise the cost of education, therefore the poor sections of the society, which form a majority of Manipur’s population, cannot afford them. They have to depend on government schools, which are run on the taxpayer’s money and not by their own earnings in the market. The spiral of social and economic issues this would give rise should be beyond anybody’s doubt. Despite so many reminders from so many, the government still continues not to give any heed to the need to work to make the rain happen, rather than sporadic piece-meal interventions which have become the trademark of governance in Manipur.

Take also the case of the employment generation. In Manipur today, having a job has come to mean being in government service alone. The state’s employment exchange is reported to have more than six lakh job seekers registered with it. It will not be a surprise at all, if many or most of those in the list already have a job in the non-government sector, but they had nonetheless registered themselves because they do not consider their current jobs worthwhile, or at least far below par of a government job. Many of them would give up not only their current professions but also sell off their landed properties for even a constable’s position in the government. This high demand, by standard economic logic would, and indeed has resulted in the institutionalisation of corruption amongst those holding the levers of state power, dispensing these jobs.

However, not even in the wildest dreams government jobs alone can be the answer to the employment problem in Manipur. According a rough estimate, the government sector directly employs about one lakh people in the state. This is roughly one in every 30 of the state’s population. More importantly, even a lakh employees, it is estimated, is above the ceiling of gainful employment. If the Manipur government were a finely run private organisation, probably half of its employee strength would have delivered much more. What then must be done to get the rest who did not make it into the privileged one lakh under the government’s umbrella to find meaningful jobs for themselves? Surely the government cannot be thinking in terms of creating more battalions of the Manipur Rifles and IRB as the only solution. The way out, as Sir Ken’s talk strongly recommended, is to work for the rain. Only then jobs will begin to sprout on their own. This regenerative process will have a ceiling much higher than the government’s employment capacity, and when this process has been successfully initiated, can Manipur’s days of plenty happen. As to where and how the effort to make this regenerative rain must be pursued, ought have been, and still ought to be the government’s primary focus of good governance. But alas, such suggestions have always amounted to asking for too much.

That the government has seldom been in a public consultative mood is evidenced in so many other areas of governance too. The state of our highways is just one of these. It has been at least a decade since the media acquired a sore throat shouting how this lifeline of the state is in a pitiable state of decay. Yet the government has done precious little to improve its lot, except to whitewash occasionally when the Prime Minister pays a visit to the state or important car rallies were to pass by the state. These superficial facelifts however, and very understandably, peel off as quickly as they come. Hence today, the Manipur stretch of the vital lifeline, the Imphal-Dimapur highway has relapsed into a state of decay. What is hurtful it also that the decayed condition of the Manipur sector of the highway is a contrast to the Nagaland sector of it? A few kilometres from Mao Gate, and as you approach the neighbouring Vishwema village in Nagaland, the road transform radically.

Manipur’s highway woes have more to do than the physical conditions of the highways. But there are more. The manner in which militant organisations on truce with the government continues to transgress the law of the land is one such. The recent kidnap of government officials by some such militants is a case in point.

The question would have been a straightforward law and order matter had it not been for the truce that the Central government brought the militant group into. It may be recalled that it was the Army which initiated this move of suspending operations against Kuki militants. The initiative began on a controversial note as the state government was not taken into confidence. But this matter was amicably settled. This being the case, the responsibility of ensuring that the militant groups covered by the truce do not harangue ordinary people, must rest squarely on the shoulders of the state as well as the Central governments. The condemnation of the bus burning incident for instance must not be directed just against the militant group concerned, but equally against the state and Central governments.

The gravity of the crime cannot be compared to similar atrocities committed by other militant groups who are still at war with the law, and against whom police and military operations have still not been called off.

Since the militant groups which have entered into a truce with the government have not been disbanded, they obviously would still need a budget to sustain their organisations. It would be unreasonable to expect militant groups to starve and disintegrate every time they enter into a truce with the government. Hence, they would continue to want to raise their “organisational funds”, and since they have no other means than “taxing” the public, they would continue to do just this. This has been the experience with other militant groups too.

What must the government do then? Since it has taken on the responsibility, one is of the opinion that it has two chief tasks. First, it must ensure that it takes care of the motivation referred to, instead of throwing the load on to the shoulders of the ordinary public. Since these militant groups during the negotiations must sustain themselves, until a final settlement is reached, the government must sponsor a realistic annual budget for them on the condition that extortion from the public would be punished. Obviously, this government sponsored budget cannot include money for acquisition of arms etc.

Second, since the government has chosen to suspend operations against these groups and de-outlaw them, any subversive acts by them must come under the strict purview of the law. Otherwise, there would be more and more convinced that this entire peace game is part of a large and dirty game-plan designed to destabilise the region, not settle its endemic problems.

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