Damned by Sekmai dam

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The collapse on July 23, of the Sekmai River Lift Irrigation (RLI) Scheme dam built on the Imphal River under the sponsorship of NEC at the cost of Rs. 4.22 crores, should simply be the limit of public tolerance of corruption. That this disaster should have come when the state is literally in an inferno over an issue that many see as an existential crisis Manipur is faced with, has brought out the nature of rot in the system and the shameless unconcern of the power elite like nothing else could have. There had been complaints from people in the Sekmai area about the atrocious and dangerous compromises in the built quality of the dam but no serious heed was paid until cracks began to be noticed around June and the matter came up for discussions in the Assembly during the tumultuous monsoon session where the chief minister Okram Ibobi had clarified that the completed project had still not been totally handed over to the government, so it was the concerned contractor who should be made answerable. He did say that the matter was being inquired into by the state`™s vigilance department.

This is a very lame excuse at best. By Manipur standards, this is not a small project, therefore it is unlikely the entire project money was released immediately after the project was awarded to the contractor. Instead funds would have been released in steps, after crosschecking the quality as well as progress of the construction work. The fault therefore, cannot under any circumstance be of the contractor or contractors alone. Those who awarded the work; those who were supposed to monitor and clear the project at every stage; as well as the contractors who actually executed the work would all have been party to this organised robbery. This obviously is also not an isolated incident, but part of the state`™s modern culture of corruption whereby an elaborate nexus of contractor-technocrat-bureaucrat-politician siphons off public money into their individual pockets in standardised percentages. The rising number of government employees with accumulated wealth far beyond their known sources of incomes, is evidence of this rot within the system. People only laugh at petty VDF personnel on the streets extorting petty changes from auto rickshaws, but generally are unconcerned about the bigger, more brazen and more organised thefts happening at practically every level of the government. The higher the hierarchy of these nexuses, the bigger also would be the booties at stake. Since the Sekmai dam could not even withstand the onslaught of a single monsoon torrent of a river that can hardly be said to be mighty, it is anybody guess what percentage of the Rs. 4.22 crore would have been spent in the actual construction of the dam.

The question of the threat of demographic marginalisation of the original population of the state is nothing to trifle, but the bigger threat to the survival of any people is a corrupt leadership who place their personal benefits and welfares ahead of public good. Plenty of scholarships available today on histories of societies which survived the worst odds and those which perished when faced with adversities that could have been survived, all point to this. Anthropologist Jared Diamond`™s celebrated 2005 book: `Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed` is just one of these. Manipur at this moment seems to resemble some of the worst case scenarios Diamond sketches. The alarming thing is, nobody reprimands corruption today. Anybody who is rich, even when there is a big question mark on his or her known legitimate sources of income, is envied and respected. The new culture is such that given the opportunity, even those outside the corruption nexus, would willingly be partners in the same crimes that they pretend to revile while not belonging to the nexus. Money, even if it is corruption money, enjoys a social sanctity today. This is the tragedy.

It is rather late in the day, but the government must at least make the effort to absolve itself of the crime of corruption. So far it could at least hide its head in the sand, claiming these are mere allegation from its opponents, but not anymore. The Sekmai dam collapse, and yes the submergence of a newly built school building at Chadong, have made this sordid affair openly visible to anyone. Let there be impartial inquiries into these atrocious affairs and all found guilty awarded exemplary punishments as per law. But the matter must not be allowed to end here. A civil society initiated social reformation movement against corruption is also called for. A general censure, rather than respect, of people who get wealthy by dubious means, can be a good start.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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