Shillong, Dec 16: The state government is organising another festival in the city at a time when hundreds of its employees are bracing for a dark Christmas owing to non-payment of salaries.
Winter Tales, ‘an artisanal winter celebration’ as described in government advertisements in the media, began on Thursday at Ward’s Lake. This is the fourth in the series that began with Megong Festival in West Garo Hills last month.
The festival advertisement sets the healthcare protocols clear:
- Only double vaccinated guests are allowed;
- Vaccination certificate will be checked;
- Children will be allowed accompanied by double vaccinated adults;
- Masks are mandatory inside the venue;
- Social distancing will be maintained.
However, going by the experience during Cherry Blossom Festival, it is hard to believe that there would be efficient crowd control. Checking of vaccination certificates is also doubtful as laxity was noticed even during Cherry Blossom Festival.
A visitor to the festival on Thursday said the venue was crowded and many revellers were without masks.
There had been numerous cases, some fatal, of Covid-19 infection even among citizens who had double vaccination. Then, what is the state government’s logic behind allowing children, for whom vaccines are yet to be developed, with double-vaccinated adults? It is a clear sign of negligence and the government’s thirst for publicity.
A question about allowing children was sent to a senior health official in the state. It remained unanswered.
Besides the healthcare crisis, the financial turbulence that the state is facing currently owing to the pandemic as well as a perpetually strapped exchequer is reason enough to eschew extravaganza. However, the state government refuses to back down despite criticisms.
(Also read: Rs 3 cr for Megong, Cherry Blossom festivals)
The seasons entry pass will cost an individual Rs 500 and the day pass costs Rs 200.
Tarun Bhartiya, filmmaker and a member of social organisation Thma U-Rangli Juki, wrote on a social media post, “<Meghalayan Age Extortions> Can someone explain to me why a company called Meghalayan Age Ltd. a government (our) company is charging money for this Christmas fest, held in our land called Wards Lake? I have heard that the food artisans and crafts people have to pay to get the stalls… So who is getting the money from the tickets? From the small entrepreneurs?
“If this was organised by private company. I don’t mind paying them but this is extortion by government plain and simple… I want to see the audit report of Meghalayan Age Ltd now,” he wrote.
Meghalayan Age Limited is classified as a state government company that was registered in June last year. Damera Vijay Kumar, one of the illustrious bureaucrats in the state, is the chairman and managing director of the company. He is the Commissioner and Secretary for Tourism and Agriculture departments.
The obscene extravaganza at festivals continues even as home guard volunteers, MCCL staff, SSA teachers, municipal employees and government employees wait eagerly for salary and arrear payments.
“We have not received our pending salary. We will wait till Monday. I am surprised that the government is holding yet another festival at Ward’s Lake. I don’t know what is the ideology of the government, the government is interested only in festivals, concerts, while the teachers are suffering,” said Aristotle Rymbai, president of the All Meghalaya SSA School Teachers’ Association.
While SSA teachers are set to start their agitation on Monday, the Meghalaya Upper Primary School Teachers’ Association will hold an agitation for pending issues on December 17, the second day of the Winter Tales festival, in the city.
The Khasi-Jaintia Deficit School Teachers Association met secretary, education Ambrose Marak on Thursday to discuss the pending issues. The teachers are yet to get their dues as per the Fifth Pay Commission recommendations. The Education Department has shifted responsibility to the Finance Department, which gave vague reasons for not releasing the dues.
“It is too much when others are suffering. I have filed RTI queries regarding Winter Tales and Cherry Blossom Festival. Consumerism in our small state may lead to Cambodia-like situation where human trafficking is on the rise,” activist Agnes Kharshiing expressed apprehensions.
The home guard volunteers in Jaintia Hills recently agitated demanding payment.
The advertisement for the festival also says, “Celebrating a clean and green Christmas.”
In a state where illegal mining is rampant, destruction of green cover is on and there is no government control over the rising number of private vehicles, which are adding to the pollution in the city, a festival would be the last option to promote green messages.
“Are these festivals meant for celebrating in advance the Meghalaya statehood golden jubilee or are these mere camouflages for ulterior motives? What about spending precious funds on committed liabilities like the salaries of teachers, pending arrears of government employees and pensioners, spending for those poor orphans and poor people impacted by the Covid-19 and why not for the cause of raising up education that is at present in a shambles in our state? Are we aware that the present status of our state is that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is too far to bridge? Do we know or not that in Meghalaya the rich become filthy rich while the poor become poorer and that the wealth concentrates only in the hands of a few? Will there be a revolution one day,” senior journalist Philip Marwein raised pertinent questions.
Whether or not a revolution will come depends on time, but for now, one can rest assured that the insensitive state government has no intention to better the living condition of its citizens or develop Meghalaya holistically. All it fancies is glitz and glamour.
~ Team Meghalaya Monitor
(Also read: Rs 3 cr for Megong, Cherry Blossom festivals)