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Statehood chant

- Veteran legislators demand separate states; threaten to take agitation to the street

Shillong, March 18: A resolution moved by a veteran member of the Meghalaya Assembly demanding creation of a separate Garoland state was today defeated in the House. The state government maintained that further division of Meghalaya would place more constraints on the resources and increase social and economic vulnerability of the people.

The resolution was moved by Clifford R. Marak, 68, the lone member of the Garo National Council (GNC) representing Chokpot constituency in the Assembly. It was supported only by Hoping Stone Lyngdoh, 85, another veteran member of the House, who agreed that Meghalaya should be divided to pave way for the creation of Garoland and Khasi-Jaińtia states.

The two veteran MLAs, sitting in the Opposition benches, have been campaigning for creation of separate states for the three major tribes of Meghalaya — Garoland state for the Garos and Khasi-Jaintia state for the Khasis and Jaińtias.

Marak, in support of his resolution, projected the Garo hills region as still “backward” and said there has been economic “disparity” ever since Meghalaya was created in 1972 to uplift the economic conditions of the people.

Marak also said that creation of separate state should be based on linguistic lines since the major tribes of Meghalaya —the Garos and Khasis-Jaintias, have different languagess and culture.

Supporting the resolution, Lyngdoh, who is the president of Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) which has four members in the 60-member House, shared similar views.

“The customary practices of the Garos are also different from that of the Khasis and Jaintias,” Lyngdoh said.

He recalled that the demand for creating a separate Garoland state was also supported by the people of Garo hills as witnessed during the last public meeting held in Tura, the district headquarters of West Garo Hills.

The GNC and the HSPDP had sent petitions to the Centre on several occasions demanding the creation of separate states for Khasi-Jaińtia and Garo tribes.

Except for the two veterans, no other member, including Opposition legislators from the HSPDP, joined the debate in support of the demand.

Replying to the resolution, Meghalaya deputy chief minister in-charge of revenue department, Roytre Christopher Laloo said: “Further division of the state would place even more constraints on our resources and the development process will suffer. Further splintering may only increase the social and economic vulnerability of our people without yielding any substantial gains in the long run.”

Denying that economic disparity among the people of the state, Laloo said the overall economic condition of the people of the state, especially in rural areas, was almost the same everywhere.

“It is our duty to take necessary steps to ameliorate the economic hardship of our people and bring about all-round economic improvement in the state and not to divide it.”

Laloo told the House about a number of initiatives taken up by successive governments for bringing overall development in the state besides policy framework like job reservation policy to ensure that the fruits of growth and development get distributed in an equitable manner.

“We cannot afford to call ourselves backward, but we have to move forward. Some pockets have remained relatively backward. We need to address this issue and we have already factored this in our new paradigm of development,” he said.

Laloo also admitted that one factor that has caused a major setback to the progress of Garo hills is the scourge of insurgency. He said militant groups have mushroomed in the region resorting to reckless violence which has caused immense hardship to the people.

Stating that the government has made serious efforts to resolve insurgency issue, Laloo appealed to the militants to abjure the path of violence and be a part of the settlement being negotiated with the (ANVC) and ANVC (B) to restore true peace and stability in the region.

As Marak refused to withdraw the resolution, Speaker Abu Taher Mondal put the matter to vote which was defeated by the treasury benches with a resounding “no”.