The recent visit to Barak Valley by Assam’s Governor Janaki Ballav Patnaik has again exposed the shambolic state of infrastructure in Barak Valley. The state government, in connivance with the local political leaders, tried its best to hide the truth from the Governor. His scheduled visit to Karimganj was also cancelled at the last minute because the Silchar – Badarpur section of National Highway 54 is in such poor state that even cattle cannot graze there properly.
Despite these efforts, whatever little opportunities Patnaik got to interact with the people, amply made it clear to him that the state of affairs in the three border districts of the valley had deteriorated beyond imagination. The former Odisha Chief Minister immediately felt the pulse of the masses and summoned all the senior officials to take stock of the situation.
What explanation these unscrupulous officials might have given to the Governor is of little consequence because these men, immersed neck deep in corruption, have become so thick skinned that no pressure or rebuke seems to work on them. In any case, they have the blessings of the even more thick skinned politicians of the valley who are shameless and have no affection for the region they claim to represent.
The moment the news of Patnaik’s visit reached Silchar, all officials got into a huddle, trying to look for overnight solutions to problems which have not been addressed for ages. Meetings after meetings followed to discuss how the naked truths confronting the benign people here could be covered and hidden.
The road to Assam University which had not been attended to for years was quickly repaired in three days just in case the Governor expressed a desire to travel to the varsity by road for the convocation ceremony. Isn’t it out-rightly criminal that the state government which does not feel ashamed to risk the lives of thousands of students going to the university, by usurping the funds meant for the repair of the road, manages to overhaul the same road almost overnight simply because a VIP is scheduled to use that road?
The same effort was also made to repair the so-called national highway that connects Silchar and Badarpur. However, the highway was in such poor state it could not be repaired quickly and therefore a clandestine operation ensured that Patnaik’s visit to Karimganj was cancelled.
No, it was not a scheduled visit to an interior village hundreds of kilometres away from the urban areas. It was a visit to the second biggest urban centre of Barak Valley, it was a visit to a border town of extreme strategic importance for the country and yet it could not take place because the road was so bad that it could have risked His Excellency’s health or even his life.
Independent India would probably have very few such instances where the highest state functionary fails to reach a district headquarter because of the poor condition of the roads connecting it. However, despite such a ‘historic’ embarrassment, nobody would ever be taken to task because the system has zero accountability. The officials who might have been scolded by Patnaik during that fateful review meeting also know it well that he is only a titular head with extremely limited powers.
The Governor came, saw and went back. Though no major change happened, at least some roads got repaired and the dilapidated Sadarghat bridge got a fresh coat of paint. Let us hope that he visits us more frequently in the future. At least that will keep the crooks masquerading as our leaders and government officials on their toes.