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Just a word ‘slum’, and the whole of Shillong has been taken to ransom. Words or sentences sometimes can be more damaging than atom bombs. This word was uttered by state urban affairs minister Ampareen Lyngdoh while listing out 23 slum areas in the so-called Scotland of East. Later on she regretted the statement but stood by it since the government definition of slum fits some localities hitherto known as prime and posh areas. But her ‘regret’ has been of no help in removing the stench from the city and the people of Mawlai, the biggest and one of the oldest localities of Shillong, refused entry of garbage dumping trucks for the past two days. With Marten – the city’s only landfill site – located in Mawlai, a few more days of such resistance would turn the city a den of filth and dirt. The rain, as it’s coming, would turn the situation worse.

Well, the so-called public anger for listing their area as slum can be interpreted in different ways. The public may be genuinely irritated by the statement made in the floor of the assembly. The landfill site at Marten in Mawlai area was set up there after much resistance from the locals. The government sending the whole of city’s garbage to Mawlai and then terming the area a slum definitely does not go down well with the local people. With elections round the corner there is a greater chance of political influence behind the protest. The point of accusation going to the ruling party for ‘defaming’ Mawlai, the Opposition candidate Paul Lyngdoh will surely gain some mileage ahead of the April-9 voting. The proximity of Lyngdoh’s assembly constituency Mawkhar (now North Shillong) to Mawlai is another reason to believe that the protest has some political fuel.

Despite the logic of ‘definition’, the government intention in declaring as many as 23 slums in the city is nothing but to tap Central funds earmarked for development of slum areas. The minister indirectly admitted it in the floor of the assembly. How justified is it to defame your home just to earn some material benefits? It’s like someone faking to have AIDS to earn government aid meant for carriers of the deadly virus. These questions need answers and mere ‘regret’ is not enough.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on March 22)