Shillong, it seems, does not need any huge defence installations. Meghalaya does not have a security from neighbouring Bangladesh. It’s too far from China. Any attack from China on the eastern frontier will have to cross over two states – Arunachal and Assam – before reaching Meghalaya. The Border Security Force (BSF) is enough to guard the state’s border with Bangladesh. Yet, all major defence headquarters of the North-east are located in Shillong. The erstwhile capital of Assam even has one of the five operational commands of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Eastern Air Command (EAC) is supposed to take care of the entire eastern India. The Indo Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP) which guards the country’s entire border along the Himalayas, and not Bangladesh, has its headquarters in Shillong, hundreds of miles away from the frontier! The North-east headquarters of BSF and Assam Rifles are just a few among many other headquarters of defence installations in the hilly town. Why there are all here?
People and NGOs of Shillong sometimes feel suffocated by the surrounding defence installations. There are restrictions to move within the city. They could no more use the original village routes due to coming up of huge defence establishments covering hundreds of acres of land within the city. Most of the roads that pass either through or along defence installations are narrow. The city has increasing pressure of population. It’s expanding, day by day. Yet, there are islands of thousands of acres within the city occupied by ‘unnecessary’ defence installations. When a legislator with deeply-rooted local sentiment said in the assembly that the IAF is illegally occupying the people’s land and it should be shifted out of Shillong, a visibly irritated chief minister Mukul Sangma replied that relocation of defence units is not a state subject.
There is genuine concern among people about the restrictions within the city due to presence of the defence establishments. Let alone tourists or outsiders, even the local villagers are being put under scanner by the defence authorities, especially after the terrorist attack on Pathankot air base. As an outburst of frustration, angry villagers staged a roadblock in front of the gate of 58 Gorkha Training Centre headquarters. It is understandable that Shillong being the headquarters of entire Northeast till late 60’s, all defence headquarters of the region are located here. Besides, Shillong is a very comfortable and healthy place! They say it’s a place for holiday! So, why worry too much and cause trouble to people. If not any terrorist attack, there will surely be acts of mischief by local frustrated elements against the defence establishments, if such restrictions continue. Find the best means of co-existence with local people and yet keep away the threat, if any.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on March 18, 2016)