Meghalaya urban affairs minister Ampareen Lyngdoh’s reply to a question on water supply in Tura is utterly unbecoming of a responsible politician. To the repeated query of Independent legislator John Leslee Sangma, she maintained that the water supplied by the Tura Municipal Board (TMB) is ‘assumed’ to be potable! She relies her statement on the fact that the water TMB supplies to the people of Tura is taken from an open sources maintained by the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department. It is like a shopkeeper refusing to take responsibility of the quality of goods he sells in the shop since he does not manufacture them. While the shopkeeper can be pardoned, a minister cannot get away with such reply especially when public health is at stake.

Ampareen’s comment reminds about the typical way of functioning of government departments and the officials there. Sometimes, a person has to make multiple visits to an office only to know on whose table his file is lying. Officials hardly care to make the job of a non-VIP person easier. It’s the same mentality that was reflected on the statement of the minister. She won’t take responsibility of the water delivered to households by her department! The Independent MLA repeatedly stressed that the water is not treated, causing serious hazard for public health. The minister could have very well known the fact. But if she also knows that if she admits that the water is not treated, the next question would be why her department is supplying untreated water to the people? She acted smart, but exposed as to how politicians can become selfish to save their own skin, even if the issue is related to thousands of people.

Irony of the whole episode was that the 60 MLAs in the House ultimately could not get an answer to the simple but pertinent question of the Independent legislator. There were many who had the answer in the House. All the departmental heads were sitting in the assembly gallery. The Speaker, under his capacity, asked the Ampareen to inquire into the matter to which the answer lied within the House. In the process of finding the answer, the focus of her department will not be on public health, but how to save its skin. That’s what most government departments do. Will they change, ever?

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on March 11, 2016)

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