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Cablegate: Northeast Indian State Meghalaya Struggles with Social And

DE RUEHCI #0306/01 1990928
P R 180928Z JUL 06




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: July 7-8, 2006 ConGen visited the Northeast
state of Meghalaya to meet senior government officials and to
attend a regional conference on trafficking in persons in the
capital, Shillong. Meghalaya's persistent insurgency problem
appears to have moderated, with the two dominant ethnic
insurgent groups seeking peace with Government of India (GOI).
Security concerns, a pattern of `crony capitalism' and relative
isolation from potential markets have hampered the economic
development of this resource rich state. In response, state
officials are encouraging the GOI to create a "common market" in
the Northeast by eliminating interstate excise taxes and to
liberalize bilateral trade with Bangladesh. In the area of
public health, HIV/AIDS is emerging as a concern, though, unlike
the neighboring states of Nagaland and Manipur, infections are
not yet at epidemic levels. Meghalaya, like the rest of the
Northeast, continues to struggle with the residue of South
Asia's partition and an almost colonial relationship with the
Central government and its officials. END SUMMARY.

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Bangladeshi Migrants and Tribal Tensions Create Security

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2. (U) Meghalaya, one of the "Seven Sister" states of
Northeastern India, shares a 443 km. border with Bangladesh.
Over 400,000 people out of the state's total population of 2.3
million live along this border areas. 80 to 90 percent of the
people are estimated to be tribal. The Khasis clustered in the
Khasi Hills, the Jaintias in the Jaintia Hills and Garos of the
Garo Hills are the dominant ethnic groups. Tribal ethnic
tensions and the influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants have
been the major security issues for the state. According to a
report by the Institute of Conflict Management, the Garo Hills
have been a route for arms smuggling from Bangladesh to the many
ethnic insurgent groups in the Northeast. The exact number of
illegal Bangladeshis is not known but estimates are of hundreds
of thousands resident in Meghalaya. According to the South
Asian Progressive Action Collective (SAPC), illegal migrants
outnumber locals in the Jaintia coal belt, a region with an
official population of almost 300,000. Fear of being
overwhelmed by the influx of Bangladeshi migrants, prompted
villagers from Nongjri-Umnuih-Nongshken border area to announce
on March 6 a program of, "Gun down a Bangladeshi criminal and
collect rupees 3,000." The villagers claimed that the step was
taken in response to the alleged murders of locals and the
looting of farms by Bangladeshi migrants.

3. (U) Indian officials appear unable to stem the migration,
having a poor record of detection or legal action. In March,
Meghalaya Home Minister, H. Donkupar R. Lyngdoh, while
responding to a question raised by Congress Party legislator
Robert Garnett Lyngdoh, informed the Legislative Assembly that
only a few thousand illegal Bangladeshis have been detained in
recent years and only a few hundred have been convicted of
illegal entry. In 2004, 1,596 illegal Bangladeshis were
detained by the authorities and just 18 were convicted. The
rest were ultimately released. This year's numbers have also
been low. Available figures as of March show only 1,463 illegal
migrants have been arrested and 14 convicted. According to a
status report submitted by the Border Security Forces (BSF) to
the Delhi High Court on May 22, just 31 Bangladeshi nationals
were deported from Meghalaya between January and April 2006.

4. (SBU) Until recently, the state also experienced serious
security problems from two Garo and Khasi ethnic insurgent
groups, Hynniewtrep National Volunteer Council (HNLC) and Achik
National Volunteer Council (ANVC), which had been engaged in
violence and extortion. The ANVC began talks with GOI and
implemented a ceasefire in July 2004, which continues to be
extended. Growing apathy within the ANVC has resulted in its
collapse as an organization according to Chief Secretary S.K.
Tewari. Paramilitary operations against the HNLC have resulted
in many deaths and defections of its members. The struggling
HNLC is keen to hold talks with GOI, but given the groups
growing irrelevance, the GOI has not responded. Lack of support
from the public for the insurgents has further weakened their

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Meghalaya and the Northeast: A Source and Transit Region for
Trafficking of Persons

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5. (U) During his visit to Meghalaya, ConGen participated in the
inauguration of a regional South Asia consultation on
anti-trafficking programs hosted by the Impulse NGO Network
(Impulse), a G/TIP funded NGO. Representatives from the United
Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and senior police
officials and NGOs from other Northeast states were present at
the event. The Northeast states are a source and transit area
for the trafficking of women and children. Poverty and uneven
economic development are major contributing factors for
trafficking of women. In addition, the conference discussions
noted a growing trend of women from the Northeast being
trafficked to North Indian states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh
were there is an increasing paucity of marriageable women due to
high rates of female infanticide. The Northeast is also prone
to natural disasters, especially flooding, and this creates a
push effect for trafficking from the Northeast and neighboring
countries, notably, Bangladesh. A coordinated action plan among
the states for combating the problem of trafficking in Northeast
was suggested at the consultation. A DVC with U.S.-based
participants, which included a senior official from the
Department of Justice, a special agent with Immigration and
Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security, and
a detective in the Montgomery Country police, also helped in
sharing U.S. experiences in combating trafficking. The U.S.
experts offered suggestions for Indian law enforcement officials
and NGOs on how to cooperate in prosecuting traffickers and
helping the victims.


Hopes for Economic Development


6. (SBU) In their meetings with ConGen, Chief Minister J.D.
Rymbai and Chief Secretary S.K. Tewari noted that the Planning
Commission was in Shillong to discuss the State Plan allocation
under India's Eleventh Five Year Plan. The officials were
hopeful that the Planning Commission would fund key
infrastructure, especially power, for the state to promote its
development. Chief Secretary Tewari said that Meghalaya has a
demand for 710 MW but its current capacity is only 185 MW.
Fifty percent of the villages in the state have no electricity.
The state has no railway connections and depends exclusively on
its road network. However, the road density is half of India's
average and improving road connectivity is a major requirement
for the state. The growth rate of the State Domestic Product
(SDP) is 4 percent per annum. 70 percent of the people live in
rural areas contributing 29 percent to SDP, while services
account for 56 percent of the SDP. Chief Secretary Tewari
expressed frustration that services sector in Meghalaya
essentially means government workers, reflecting the need for
private sector employment creation.

7. (SBU) Tewari said that Meghalaya was discussing with other
Northeast states a proposal to the GOI for the creation of a
"common market" in the Northeast with each state specializing in
its area of competence in the agriculture sector, which would
bring economies of scale and efficiency gains. In addition, the
GOI and the states would work to eliminate interstate excise
taxes that make commerce and trade between Indian states
expensive and inhibits development. This program would be
supplemented with a tourism initiative for the region to create
income-generating opportunities.

8. (SBU) Trade with Bangladesh is another important commercial
issue for Meghalaya. According to Tewari, Meghalaya exports
approximately USD 45 million to Bangladesh annually but receives
only USD 450 thousand in imports. The state authorities believe
that this imbalance can be reversed to the benefit of both

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countries. Tewari offered the example of the large limestone
deposits along Meghalaya's border with Bangladesh as an
opportunity for mutually beneficial trade. He stated that
Bangladesh imports 12 billion tons of limestone for cement
clinker from Indonesia at USD 58 per ton for its clinker plants.
This could be reduced to USD 30 per ton, he claimed, if the
limestone were extracted from Meghalaya. A further reduction in
cost per unit is possible if instead of coal, natural gas, which
is abundant in Bangladesh, could be used. State authorities are
also willing to allow cheap labor from Bangladesh to come into
their territory for this purpose as is already being permitted
with French cement company Lafarge's operation in the state.
Meghalaya, on the other hand, could import a range of consumer
goods from Bangladesh legally such as ceramics and processed
food items which are frequently smuggled into the state. While
the South Asian Free Trade Agreement(SAFTA) has been in effect
from July 1, 2006, critical items of interest to Meghalaya and
Bangladesh are in the negative list, such as cement clinker, and
state authorities expressed their frustration with the failure
of the Indian and Bangladesh governments to liberalize trade.

9. (SBU) Tewari indicated another factor complicating
development in the state, which is dominated by tribal
populations, is the disintegration of the tribal communities'
tradition of resources being held in common. According to
Tewari, individuals within the tribal communities have gained
possession of the resources, whether land or mineral rights, and
in concert with local officials have created a system of "crony
capitalism." Reflecting the concentration of wealth in a few
hands, Tewari noted bank deposits in the state are approximately
USD 666 million while its SDP is only USD 1.1 billion. To
address this problem, Tewari wants to change the political
administration at the village level by creating "Area Employment
Committees," essentially local "panchayatraj" administrative
councils to identify development priorities and budget. The
goal is to give villagers a voice in the utilization of
community resources.

10. (SBU) Meghalaya is also a state with large uranium
deposits. Domiasiat village in Meghalaya's West Khasi Hills
contains India's largest and richest uranium reserve. The GOI
owned Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) estimates that
Domiasiat has about 10,000 tons of uranium ore, which is spread
over a 10-sq-km area. USD 100 million was earmarked in 1992 for
a pilot mining project but a massive public protest in 1996
forced UCIL to withdraw from Domiasiat. Undeterred, the
Geological Survey of India in 1998 identified 20 other places in
Meghalaya with rich uranium deposits. UCIL wants to mine all of
these locations, potentially displacing an estimated 100,000
people. Chief Secretary Tewari, however, feels that the
majority of the state is against the proposed mining as the UCIL
is not trusted by the community. The public is aware of the
history of radioactive contamination around UCIL's mines in the
East Indian state of Jharkhand. Chief Secretary Tewari believes
that if a reputable international agency or corporation were to
monitor or conduct the extraction, the local community would be
more favorable to allowing the region to be opened for uranium


HIV/AIDS: A Growing Concern


11. (U) HIV/AIDS is emerging as a priority issue for state
officials, though the reported cases range only between 60 and
80. Authorities are concerned because of Meghalaya's proximity
to Manipur and Nagaland, two states with epidemic levels of
infections, and the low awareness of the disease in its mining
areas, which have a significant percentage of migrant labor.
The state government has begun to work with NGOs like Impulse on
awareness and sentinel programs.




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12. (SBU) Prior to the Indo-Pakistan partition in 1947,
Meghalaya was relatively prosperous, with great natural
resources and ready access to markets in East India. Cut-off
from those markets by East Pakistan and later Bangladesh, it has
been largely dependent on the largess of the GOI. The
government is the main employer and its five year plans
determine the focus of funding and economic development for the
state. Sustainable economic growth and social development is
not possible under these conditions. Rather, full
implementations of SAFTA and engagement with Bangladesh by the
GOI could help to create markets for Meghalaya and the Northeast
that would result in real private sector development and wealth
creation for its communities. Increasing economic opportunity
would go a long way in addressing the root causes of the serious
social problems affecting the state, such as trafficking of
people, ethnic violence and poor public health.

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