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Whispering Pines no more: Shillong dying

Twenty years ago, even 10-15 years back, I would have placed Shillong, my home town, as one of the prettiest hill stations in the country.  Not any longer.  The city is an absolute mess, a concrete jungle with a few pockets of green.  Its streets are overwhelmed by the stentch of vehicle fumes and traffic is one long nightmarish jam, especially around school opening and closing times. 

In the daytime, trucks ply unhindered through these crowded streets carrying coal, consumer goods, vegetables and heavy machinery, because for a quarter century, the state government, the National Highway authorities and private land owners have been unable to agree on the routing and compensation for the “Shillong bypass,” so appropriately named for it is only a bypass that could save the city from a massive coronary attack.
Shillong, once the “Scotland of the East”, with its valleys and hills, its streams and golf course, its wonderful old wooden bungalows and striking natural scenery in the districts around, is gasping for breath, and no one seems to be bothered – not the government, editors and civil society. 
In fact, this is a key campaign that civil society organizations – and there are so many of them in the North-east need to launch, in partnership with the Government.  Shillong may be the capital of Meghalaya but it is the pride of the North-east. To restore it to health will take a joint effort.  For that to happen, concerned citizens, professional bodies, researchers and individuals from across the North-east with connections to Shillong – and they will be elsewhere in India and across the world -- need to pool their ideas, resources and plan on specific, sustainable strategies.  
How is this to be done:  first document, research (although many already know the reasons and it’s rooted in human greed) and strategize on the problems of the city in separate sectors – traffic management, stopping destruction of the trees and scientific replanting, curbing the rush to build, better water and sanitation, cleaner streets with proper dustbins and regular clearing by municipal trucks.
But opposition by influential groups has successfully blocked plans for municipal elections. However, even to clear the garbage, the city needs a specific, responsive and responsible government – neither the Autonomous District Council nor the traditional dorbars nor a bunch of bureaucrats nor the State Government can deliver.  Politicians spend time feathering their own nests. 
This needs to be thought through carefully.  Without a stake by the people, can a city be governed? There is a solution: the Constitution has enough flexibility to legislate a permanent majority for the Scheduled Tribes in the governance of the city. This should be ensured. But it cannot happen by depriving some residents of representation on the basis of their ethnicity. This would violate the principle of equality before the law and the basis of the Constitution. 
Across the world, city and town councils work well because they function on adult franchise. Gangtok, Shimla and other hill stations are competently run, clean and pleasant to walk around in with are pedestrian zones where no vehicles are allowed; tourist traffic is growing. But Shillong is growing without planning either for the present or the future. 
Thousands of tourists crowd its shops, lanes and markets and dash to Cherrapunji of the fabled rain and falls and elsewhere and congregate noisily for food and fun. But with its carrying capacity failing, without a sense of ownership by its people and visitors, the city is on the verge of collapse.
Apart from the crisis facing the city, the highway from Guwahati to Shillong is pock marked with long patches of dusty broken road. Drivers careen crazily across bends and race each other in a mad rush, endangering passengers and villagers.  And now I have seen the future of this once green and pleasant road – the National Highway of India is smashing its way through hill sides and old jungles to build a four lane.  The NHAI can’t maintain the existing two lane, the bypass for Shillong isn’t in place and won’t be for some time. The four-lane will choke the city to death? 
Jairam Ramesh, our lone environmental warrior in the Government of India probably isn’t aware of this.  His office in Shillong should brief him and he should pay a visit to see what is happening to one of the most beloved hill stations of our land. This reckless destruction must be challenged.  
The goal is simple, the slogan is clear:  Save Shillong.
by Sanjoy Hazarika


Guest's picture

It is heartbreaking to read Sanjoy Hazarika's account of my beautiful Shillong - the land where I was born and which bore and shaped me. 1994 was the last time I had visited Shillong and even then it was changing. However, my ideal mental landscape will always be the Shillong I had grown up in. Shillong with its pure clean air, the rustling majestic pines and firs, the crystal waters of the myriad waterfalls and the taste of Shillong's water - sweet and pure that can be found nowhere else.

The wonderful community where people from all over India (and the world) converge and live harmoniously. I guess I am looking at Shillong through rose tinted glasses for there were race riots and violence erupting from time to time.

On the whole though, while I grew up, Shillong had clean streets, the timberframed houses were intrinsically part of Shillong, sustainably built of local material by local craftsmen. I remember the neat gardens with its riot of colours and smoke curling up from chimneys.

It was idyllic. A place where people lived in friendship and amity.

I beg the politicians and the powerful and influential to stop the rot now and turn it around - away from the Shillong. You are caretakers of Shillong - your duty is to preserve it for posterity and posterity will remember you as saviours of Shillong not its scavengers.

Neeta Saikia-Borah

Guest's picture

Your call for saving shillong is really necessary at this juncture. Many natural beauty stations are on the verge of collapse due to pollution, traffic etc. But tourists can't be stopped and so the only other way is proper governance to maintain sanitisation, cleanliness, prevent forest destruction, support and involve the local residents to save shillong.

Guest's picture

Thanks for bringing up this issue, saving Shillong should be our top priority now!!

I have always found the trucks plying on the GS road to be a menance in terms of the smoke and pollution they contribute to, I do not understand why the govt. is not taking any action on checking the amount of poisonous gases they let out. This is actually causing a lot of airborne diseases especially to people living along the highway. Will the Govt wake up only when it is too late??

Iewduh needs cleaning!! and not only that - the rivers are all polluted too..we need all the local residents to be involved, unless the people prevent this , nothing will change.

Guest's picture

Thank you so much for this article... Being a resident of Shillong,I am ashamed that something we should have done,it was you who had the courage to write about the truth!! Sad to say but the people of Shillong seems to have turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to all these problems... When someone actually gives out a plan,they turn it down by saying if no one is bothered why should we?? It is this kind of indifferent attitude that I think is responsible for the downfall of this beautiful town... My mom says "Do what you want others to do to you"... Personally,I try what I can to stop pollution like not littering and conserving water.. People may think this is insignificant but then little things like these do matter!! Whats unfortunate is people laugh at me when I do things like these!! And personally,I do really appreciate the solution that you have given.. We can't depend on the Govt any longer.. Its time we open our eyes and address the issue at hand as soon as possible!!Thank you so much!! MARY ,SHILLONG.

Guest's picture

I agree with the writer. Shillong has mangled itself into a concrete mess leaving far behind the glory of its splendid past. Only the occupants can save this wonderful hill town.

Guest's picture

i was born and brought up in shillong. i have witnessed this transformation that the author is talking about. it is heartbreaking to see this change.....i am left with no more words to say but i will appeal to all to please do something about it.

Guest's picture

I think everyone in Shillong know where the problem areas lie. The reason it is not easy to fix them (even though the solutions to the problems themselves, viz sanitation, traffic mgt, etc are not out of reach) is due to lack of political will and widespread corruption. To the problems cited above I might add one more - the problem of Bangladeshi infiltration to which local politicians have turned a blind eye. Many of them are working as day labourers mainly in construction and reside illegally in the Polo area. The government has made only half-hearted attempts to uproot them in the past and failed every time.

Guest's picture

I feel highly nostalgic whenever the word 'Shillong' crops up in my mind or whenever I talk about Shillong with anyone - family or friends. My mind sweeps back again and again to my childhood days in Shillong , where I was born and spent my small naughty boys time in our locality in Nongrim Hills by moving about near our home among the natural pinewood trees in the backyard forest of our home with my friends. The small hill streams and brooks and natural scent of the pine trees and the feeling of freshness after a smart spell of rain.The small hill road leading from the main road from Laitumukhrah to our home , and the other road and all the charming houses along it from the fire brigade field , Fakaruddin house , Beat house , Alkin's Shop , nepali nanny's shop will remain ever cherished in my memory and I will feel blessed to be born and growing up in Shillong.
I hope that the Meghalaya Govt. will do all it can to save Shillong to its old natural glory so that we can call it - "The Scotland of the East'.
-- by Arun Kumar Phukan

Guest's picture

True that Shillong has lost it's charm and beauty.. It was a serene place, out of all the hubbub... Now it's just a cacophony and filled with impurities...

My heart just saddens to see the downfall of such a beautiful place.. My home town.

Guest's picture

Shillong is my pride,it's where I was born and brought up. .I haven't been there for almost19 years now. I am planning of going this year.Shillong bypass was a talk of the town 25 years back and it's still pending I'm shocked. Thank you Sanjoy Hazarika, for the flash I had after reading your article.


Guest's picture

Dear Mr. Hazarika,

I was at Shillong from the year 1991 to 1996 on posting. At that time Shillong was not so crowded as you described. Anyway, if it has become so you people should fight for one bypass for this heavy traffic. This town was really beautiful at that time but some communal feelings were there. I think, now that problem is no more. Since it is a tourist place, these feelings definitely harmfull for the Shillong. Moreover, so many Assamese,Bengali, Nepalies are there since long before the partition of India. You should also look after that.
I have a plan to visit Shillong to watch the present situation.

One Govt. Official.

Guest's picture

I was a die hard fan of Shillong .. too proud to be from Shillong.. Now I dont want to visit the place anymore... I left Shillong about 20 years back and last visited the place about 10 years ago... I dont want to get back to Shillong any more... Reason - it really hurts me.. This pain will be understood by the people who were there during that time...
I remember Yarrow Unvisited that we would be taught to us during college days .. Wordsworth, I now understand the poem .. and I am sure many does...

Vijay Hazarika's picture

One reason why Shillong has lost its charm, the khasis are becoming a minority in their own land. The majority rules. The minority, that you see are not khasi