I left the RR of the New Cooch Behar railway station at 5.30 am. In an hour I was at Falakatta. The horrendous roads started right there. The 100 odd kms from Falakatta to Dhupguri to Mainaguri to Fulbari bye pass was terrible, to say the least. I am glad that I did not attempt it yesterday evening. I have, by now, travelled through 16 States and I am convinced that West Bengal has the worst roads among these 16 that I have so far travelled. And the worst part is that there is no indication of any repairs to be done in the near future. I was apprehensive about certain potholes, which would have safely hidden my vehicle from the sight of a truck driver! I suspect that the only two varieties of road users that were happy with the road condition were the cyclists and the mynas. The former as they could ride their bicycles faster than the cars on the so-called road and the latter because the spillage from the trucks ensured constant nourishment. The fairly decent NH 31 up to Purnia and the link road to Katihar deposited me in the ORH in Katihar by half past one. The ORH is well maintained and I have been allotted the VIP Suite. After lunch I walked to the town. Sales were brisk of winter clothing and blankets, an indication of the turn in the climate.
As I mentioned yesterday, I have prepared a generalized list of my observations of the NE and this is not a scholarly attempt. These are overly generalized – there are exceptions; what I found striking I have bulleted. So, here are the first 12 observations.
1. Without exception the North East is green, different hues of it greet you wherever you go. High and low hills populate most of the landscape, which are thickly forested with wild growth and timber plantations of the Forest department. Wild flowers are everywhere; the colors are amazing.
2. Most of the population is English speaking, particularly the younger generation. There is visible emphasis on schooling; the sight of children going to school early in the morning, particularly girls, is a heartwarming sight. Schooling is provided in both the government and private sectors, with the latter dominating.
3. The society is largely westernized in its myriad forms. Their clothes and hair styles have broken away from the traditional. The boys reflect the influence of their EPL favorites - spiked hair and football T-shirts.
4. The influence of the Church, mostly Presbyterian and Baptists, is quite strong. The Pastors and priests are respected. The payment of tithe is seen as an honor.
5. Begging is absent. I did not find this in towns and villages of the North East. This is probably on account of the fact that the society provides for the destitute and the lesser privileged.
6. Two heavy meals of rice and meat pre-dominate the daily nourishment routine.
7. Chewing of betel leaves and nut is universal. I suspect that the younger generation is not taking to this habit.
8. Position of women in society is enviable. They are a force to reckon with in the family and in society and have respect of the men folk. This is probably the reason why, despite all the negative news like extortion, kidnapping, killings and the like, crimes against women are virtually absent.
9. Unlike in the metros and big cities one will not find gaudy and suggestive advertising in the NE, whether in towns or villages.
10. The price of fuel is low, due to the low State tax – a lesson for the ‘pundits’ in the other States to appreciate.
11. Many Central schemes have been initiated with the consultation of the States and the Councils for the development and progress of the region. The increase of such schemes and the funds channelized for these schemes ought to be visible. Unfortunately, the canker of corruption, nepotism and crass neglect of the people make a mockery of honest efforts of some and put the ordinary citizen to hardship.
12. Corruption, along with pollution and poor infrastructure, seem to be the biggest problem faced in the NE. I was told of an instance where Rs.13 crore allotted for the development of a road was completely ‘eaten away’ by the local Corporator and his henchmen. Corruption is everywhere and accepted as a way of life, again with honorable exceptions. It is time for the NE to put checks and balances in place and make them effective instruments to ensure development of the region; are the ones like those in Mizoram (YMA, Mizo Students Union, The Church) the answer?
Await the next installment tomorrow.