Sohra, the oldest sub-division established in 1982, has been battling for its upgradation to a district for years, but finally, for those who have been spearheading the movement there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel with Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma recently indicating such a possibility.
Alan West Kharkongor, the chairman of Meghalaya Rural Tourism Development Forum and National People’s Party (NPP) candidate from Sohra for the 2023 assembly elections, has been at the forefront advocating district status for Sohra.
In an exclusive conversation with The Meghalayan, Kharkongor cleared the air about the delay in the declaration.
“There was some confusion earlier, but I believe the chief minister has a clearer picture now and has directed the chief secretary to review the case. The chief secretary is scheduled to meet the stakeholders this week, and I think the announcement should be done before Christmas,” he said with a degree of confidence.
The chief minister had earlier mentioned that it was not geographically conducive to declare Sohra as a district.
Reacting to this, Kharkongor said, “It appears that the chief minister was not briefed properly before. It might have been that the government wanted to include Pynursla in the new district. But we are very clear about what geographical areas it will cover. It should include the two constituencies of Sohra and Shella.”
The geographical complication about what would be included in the new district was a bone of contention for a long time.
However, Kharkongor clarified and said, “It was in 2014 that we had a joint meeting with the people of Pynursla. Bah Prestone Tynsong (present deputy chief minister) was also present in that meeting. It was then when we reached a consensus that the new district should include only Sohra and Shella, while Pynursla will demand for its own subdivision.”
“Fortunately, Pynursla subdivision was created during 2017. There would have been geographical barriers had Pynursla been included,” he added.
Another difference of opinion that had come in the way of Sohra being declared a district was the choice of the headquarters. If Pynursla was to be a part of the district, then the idea of making the headquarters in Mawjrong or Laitlyngot was a point of discussion.
The proposed new district includes 229 villages and 20 of these reportedly want the headquarters to be in Mawjrong.
“On behalf of the South East Khasi Hills District Demand Forum, what we have done is that we have collected written justification and support from all the villages. So when the government decides, it should go ahead with the decision of the majority,” Kharkongor said on the matter of headquarters.
“I mentioned to the chief minister that if Pynursla is out of the new district, there will be no point making the headquarters in Mawjrong, which in fact is located in the extreme border of East Khasi Hills and the proposed district.
The newest district which is just a year old is the Eastern West Khasi Hills and the subdivision of Mairang went on to house the headquarters. Similarly, since Sohra is already a civil subdivision, the demand for upgrading it to the headquarters has been gaining momentum.
“After having received that clarity, the chief minister also agreed that if Pynursla is not included, then the headquarters should be in Sohra,” Kharkongor said.
The cry for Sohra as a separate district is not a recent one. Sohra was the centre of political administration under the British and also the capital of undivided Assam. The town is also of utmost cultural importance to the Khasis.
The East Khasi Hills district under which Sohra falls consists of seventeen constituencies and those demanding a separate district believe that the district’s administrative office is overburdened and the towns of Sohra and Shella are consequently neglected.
“The upgradation to a new district does not necessarily mean only boosting infrastructure, but it also means that the administration is closer to the people on ground. The menace of Shillong traffic is not uncommon, which is a problem for people traveling all the way from Sohra as they hardly can get their work done,” Kharkongor said.
Sohra or Cherrapunjee, this has been a debate, as the latter is a colonial name but that’s how it is known around the country, especially in the tourism sector. However, there are no two thoughts about it in the local scenario.
In response to this, Kharkongor said, “Cherrapunjee is the name that has been carried over the years and we cannot expect an immediate change, as it will affect tourism in the state. However, in the state, officially, the fact that we are batting for a Sohra district and not Cherrapunjee is where we begin.”