A newly formed society in Bhandari town is striving to bring in transformation to an otherwise depressing settlement
Morung Express News
Bhandari | May 24
Bhandari is a small town with an ADC office under Wokha district, but little is know of it except for the reports of human-elephant conflicts every year.
In this small town bordering Assam (Merapani), residents wistfully gaze towards the horizon to migrate and most government offices remain closed the year round. Here, Mhankai Okho- a newly formed Society with 21 likeminded members- is trying to usher in a transformation to the otherwise laidback and depressing settlement.
Mhankai Okho was formed in 2016 and its members comprise of Church members, teachers, government servants, advocates, businesspersons and students.
“Our primary objective is to transform Bhandari into one of the cleanest towns in Wokha district, raise environment consciousness among the people, promote local entrepreneurs and produce, and to make the town more economically independent,” Chomithung, a member of Mhanki Okho explained.
This vision of the society actually sums up the prevailing scenario in Bhandari – a town ailing with lack of infrastructure, exploitation and despondency. “See, there is not even a tailor shop in this town, and we have just one haircutting saloon for a population which is reaching 10, 000,” Chomithung pointed out.
Creating infrastructure and marketing avenues
The lack of infrastructure is as stark as it can be with only a couple of shops to describe the town square. The residents are entirely dependent on Merapani, the nearest town in neighboring Assam, which is just 4 kilometers away, for supply of their daily needs.
Which is ironic, as pointed out by a government teacher who was posted in the town, “Bhandari grows large amount of bananas every year, but we don’t get to buy them here. The businesspersons from Assam buy the bananas directly from the field and they sell it back to us at the markets in Merapani.”
According to Chomithung, due to lack of marketing avenues, Agri and Horti cultivators at Bhandari are constantly exploited by unscrupulous businesspersons from Assam- they buy the produce at dirt cheap rates. “The farmers are at their mercy. They even dictate the rate for the produce,” Chomithung alleged.
Bhandari is not a dry land. Every year, hundreds of tons of betel nut are harvested. Broom sticks, banana, cabbage, ginger see an equally rich yield. However, with no system in place to monitor or control the monopoly in play by unscrupulous business people, all the produce goes at cheap rates, leaving the farmer at loss.
In such depressing scenario, Chomithung said the Society has been breaking ground to provide more marketing avenues to the farmers. Last year, betel nut per kilo was a meager Rs 10, a rate dictated by a syndicate of business people from Assam.
To compete with this, members of the Mhankai Okho, bought the betel nuts produce from the local farmers for wholesale price of Rs 15 per kilo. “We are constantly trying to indentify markets to sell the produce of the farmers so that they are not exploited anymore,” Chomithung said.
Rampant logging a major issue
Another issue that the Bhandari area has been grappling with is rampant destruction of forests carried out by timber merchants from Assam in collaboration with the local people.
Zuchanthung Yanthan, Associate Pastor of Bhandari Town Baptist Church, who is also a member of the Society, said there are already 37 saw mills in the Bhandari area or lower range area out of which only one mill is authorized by the state government.
Most of these saw mills are owned by non Nagas in collaboration with the local businesspersons, and 80% of the profit is pocketed by the businesspersons from outside, Yanthan, who did his Master of Theology thesis on the exploitation of natural resources in Bhandari area, said.
Yanthan pointed out that due to the rampant felling of trees; all the big trees are gone, now even the small trees are not spared. “Many tree species have become extinct in our area, deforestation is all over the range, Bhandari is already facing water scarcity, aquatic animals are disturbed, and there is soil erosion.”
The Associate Pastor said the people of the area are ignorant of the consequence and they urgently need to be educated on protection of environment. “I have also been telling my congregation to stop cutting down trees or to plant five more trees for one in order to stop deforestation,” Yanthan said.
Chomithung said the people of Bhandari town, which is 75 kilometers away from Wokha town, have so far not seen contribution of NGOs or organizations to educate or provide awareness on such crucial issues.
“In our own little capacity, we are making efforts to bring some life to this town of ours,” Chomithung said of the initiatives of Mhankai Okho- which in English roughly translates to “A determined group.”