The Meghalaya Experience – A Narrative by a MGNF Fellow

“History tells us that an informed, activated population is vital to protecting the public’s health” – Unknown

Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship (MGNF) at Centre for Public Policy, IIM Bangalore is a unique program for 2-years where District Immersion (DI) is a mandatory part of the curriculum. During the DI, the MGN Fellows work closely with the State Skill Development Mission (SSDM) at the district level, and currently, the first batch fellows have been deployed to 74 districts across 6 states in India on a pilot basis. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the dates of our deployment to almost 3-months behind the planned calendar until now.

We, the fellows for Meghalaya, therefore, were quite excited to get the new deployment date, that we were finally move-in to our assigned districts, and would be starting our works. Suddenly, the sleeping WhatsApp group of ours became too active discussing the transit & entry to Meghalaya, however, somewhere inside in our minds we all were worried about the ongoing pandemic knowing that we would be kept in quarantine centers for at least 14 days, no doubt the state currently has less than 15 cases.

Entry to Meghalaya is currently one of the strictest, you are likely to not get the entry permission unless you are the returning citizens of the state or have a proper official reason to enter the state. However, the arrangements as in regards to permission to enter the state and home quarantine facilities were all taken care of by the SSDM, Government of Meghalaya; that was one note which bought smiles to our faces. And as I reached my designated entry point (location) at Assam – Meghalaya border, did I observe that the less concerned driver of the pre-coronavirus world was wearing a fully covered PPE kit today, for the safety of himself and traveler (me). We reached the first check post where a combined team of police personnel and civil officials did a check on my documents (deployment letter). There was a separate team that offered sanitizers, water bottles, and packed food to travelers; for even in my most beautiful dream about the government services have I seen such warm hospitality before. Knowing that I was a fellow, deployed in Meghalaya with valid permission from the Political Department (concerned authority to issue entry permission) of Meghalaya Govt., they welcomed me to the state pleading to remain safe.

And then we reached the medical checkpoint, everything there was beautifully streamlined accompanied by the smiling faces of medical and police staffs. The dedicated team at the site helped throughout the process of documentation, SWAB test, and blood check. It was pretty crowded, a social-distanced crowd to be precise. As I kept moving from one process to the other, I could see no differentiation in treatment between the marginalized workers and the people who reached the site in luxury SUVs, my expectation to see some kind of rush by this category of people got shattered as I saw them standing in line respecting the affairs of every other man on site that day. Suddenly the world seemed so disciplined, wished if this stayed permanently from now.

The fellows were allotted an isolated quarantine located at the new campus of IIM Shillong, the facility which itself was no less than a 4-star hotel. Hygienic food, to-the-door delivery of food, new clothes, and sleeping arrangements; it was one of those moments when you didn’t feel bad about paying a bit extra in the name of tax to the Government. It has been a home-away-from-home feeling to be here at the quarantine center.

Pritiraj Brahma, is a post-graduate in management (a gold medallist) from an AACSB International accredited B-school. He has experience working in the area of marketing, public relations, and consulting. Currently, he is a Mahatma Gandhi National Fellow (MGNF 2022) at IIM Bangalore and is deployed in South West Garo Hills, Meghalaya.