Opposition to casino business gets louder in Meghalaya

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Opposition to the Meghalaya government’s plan to start casino has grown louder with the Congress demanding scrapping of the contentious Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021.

Chief minister Conrad Sangma had ruled out scrapping the act saying that the legislation seeks to prevent local people from the ill effects of gaming.

Sangma said the government will not set up casinos in the state, even as he informed that the provisional licenses which were recently issued to three casinos would lapse within a stipulated time as the state government no longer intends to further process their paperwork.

“The government has to scrap the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021 otherwise the ruling coalition will be in the street and the public will be in the assembly one day,” Meghalaya Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president, Vincent H Pala said.

“Despite the opposition from several quarters, including the church, I am surprised that the government has gone ahead with its plan to start casinos in the state,” Pala, the sitting Lok Sabha member from Shillong parliamentary seat, said.

The Khasi Jaintia Christian Leaders Forum (KJCLF), an influential church body in this Christian-dominated state, has strongly condemned the government on its recent announcement that it has granted three provisional licenses for the setting up and commencement of the casino industry in the state.

“The government has unashamedly exposed its blatant lie to the general public and different organizations including church and Christian leaders, when on previous occasions the government had stated that it will not go ahead with this as yet,” secretary, KJCLF, Edwin H Kharkongor said.

Kharkongor argued that the casino industry will promote a plethora of crime and illicit activities.

The KJCLF called on the different churches and concerned organizations in the State, and the general public to condemn this act of the present government.

In fact, lone Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM) legislator Adelbert Nongrum had brought a private member’s bill seeking repeal of the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021 in the just concluded assembly session.

However, the bill was rejected by the majority members of 60-member Meghalaya assembly.

“I had brought the bill in view of the growing opposition to the operation of casinos and legalized forms of gaming in the state, which has been expressed by church bodies, traditional institutions, social organizations and individuals,” Nongrum, who also supports the National People’s Party (NPP)-led government, said.

The Voice of the People Party (VPP), a newly formed political outfit in the state, has condemned the alleged “insensitivity and arrogance” of the MDA government by deciding to introduce casinos in the state.

“This has been manifested by the refusal of the government to accept the private member’s bill, brought by Nongrum, in the just concluded Assembly session to repeal the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act 2021 brought in by the present government,” VPP president Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit said.

Basaiawmoit also termed the statement of the chief minister to suspend the process as “nothing but an attempt to pacify the people, especially the church leaders under the banner of KJCLF who have voiced their concern against the irresponsible act of the government.”

“There was also no clarity even in the statement made by the chief minister that the government will repeal this act. He merely mentioned that there will be no further action on the matter. However, he clearly explained that the process which has been put in place before will not be done away with,” the VPP leader said.

According to Basaiawmoit, this implies that whatever decisions that have been made will stay. It also means that licenses that have been issued, as stated by minister James Sangma on the floor of the house will remain valid.

The joint action committee against casino in Ri-Bhoi district has decided to launch agitation from September 23 to scuttle the casino plans if the government tries to go ahead.

The Hynñiewtrep Integrated Territorial Organisation (HITO) too has decided to go ahead with its proposed protest against setting up of casino in the state.

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