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Just days after the state Taxation Minister James Sangma hinted that the government consensus was to repeal the Meghalaya Gaming Act 2021 because of the widespread opposition against the new legislation, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma confirmed the news.
The Meghalaya government approved the legislation by introducing an ordinance in January 2021 to control illegal gambling in the state and increase revenue by boosting tourism by setting up casinos in select locations.
CM Sangma’s latest announcement indicates that he plans to pass another ordinance to rescind the Gaming Act. On Friday, after being questioned if the government will call a special assembly session to repeal the Act, CM Conrad K Sangma clarified, “Repealing of the Act can be done through an ordinance, and that ordinance can then be passed in the House.”
Sangma pointed out that his government had repealed the Meghalaya Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood Regulation of Street Vending) Act in a similar manner by passing an ordinance first, followed by the approval process in the Assembly. “Similarly, any Act can be repealed through an ordinance, and this is the procedure that will be followed, he added.
CM Sangma did emphasize that once the legislation is repealed, the government will not have any legal mechanism to regulate illegal gambling activities in the state. “Therefore, that is the other side of the story. We definitely will be back to square one now, and we will have to see how we move forward in this line.”
However, pressure groups like the Joint Action Committee Against Casinos (JACAC) in the Ri Bhoi district have made it clear that they will withdraw their ongoing signature campaign against the Gaming Act only once a public notification that the Act will be repealed is made.
Another group, Voice of the People (VPP), has given its thumbs down to the government’s plan to repeal the Act through an ordinance, demanding that a special assembly session be held to accomplish the same more expeditiously.
Repealing the Meghalaya Act – Heeding to Public Call
CM Conrad K Sangma said that the government had decided to repeal the Act after interacting with a range of stakeholders and keeping the more significant interest of the people in view.
On being questioned if the MDA government was stepping back on the issue, fearing an intense public backlash in the 2023 polls, Sangma responded, “We strongly feel that when the concerns of the citizens are there, concerns of the people are there, then the government must listen – so whether elections are there or not, the point is that this government has always kept that (voice of the people) as a priority.”
“On many occasions, we have seen it has been done in this manner, so it is being done from the point of people’s concern and people’s desire that this should be reviewed, and that is what we have done,” he added.
Ever since the government granted provisional casino licenses to three operators in April, several political, social, and church groups opposed the move by rallying against the government’s decision. TMC MLA George B Lyngdoh sought clarification from the government on the Act, while local groups in the Ri Bhoi district even set up a Joint Action Committee against casinos (JACAC), starting a signature campaign against casinos.
Even though CM Sangma tried to assure the naysayers that all the provisional licenses would expire on September 30 and would not be renewed, the protests continued. Only last week, the KJCLF organized a prayer meeting calling all the Christian groups in Meghalaya to rally against the government’s plans to legalize gambling.
Recently, Taxation Minister James K Sangma held a meeting with the church leaders and briefed them about the government’s plans to regulate gaming. Following the meeting, James K Sangma clarified that it would be in the state’s best interest if the Gaming Act was repealed.
Voices of Protest
The Joint Action Committee Against Casino (JACAC) is not yet ready to back down from its ongoing signature campaign against the Gaming Act. The JACAC has demanded that CM Conrad Sangma issue a public notification announcing it is repealing the Act.
JACAC Secretary Ferdynald Kharkamni said, “As long as the government has not issued the notification to repeal the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021, the JAC against the casino at Ri Bhoi will not listen to what he spoke in a section of newspapers and electronic media. Until and unless the notification has not been issued, we will not believe that the Act will be repealed.”
(Image courtesy: The Meghalayan)
Another state group, the Voice of the People (VPP), is opposing the government’s decision to repeal the Meghalaya Gaming Act through an ordinance. The VPP demands the government call for a special assembly session to repeal the contentious legislation.
VPP president, Dr. KH Shen, pointed out – “Repealing the Gaming Act, 2021 through the Ordinance route would be nothing but an eyewash. The statement amounts to fooling the people of the state as unless approved by the Assembly within six months, the ordinance would cease to operate; thereby, the Gaming Act stand revived and re-operationalized.”
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