The North Eastern region which is widely believed to have some of the worst connectivity in the country, be it by way of air or rail where road connectivity is one of the main bloodlines linking the region with the rest of the states. In spite of limitations Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has been rendering yeomen services in connecting the region and also transporting almost all the essential commodities from all over the nation. In this backdrop, NFR has topped among 19 Railway Zones by registering a record growth in passenger traffic in 2016-17, NFR’s Chief Public Relations Officer Pranav Jyoti Sharma informed.
Sharma said that NFR recorded a 6.22 per cent growth in passenger traffic which is the highest growth rate among all zones. He said the main source of earnings for railways is from freight traffic and the Railway Board fixes yearly target of freight as well as passenger traffic revenue for each zone.
In 2016-17 fiscal, the earning of NFR from goods traffic stood at Rs 1,706.85 crore, which is 9.50 per cent more than the Railway Board target of Rs 1,558.73 crore. Earnings from passenger traffic totalled Rs 1,043.17 crore, which is 3.79 per cent more than the targeted Rs 1,005.07 crore.
It may be mentioned that NFR, set up in 1958, serves seven districts in West Bengal and five districts in north Bihar besides the eight northeastern states.
The NFR recorded the highest ever scrap sale of Rs 115.35 crore in the last fiscal. Of the 505 stations under NFR’s jurisdiction, 15 have been provided with mechanised cleaning.
CCTV monitoring is done at eight stations namely Guwahati, Dimapur, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Alipurduar, New Jalpaiguri, Katihar and Jogbani. In 2016-17, the NFR introduced 26 new train services while services of eight were extended.
But unfortunately, the third Union Budget presented by Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley did not announce any new initiative for the NER, although the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER) saw a hike of about Rs 158 crore. The government’s budget also suggests an increase of nearly 35 per cent in allocation for the north-eastern region across all ministries, but there is a total absence of any new proposal particularly for Meghalaya.
According to allocations for important ministries, Rs 2,682 has been allocated for 2017-18 for the DoNER Ministry against Rs 2,524 for 2016-17. Allocation for the NER across all ministries in the Union Budget 2017-18 was Rs 43,250 against Rs 32,180 for 2016-17, reads the budget copy.
In order to mobilize financial resources, a policy decision was taken to earmark at least 10 per cent of the plan budgets of the central ministries/departments for development of the north-eastern states.
Ten per cent of the annual plan budget of 52 ministries of the union government is earmarked every year for spending in the NER since 1998-99. The region has 7.9 per cent (2,62,179 sq.km out of 32,87,263 sq.km) of India’s land mass and 3.76 per cent (4.55 crore out of 121 crore) of population, according to the Census 2011.
All this is mentioned in the Budget presented on February 1, 2017, where only Manipur is an election bound state, nothing has been proposed for the region, whereas most of the concerned Ministries including the Prime Minister himself, keeps saying that for the nation to grown this region should have inclusive growth which has led to a rise in the expectations of the public.
The Finance Minister claimed that this Budget 2017 is pro-poor and farmers, and it is a welcome move for individual tax payers, the tax rate for the slab between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 5 lakh has been cut to 5 per cent from 10 per cent, while a 10 per cent surcharge has been kept for those with annual income of between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1 crore, hoping to encourage more individuals to declare their income.
His attempt to encourage a cashless society has encouraged the public to use cards for payment for several things ranging from railways ticket to any form of payment is nothing a justification of the demonetization exercise.
As mentioned, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and his Council of Ministers keep reminding that there should be focus on the North Eastern (NE) region for inclusive development. On the other hand the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) suggested that the region should generate its own funds for development and at the same time keep its hopes alive that attracting investments will turn this region into a hub, particularly for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with an assurance to improve all necessary infrastructure, particularly road, rail and air connectivity.
All such ambitious projects failed to take-off as the Modi government replaced the Planning Commission with the new policy of NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India), which according to the Chief Minister of Tripura, Manik Sarkar has destroyed the vital Planning Commission, hence, there is no scope for Centre-State discussions on the planning process.
Tripura Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar who also sees an urgent need for raising physical infrastructure in the northeast, advocates against using the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model to put in place this infrastructure in the mountainous region. He pointed out that private investors and industrialists will not come to the region in a big way unless physical infrastructure, like roads, railways, power and connectivity are developed. The PPP model is not workable in this region.
Sarkar said that development of physical infrastructure is crucial in northeast India, but the much-talked about PPP model should not be adopted in the hilly region. He was addressing the third North East Connectivity Summit organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and supported by the Tripura government.
Under such constrains, NITI Aayog continues to stress that the services sector, like higher education, health, bio-technology and tourism, can be the priority sectors for development. Poor condition of the national highways in the region must be improved at once. Medium, small and micro industries have great scope in Northeast.
Simply building airports in the region will not help as having an airport alone without proper road and rail connectivity is like having a white elephant for the region which requires inclusive growth of both physical and infrastructural development. At the same time, individual states demanding the improvement of or setting up of an airport will only fall on deaf ears of the Central Government, Civil Aviation or Airport Authority of India, unless a united voice from the region demands the same.
Even as the remnants of the divide and rule policy of the colonial British Raj has prevented the unification of North East region, how does one expect the rest of the nation to understand its communities? We need to advocate for a regional consensus not only for improve air, rail and road connectivity; we need to be united for others to pay attention to our very existence.
The present attitude of mistrust between communities, districts, states in region will only be an obstacle to any such consensus, unless the citizens from the NE communities make an attempt to change this mindset, by allotting special budgets for such development for the region should have been mentioned in budget.