As the time is running out for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government headed by Narendra Damodardas Modi, who had on various fora stressed on inclusive national development, which is impossible if the North Eastern region is being ignored, while at ground zero, the region is still fragmented within the region. Acting as a gelling agent, Modi government is set to launch NITI Forum for North-East’ (NFNE), a special body set up to achieve accelerated, inclusive and sustainable growth in the eight states of northeast region.
Recently wrestle state by the saffron party- Tripura will host the first meeting of the NFNE in Agratala on April 10, 2018. Chief Ministers or Deputy Chief Ministers or Planning and Coordination Ministers of Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim and top officials of all the eight northeastern states and various central ministries were likely to attend the day-long meeting.
The official also informed that the forum, constituted last month following the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, might examine and address any other issues which are of importance but not specifically dealt with.
The Official of the Tripura’s Planning Department stated that NFNE would identify various constraints on the way of accelerated, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in northeast India and to recommend suitable interventions for addressing identified constraints. It would also review the development status of the region comprising eight states including Sikkim.
The NFNE is the third body after North Eastern Council (NEC) and DoNER Ministry for the all-round growth of the northeastern region, comprising 45.58 million people, which is 4 per cent of the country’s population. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi constituted the NEC (under the NEC Act 1971) in November 1972 while Atal Bihari Vajpayee set up the DoNER Department in 2001 and accorded it the status of a full-fledged ministry in 2004.
The newly formed Forum should also identified the deficiency and obstacles which pushes the developmental backwards, it might even includes the anti-social activists who keeps opposing the central schemes and projects.
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.
There is an urgent need for raising physical infrastructure in the northeast, but advocates against adopting the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model to put in place this infrastructure in the mountainous region, due to the fear psychosis of militancy activities in the past, and the various pressure groups in the region have discourages the private investors and industrialists to come to the region in a big way unless physical infrastructure, like roads, railways, power and connectivity are developed, and the mindset of the people in the region is changed. The PPP model is not workable in this region as of now, whereas development of physical infrastructure is crucial in northeast India.
Under such constrains, NITI Aayog continues to stress that the services sector, like higher education, health, bio-technology and tourism, agriculture and water resources 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.
As noted, the common grievance of the northeastern states is the unenthusiastic attitude of the national media towards any issue relating to this area. It should however be noted that the people of the region had never made any attempt to highlight both the positive and negative aspects of the region, because the entire energy is being invested in solving the interstate border issues, combating militancy and seeking funding from the Central Government.
The envoy of the United States government and its diplomatic mission in India, headed by the US Consul General in Kolkata Helen LaFave after her three day tour of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur Sikkim, Mizoram and Tripura suggested that Judiciary, Law makers, Politicians, Security Forces, NGOs and other stakeholders must work together to deal with the menace of narcotics and human trafficking in the region.
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.
The South East Asia countries, in order to challenge countries from America, Europe and Britain, have come under one umbrella – ASEAN. However, the eight states of North East India have failed to follow suit in order to get the attention of the central government and to compete with the so called ‘Main Land India’. There have been various attempts to bring all the like-minded regional political parties together and the result of this is for all to see - a total disintegration of political parties from this region, hence, how do one expect all the states to come together to demand for a common cause?
The position of individual states also is not a rosy picture. The reservation policy, caste, creed and religion have fragmented the society into various denominations resulting in different conflicts and discords, directly affecting law and order, development and progress.
Within the states in this region, the Tribal and Non Tribal issues have resulted in a ‘brain drain’ and have degraded the standards of progress. One of the young leader here in Meghalaya, being a victim of customary system and governance asked if the fault lies on his ancestors who adopted the state in this region or if the fault lies with us after generations as we are not willing to go out having adopted this region since the mortal remains of their ancestor are rooted here.
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.
In the absence of a work culture and competitive spirit it is impossible to pave the way for a connectivity summit in all the Northeastern states to boost trade and economy of the region. Hence, all such Summit needs to also deliberate on how to tap into and develop the human resource of the region such that the people here are of a mindset that is more prepared to welcome investors with greater focus on physical infrastructure development either through PPP or fully funded by the Central Government, otherwise this regain will continue to remain a remote one for Main Land India. Hopefully NFNE can now give the much required starting torque for such inclusive and sustainable growth for the region.