North East: Little change albeit promises galore

More often than not, many Central leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged that the Government of India is committed to bring rapid socio-economic development in the entire North East region. While inaugurating the Tuirial Hydropower Project in Mizoram on December 16, the Prime Minister promised that his Government will build a network of highways and roads in the region under the Bharatmala Project and this would make the region a key player in the country’s Act East Policy. Like Narendra Modi, many preceding Prime Ministers made similar grand promises. Many Prime Ministers have gone but things have changed very little on ground. This comment is not about being inordinately sceptic but it is informed by years of experience. Interestingly, the Prime Minister was also taking about the Ministry of DoNER as an agency of the Central Government which would address all the grievances of the North East Region. One may call it pessimism but it is hard to believe that a single ministry (DoNER) would be able to address all the myriad underdevelopment problems of the region with its budgetary allocation of just Rs 2524.42 crore (2016-17). Three years back in 2014, DoNER Minister Dr Jitendra Singh stated in the Lok Sabha that the Central Government was focusing on expeditious and time bound completion of major infrastructure projects of Rail, Road, Telecom, Inland Water Transport, Airports and Power in the North Eastern region. But after three years, the region’s infrastructure has seen little improvement. We are not questioning the commitment of the Government of India or for that matter the Prime Minister but something is amiss somewhere. Just compare the per capita power consumption of the North East region with the rest of the country. Per capita power consumption figure is one of the key elements for determining human development index of a particular state or region. This would clearly reveal the pathetic position of the North region in terms of power and other social infrastructure.
Yes, many development projects including construction and expansion of roads are being implemented across the region but they are too little and too late. For too long, the Government of India neglected the region and blamed the region’s underdevelopment on its geographical features such as land-lockedness, hilly terrain, remoteness etc. But the whole notion about the North East region underwent a dramatic change once New Delhi mandarins realized the necessity to engage with ASEAN countries economically and politically. Suddenly, the region’s highly disadvantageous location became a hotspot of opportunities. In another word, there was a disconnect in New Delhi’s policy with regard to the North East region, and this policy disconnect is largely responsible for the vast disparity between the region and other parts of the country. The Government of India is actively pursuing an Act East Policy and if viewed from this perspective, the DoNER Minister made no mistake when he said that the North East region has huge opportunities to emerge as major manufacturing, trading and logistic hub for trade with the ASEAN region or when the Prime Minister stated that the region would become a key player in the country’s Act East Policy. But the bitter truth is, a lot more needs to be done, that too expeditiously without bureaucratic or political hassles in order to tap the potential and opportunities provided by the region’s geographical location. Whatever claims or reports the Government of India and the respective State Governments made about the region’s economic and social infrastructure, the ground reality tells a very different story, and we don’t like the elected representatives to be misled by official statistics nor do we like the elected representatives to befool the mass based on official statistics.

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