Economic growth: A mirage so far

Skill development, innovation and entrepreneurship have been generally accepted as the key foundations for economic development of any society or nation. Even though these three elements are of paramount importance, they are not enough to bring economic development and growth on their own. Skill development, innovation and entrepreneurship can never be effective enough to bring or sustain economic development without investment and promotion by the State. This is where intervention and promotion by the State become indispensable. In line with the Central Government’s Make in India mission, the State Government conceptualised the idea of Make in Manipur some five/six years back. Make in Manipur initiative was followed by the StartUp Manipur campaign and then came the StandUp Manipur. All these initiatives or campaigns, whatever one wishes to call, are aimed at bringing economic development and growth in the economically backward Manipur. But how successful these initiatives and missions are demands a threadbare analysis and introspection. Make in India was launched by the Government of India on September 25, 2014 under which 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is permitted in all economic sectors with the exception of space industry, defence and media. Combined with other initiatives by the end of 2017, India rose 42 places on Ease of Doing Business index, 32 places on World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, and 19 notches in the Logistics Performance Index. The latest report says India’s rank in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index climbed 23 places to 77 among 190 countries surveyed. In lay men’s terms, the country is becoming more and more favourable for investment by foreign and multi-national companies. But one cannot say for sure if the same is true for the State of Manipur. Even a conclave was held at the State capital on Manipur Startup followed by another one a few years back.
The two conclaves, if anything, are unmistakable signs of the State Government’s vigorous push for Start-up Manipur. However, if anything concrete has been achieved out of the two conclaves is anybody’s guess. No doubt, innovative ideas are crucial for such a grand initiative. But ideas are not enough. It demands a slew of elements, the most fundamental being promotion of entrepreneurship by the State which entails a fair dose of political will. There must also be modern physical infrastructure, adequate investment and capacity building. Conducive atmosphere for investment and growth of entrepreneurship are other prerequisites. But many of these prerequisites are conspicuously either absent or inadequate in the State as of now.  In fact, we are hoping for a socio-economic revolution out of the Make in Manipur and Manipur Startup missions. It is not yet clear if the Make in Manipur has been totally abandoned or replaced by Manipur Startup. But the two initiatives should not be seen or treated as inter-changeable. The two must go side by side or concurrently if there should be rapid economic development in the State. Tourism and hospitality is one of the 25 sectors covered by Make in India initiative. It is painful to note that neither the Make in India initiative has brought any substantial change to the State’s tourism sector so far nor the State Government has done anything worthwhile to capitalise on the grand initiative to boost its tourism sector. As far as what was reported in media, the programme (StandUp Manipur) was intended to give soft loans to SC, ST, OBC and Minority entrepreneurs. Frankly we were hoping Stand-up Manipur could prove to be a launch pad for a robust entrepreneurship movement in the State but so far no such movement could be seen on the ground. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious setback to all these initiatives.