Govt North East peace plan : Repealing AFSPA and building a digital trading network

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
As far as the North East region is concerned, no other Government in the past has focused on it as much as the Modi dispensation–whether it is taking political decisions or economic governance issues to foster development and growth. In these tiny States, resolving issues that affect economy and development have been relatively easier for the Government than to attempt long-pending political questions that agitate the minds of the masses.  
The Central Government’s latest initiative to help the small friendly neighbourhood traders take on the retail biggies like the Amazons and the Flipkarts – will include North East region to be serviced from its Shillong base, now under construction. Well, it is an open technology network for small traders in the works – a platform – where traders and consumers can connect, buy and sell products and services. This Government foray into the digital trading space, captured by the big online retail companies, promises to level the field for the small merchants now under the onslaught of the companies that benefit from economies of scale.
Now why does this initiative of the Central Government inspire confidence, that it may genuinely help the small retailers ? For the simple reason that it is an idea and the processes that are being pushed by former Union Minister and technocrat who was part of the team that founded Infosys, Nandan Nilekani, the man who developed and pushed the Aadhaar biometric ID system. Even though Prime Minister Modi was said to be opposed to the idea when he was the Chief Minister, soon realised its immense value to the Indian governance delivery mechanism that he pushed the system aggressively himself. Nilekani himself is sure that Open Network for Digital Commerce is an idea whose time has come and is considered just the right man to drive this initiative as he balances his thinking between encouraging digital public good and promoting capitalism driven components of the economy. His presence on the board of the council that will advise the Government on Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) is expected to lend that much credibility as this Government body set about changing the rules of the e-commerce game.
Now what this ONDC does is to help local commerce across different segments like mobility, grocery, food order and delivery, hotel bookings, travels and the like and give a chance to the petty traders and retail operators enough heft and importance to participate in the action on an even footing.  What this platform does is to help small traders and merchants achieve economies of scale, something that was being enjoyed by the big branded logistics companies till now.
More important, by its very nature and technology, it would support micro, small and medium enterprises and small traders and promises to create new opportunities, curb digital monopolies–and coming as a part of the initiative from the Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry – it has the right backing from the Centre to digitise the entire value chain, standardise operations, and derive efficiencies in logistics and give more value to consumers.
To begin with there will be four more hubs in addition to Shillong in the North East so that the small and medium traders across India can benefit from this initiative. This digital market place is but of the several other initiatives that strengthen the development and growth of the North East as a region. True other Governments too had contributed significantly to the development of North East, but visibly on the ground people express happiness over the fact that many projects initiated in the past got completed and commissioned only now. What the locals have noticed and welcome is the pace of completion of projects of different nature-railway line or opening an educational institution or employment generation activities.
It is not just on the economy and growth that the Government is pushing in the North East–but also taking the right and appropriate stance on various local issues, but of huge National importance. In this connection, the most recent Government willingness to reduce and eventually withdraw the hugely controversial Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA)—something that all the regions of the North East have been demanding for years.
Giving out hope on this issue, Prime Minister Modi said efforts were on to remove AFSPA completely as law and order situation has improved during the past eight years. It is apt that the Prime Minister made this promise when addressing a rally at Diphu in Assam and said, “As “the (law and order) situation improved with 75 per cent decrease in violence in the region, there have been changes in the imposition of laws.
The AFSPA was first revoked in Tripura and then in Meghalaya. Due to the proper control of the situation in the last eight years, the AFSPA has been removed from most parts of the State. We are trying to withdraw it from the remaining parts too. The Act is applicable in some areas of Nagaland and Manipur, and we are working speedily to revoke it completely.”
North East watchers will vouch for this improvement in the ground situation. Also the Modi Government’s peace initiatives, by entering into peace agreements in Assam’s Karbi Anglong and in Tripura, are beginning to make a difference–with people respecting the decision making process, and also the decisions that would pave the way for permanent return of peace in the entire region.
 True, there will be several other key political issues that still remain to be settled, but so far the law and order situation has improved so much that the Centre is indicating removal of the AFSPA from many places in the North East. This is what helped the Government first remove AFSPA from Tripura and then Meghalaya. In Assam, the AFSPA has been in force for three decades as all the Governments have been extending it.
The Modi Government has lifted AFSPA from 23 districts. Chances are that it could be lifted from Nagaland and Manipur as well.
 Demand for the repeal of this law that gives powers to the armed forces to arrest without warrants, and even shoot to kill in disturbed areas has been there for several years, but recently it got more vociferous after 14 civilians were killed in a botched up security ambush in Nagaland’s Mon district.

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer and Hindustan Times.  He can be reached on [email protected] and Twitter handle @kvlakshman