Regional integrated approach needed

India’s Northeast has been fondly described by scholars as “rainbow country” and its people as “rainbow people” for its rich cultural heritage, and much attention has been focused on the region in the recent years.

It is widely recognised that the region is a highly resource-endowed region of 45 million people.

It is endowed with rich mineral resources such as petroleum, natural gas, coal, limestone, water, and forest resources, fertile soil, rich hydropower generation potential of 57,000 mw or 60 per cent of the country’s 84,000 mw.

On the reasons for the underdevelopment, one of the committees constituted by the Government of India succinctly observed: “The problems of development in the Northeast lie not in the lack of natural resources but in the large investments required for infrastructure development, the inadequacy of labour and necessary skill needing an extensive programme of man power development...”

Taking into consideration this recommendation, in October 1996, then prime minister H D Deve Gowda announced an economic package of Rs.6100 crore for specific projects in the Northeast.

This was followed by the creation of non-lapsable pool fund for the region and subsequently I K Gujral and A B Vajpayee extended bigger economic packages for the developmental projects.

Despite all these best efforts, the region continues to decelerate. Unemployment forced the youth of the region to go to other cities in search of education and employment.

To understand what ails the region, one should know that the Partition cut off the geo-politically isolated the region. It was left with over 4500 km of external frontier with Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh with a mere 22 km connection with Indian hinterland through the Siliguri corridor.

Thus, it has 99.5 per cent of its border with the neighbouring countries and a mere 0.5 per cent with the mainland India. The result is weakening of the market linkage of the region with the rest of the country and enormous increase in the cost of transportation.

Lack of infrastructure

The lack of physical infrastructure has been largely responsible for the sluggish growth of industries in the region despite abundance of natural resources and endless planning to modernise the economy.

Lack of infrastructure has hampered industrialisation. Except Assam, other states in the region don’t have any major industries. Growing unemployment is a great cause of concern in all the states.

The people of the region are culturally marginalised and at times have become politically irrelevant.

Out of 543 MPs in the Lok Sabha, the entire Northeast is represented by 25 members only! Unfortunately, most of the MPs hardly speak in Parliament and therefore the voice of the region is not heard much. 

A sense of alienation and deprivation is strongly felt in many parts of the region. 

Added to this, the epidemic of corruption and malgovernance made the region backward in many aspects.

One should understand that to transform the region from a political, economic and cultural hinterland into a vital zone of activities, it is not enough to build roads to India.

The region’s international borders would have to become spaces of cooperation instead of confrontation.

For this, India’s Look East Policy must have a full sense of ownership from the state governments as well as the people of the region.

The entire region has all along been facing various challenges in all round development. These challenges cut across the spheres of economy, society and polity and the region is caught in a vicious circle.

Assertions of identity often leading to insurgent movements have invariably had their roots in economic deprivation and, these in turn have acted as major impediments to development.

The way forward to meet the challenges is a massive financial assistance to develop the infrastructure at all levels, such as physical, social and administrative for unleashing growth dynamics in the region.

Revamping the education system from primary to higher education level and imparting the skill development and need-based courses is required to arrest massive exodus of students from the region to mainland India.

The ongoing peace process with different militant groups should be encouraged to find speedy resolution and maximum possible autonomy should be extended to the traditional political institutions. 

The time is propitious for conceptualising and implementing a regional, integrated approach for the economic well-being of all the people of the region. 

The need of the hour is inclusive growth and local area development as the best antidotes against unrest, violence and insurgency.

Will the new government at Delhi show its earnest attention to the troubled periphery and make it truly a rainbow country?


Related articles:

New voice of minorities

Northeast: India's troubled periphery

"Restrictive ideas won't work in the region"

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