Help North-East realise potential

The Northeastern states have unique geographical and strategic location. Except, perhaps, the Brahmaputra Valley in the upper Assam region, all other parts of the North-East like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and also a large part of lower Assam are land-locked. These states have international borders with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

What is not much publicised in the rest of the country is the enormous economic potentialities that the region is endowed with. The entire NE is rich with natural resources. It has fertile soils, sufficient rainfall, a salubrious climate, enormous mineral resources and precious forest wealth.

The Brahmaputra in the north and Barak in the south are major perennial rivers though they are not properly tamed and their waters are utilised for irrigation. The region has many opportunities in the manufacture of agro-based industries. There is extensive cultivation of fruits like pineapple, but such farm produce languishes for the lack of marketing facilities.

If only fruit processing units are started on modern lines, it will be a boon for the peasants pursuing horticulture. There is abundant bamboo available and paper manufacturing units can well prosper if such units are established.

There is now much talk of the efficacy of the medicinal and aromatics plants in the country. The trade in such plants is picking up at the global level. It is estimated that there are over 100 varieties of such precious aromatic plants which can easily command markets worldwide.

With governmental support, the cultivation, processing and export of such medicinal plants would prove to be a boon for the region. Cultivation of non-conventional crops like vanilla, jathropa, aloe vera etc, will be helpful as foreign exchange spinners. The region has great potential for the cultivation of sugar cane and the sugar industry will be able to provide considerable employment opportunity at the rural level. There is also immense potential for the development of sericulture and mulberry plantation in the region.

The handloom industry which is rich and exotic with its unique regional variations has  limited markets locally. There are not enough avenues for these products, that reflect the distinct cultural moorings of the people of the NE, to be sold in other parts of the country.

Utility oriented furniture
Making attractive and utility oriented furniture with cane in an aesthetic manner has been an age-old industry in the region. If only these articles could find way to other parts of the country, there will be a greater employment potential for those engaged in handloom weaving and the manufacturing of the cane furniture.

The opening of regular outlets in all the major cities and towns in the country for the sale of exquisite art and craft of NE is the need of the hour.

For the development of industry in the region, a major impediment has been the insufficient power supply. It is estimated that less than half of the needed power is supplied by the electricity boards.

There are no major power generating units as of now. Few gas – based power projects as well as mini –hydel projects if taken up, it will go a long way to ease the situation. Tapping non-conventional energy sources like solar and wind energy also is essential to provide the much-needed power for industrial as well as domestic needs.

Another major hurdle for the economic performance of the region has been the lack of all weather roads and also the transit facility. The existing railway lines are to be extended, modernised and upgraded. A dedicated road –cum-rail transit corridor through Bangladesh will remove all the existing hurdles in easy access to this region.

An important facet overlooked is its potential for tourism. The thick greenery, rich visitation and the great scenic beauty of the entire stretch is almost unknown to the rest of India.

It is time for the media also to project the positive side of the economic potentialities of the region to instill confidence among the possible investors in the North-Eastern India and thus help in its economic development. 

If a part of the response from the “Make in India” is earmarked for ‘Make Particularly in North-East India’, it will go a long way in the furtherance of the economic development of this region for, industrial growth  alone is the panacea for all the economic ills of NorthEastern region.

(The writer is former professor, University of Hyderabad)

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