Northeast is not the spoilt child of the centre, but neither are its own
people free of all blame for its backwardness
There are two very popular
and convenient views in New Delhi about the Northeast. First, the region
— comprising the seven states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram,
Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura — is the country’s
pampered child. And that the Centre has been pouring in disproportionate
amount of money into the region which is ultimately misused. The second
view holds that New Delhi alone is responsible for the economic backwardness
of the region, and that the Centre’s neglect of the Northeast is huge.
ISSUES: political instability and violence have made life tough
The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. The Northeast has, indeed,
suffered so much neglect and apathy in the past that it is next to impossible
to catch up with other parts of India. Therefore to put it, as Mizoram Governor
Amlok Ratan Kohli said at a recently-held seminar, that “the Northeast
is a spoilt child of the Centre,” is also a bit rich.
It is true that all the seven states in the region are granted a ‘special
category’ status by the government, which means they receive 90 percent
of Plan assistance as a grant, and just 10 percent as a loan, as against
the norm of 30 percent grant and 70 percent loan for other states. As the
first minister heading the department for Development of Northeastern Region
(doner), Arun Shourie was wont to remark: “Funds are never a problem.
Proper and timely utilisation of the allocated money is.”
And yet every state in the Northeast is facing bankruptcy. Consider some
Nothing illustrates best the neglect
of the Northeast than the figures of funds released by the All India Financial
Institutions. Out of the Rs 72,000-crore-plus sanctioned by these institutions,
Assam got a measly 221 crore, Nagaland received Rs 4 crore and the rest
of the states went without a single penny. All the states in the region
are today heavily in debt; Assam’s internal debt, in fact, stands
at a staggering Rs 10,000 crore. Another development indicator, the credit
deposit ratio of commercial banks for all the state’s in the region
at 26.9 is substantially lower than the all-India average of 62.3
years after Independence, six of the seven state capitals in the region
are not connected by rail.
- Itanagar, Kohima
and Shillong (all state capitals) do not have a proper airport even
- The entire Northeast
has to import essential goods worth nearly Rs 2,500 crore annually since
the states in the region have not modernised their agricultural practices.
- Nearly 55 percent
of India’s tea production, 60 percent of its plywood (till the
timber felling ban was imposed) and a substantial part of its oil is
produced in the region, but not even a tiny percentage of the profits
is re-invested here.
- Vital sectors
like education, health care and communication are still in the primitive
state in the region.
Who’s to blame for this? Not the Centre alone, surely. After all,
10 percent of each of the Central ministries’ budget is earmarked
for the development of Northeast. Where does the money go? In reality, the
isolation and backwardness of the region is as much to do with the Centre’s
failure to monitor funds utilisation as with the failure of local leadership
and the lack of initiative on the part of its own people.
August 07, 2004