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Northeast's Growth Potential (1 August 2020)

Northeast's Growth Potential (1 August 2020)

Why in News:

Northeast has the potential to become India’s growth engine, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 23 while asserting that peace has now been established in the region.

Context:Northeast India - Wikipedia

Speaking after laying the foundation stone for the Manipur Water Supply Project , through video conferencing, the Prime Minister highlighted that modern infrastructure is being built to improve connectivity. India’s Northeast, in a way, is the gateway to our ancient cultural relationships with East Asia and the future of trade, travel and tourism.    

Background:   

India’s North Eastern Region stretches from the foothills of the Himalayas in the eastern range and is surrounded by Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal and Myanmar. It includes the seven sisters – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, along with a small and beautiful cousin in the Himalayan fringes, namely, Sikkim.      

Summary of the Debate

Importance of the Northeast region:

  • The previous and current Indian government has continuously emphasised the importance of Look East Policy. So, this region has lot of potential for growth in itself as well as being a vehicle for connections with rest of Southeast Asian territory, which is very important from strategic and political point of view.
  • There is huge potential for development of this region because this is one of the mega diverse biodiversity spots in the world.
  • This is amongst the most heavily forested areas of the country.
  • The social and educational attainment levels of people in this region are very high compared to the rest of the country. Their status of women and child welfare is extremely high.
  • It is the gateway to our ancient cultural relationships with East Asia and the future of trade, travel and tourism.
  • It has the potential to replace India’s bamboo import with local production.
  • Connectivity of Northeast will strengthen our social and trade relations with Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, while also strengthening India’s Act East Policy.
  • The region is covered by the mighty Brahmaputra-Barak river systems and their tributaries providing great opportunity for hydroelectricity, irrigation etc.

Challenges that are currently being faced:

  • They lack employment opportunities.
  • They lack geographical connectivity with rest of the country.
  • They had lost the sense of political power after partition.
  • The private sector and the industrial investment are very low here.
  • The younger generation of this region is much more exposed to the rest of the world, their educational attainment levels are better because large number of them have been studying outside so they have different kinds of expectations from society unlike their previous generations.
  • Lack of quality education has been a major cause for out migration of the students from this region.
  • The conflicts in the past have blocked the investment and the potential of the region.

Steps taken by the Government:

  • It was in 1996, when the Central Government announcements of "New initiatives for the North Eastern Region" included a number of measures for the development of North Eastern Region.
  • Since 1999 most of the Ministries/ Departments of Government of India are earmarking at least 10% of their annual budget, less allocation for externally aided schemes and local or event specific schemes /projects for expenditure in the North Eastern Region.
  • There are 52 non-exempted Ministries / Departments at present, which earmark funds for the NER.
  • Under the National Bamboo Mission major investments are being invested for bamboo farmers, artists associated with handicrafts and other facilities. This will benefit the youth of the region and the start-ups.
  • Many institutes are now being built in the region for health, education, skill development, start-ups and other training.
  • With the formation of sports universities and world-class stadiums, Manipur is becoming a major hub for the country’s sports talent.
  • Modern infrastructure is being built in the Northeast emphasising that connectivity in the region is important, not for only ease of living, but also for achieving the goal for self-reliant India.
  • Efforts have been made to connect the four capitals of the Northeastern states, 2 lanes to the district headquarters and all-weather road to the villages.

                          Sunrise states(north-east India)

Way Forward:

  • To give enough opportunities to younger generations for growth and give them as much help as possible, which will help to bring normalcy to the region and getting the entire region integrated with the rest of the country.
  • But it is not enough to rely on younger generation only on the basis of their integration, it is necessary to keep them engaged profitably and positively by giving them enough employment opportunities.
  • The government has to look at possible areas to invest in this region.
  • There is adequate opportunity in terms of natural resource based growth. It is time to look at natural resources which this region offers in abundance, for example Bamboo is one particular material which can be used not only for making furniture but also for making bio fuels and sustainable bio fuel is one of the sunrise industries.
  • The government must need to keep the politics in this region stable, balanced and appropriate.
  • We must have a proper water management and flood management policy in this region.
  • It is also important to take care of ecological aspects of the unique features of this region.
  • There is not only need to see the physical aspects but it is also need to think about the service based sectors where the region has high potential, for example; this region also has higher proportion of people who can speak comparatively better English than many other parts of the country. So, their English speaking skill can be used for service based activities which includes BPOs and KPOs as well as we can have IT based activities in this region.  

Important points made by the Guests

R. R. Rashmi, Former Chief Secretary, Manipur

  • Historically Northeast region is amongst the most recent geographical territories which have become part of general Indian polity. They have huge expectations from the rest of India and it is in this area we have been lacking.
  • There has been a general neglect of the northeast from political, social and cultural point of view and this is the deficit which we have to work out.
  • The biggest problem of the Northeast region is that it has lost its connectivity with rest of the country after partition and this has led to the deepening of identity crisis of this region.
  • There is a vestige of British colonial occupation which has given rise to several ethnic identities and they have accentuated these identity differentiations and partition further accentuated that, so created a loss of identity as well as loss of geographic linkage with rest of the country.
  • To a large extent the peace and normalcy are returning to the region.
  • This region has been highly troubled in the last four or five decades but fortunately the level of conflict is coming down. It’s not only because of security actions, the region is strategic in nature and there are number of factors at play here both internal as well as external.
  • But there is a positive environment in the North-eastern region, the peace is returning to the region and the opportunity and environment for investment is improving.

Indraneel Bhowmik, Associate Professor, University of Tripura

  • In 2005, we had the Northeast vision 2020. This document came up identifying lacunae of the region faced at that period of time and also there was an extensive exercise in identifying the potential rate of growth as well as the potential sectors where we could focus upon to ensure that the region and the states reach the national average.
  • But it’s 2020 now and we still find there is substantial gap between the major states and the levels of economic development attained by the North-eastern states.
  • The transaction cost in the Northeast region is much higher for the investors if we compare with other regions and this transaction cost includes some non-economic elements also.
  • From the policy perspective the focus on the East Asian countries have increased more with the improved relation with Bangladesh.
  • When we talk about the North-eastern region we cannot do away with Bangladesh, because the North-eastern region is the North-eastern region because of strategic relation of Bangladesh. The better relation we have with Bangladesh in terms of foreign policy in terms of cultural exchange, in terms of social linkage and the economic impact on the region is more.
  • Having a good relation with the Bangladesh in the last 10 years have helped in giving us an idea that North-eastern region can reach its potential provided the security aspect is taken care of, which indirectly is going to reduce the transaction cost which has been a deterrent towards industrial development.

Gautam Sen, Former Advisor, Govt. of Nagaland

  • Its agro-based and the forest cover is quite large so keeping how to develop these elements at the same time focus on the people getting into the act of development deriving the socio-economic benefits and opportunities.
  • We have to look beyond the inner line permit without disturbing the ethnic and socio-cultural identity of the Northeast.
  • We should have an integrated approach and look beyond and concentrate on the specialities of the region for the development of the people of Northeast.
  • It is necessary to see the strong points of the region like strengthening the preservation of ecology and the ethnic aspirations of the people should not be disturbed in any way.

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