Rajya Sabha TV Policy Watch – Empowering NEC
Government of India has approved the plan to reposition and further empower the North Eastern Council. The NEC is a statutory body with eight North eastern states as its members. It was established in 1971 to ensure balanced and coordinated development of North Eastern states. The new decision to appoint Home Minister as its chairman is expected to provide a forum to discuss inter-state matters more comprehensively.
- The North Eastern Council was constituted as a statutory advisory body by NEC Act 1971 at Shillong. Its member states are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim (added in year 2002).
- It is represented by Chief Ministers and Governors of the respective state members and, functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
- The initial statutory body was sanctioned as a regional planning body in 2002 to look at economic and social planning of these states and mediate inter-state disputes.
- The funding of the Council is done by both Central and State Governments. An annual budget of over Rs2500 crores from Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources was issued in year 2017. The financial resources have been spent in transport and communications, agriculture, human resources development and education, power, health, tourism, etc.
- Non-Lapsable fund means the unused funds in a financial year will be carry forward to the next financial year. It is required for North-eastern states due to their poor absorptive capacity because of difficult terrain and many internal security issues.
- The Home Minister becoming NEC’s chairman is crucial as he is the second-most important minister next to the Prime Minister in Union Government system. Also, being the in-charge of internal security, it is likely to address security issues in North Eastern states that border countries like China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar more comprehensively.
- Since the Look East Policy initiative, there have been efforts to linking North Eastern states with the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and benefit from it. Initiated in 1991, Look East Policy is an effort to build economic and strategic relations with Southeast Asian nations to stand as a regional power. It is an effort to counter-weight the strategic influence of China. The recent Act East Policy is an extension to it.
- There are many connectivity projects of road, rail and waterways between North eastern states and the neighboring nations and beyond also. They are possible only if Northeastern states are focused Examples: Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, Trans Asian Highway, Asian Highway Network, etc.
The Northeastern states face developmental issues due to their geographical location, difficult terrain and security issues. So, councils like NEC need to play their role in connecting them to mainland India and outer world in better ways. They have resources needed for development but, efforts are needed to improve infrastructure and marketing institutions for these states.