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SANSAD TV: PERSPECTIVE- NORTH EAST INFRA IN FOCUS

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Introduction:

The Northeast region of India comprises eight states- Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim. According to 2011 census this 3.78% of country’s population resides in this region. It also comprises approx. 7.98% of country’s area including 5,483 Km of India’s international borders. These eight states also constitute 3.37% of country’s total agriculture land holding and 34.5% of the total bamboo bearing area in the country. Challenges being faced by the North Eastern Region have been assessed through various studies and reports submitted by different Committees, Commissions, Task Forces etc. appointed from time to time. These assessments have broadly identified various measures to bridge the infrastructural gaps and remove the backlog in basic minimum services in North Eastern States that include connecting North-East with rest of India and world through rail, road, water and air connectivity, opening new trade and business opportunities by improving the banking sector and giving incentive to Industry sector etc. Several initiatives have been undertaken by the Centre Government to develop North Eastern Region holistically for improving basic infrastructure and providing road, rail, water, telecom and air connectivity in the region.

Challenges related to the development:

  • Geographical Challenges:
    • Very high rainfall, shifting river courses, poor drainage system and narrow valleys are regularly causing severe floods, erosion, landslides and sand deposition in the North East causing loss of huge areas of valuable agricultural land.
    • Hilly, inaccessible and undulating terrain has led to underdeveloped transport links.
    • Large area of land is under ‘Jhum cultivation’ which leads to large scale deforestation resulting in soil erosion and loss of soil fertility.
  • Disaster Proneness of North East:
    • High rainfall and large river basins of the Brahmaputra and the Barak along with their narrow valleys regularly cause severe floods, erosion, landslides and sand deposition leading to loss of huge areas of valuable agricultural land and thereby reduction of the average size of land holdings in the region.
    • The region is highly prone to Earthquakes and post the great earthquake of intensity of 8.5 in Richter scale of 1950 in Assam, flood and erosion have increased in the state and till date about5000-6000sq.km of land has been lost due to erosion by rivers. This has made lakhs of people landless and homeless in the state.
  • Historical Challenges:
    • Despite the above mentioned challenges, the North-eastern region was at par with rest of the country at independence but post-independence events have retarded the development of the region.
    • Partition of the country: When the major road, rail and river routes connecting North East to the rest of the country suddenly got snapped.
    • The Bangladesh Liberation was of 1971: When crores of people from Bangladesh entered some states of North East as refugees which changed the demographic situation in some state of North-East bordering Bangladesh.
    • Insurgencies: From the end of the seventies of the last century problems of insurgency started in states like Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur, Insurgency affected the present day Nagaland and Mizoram in the fifties and sixties of the last century. Now, of course, due to various actions taken by the Central and State governments, insurgency in this region is no longer a matter of great concern.
  • Infrastructural Factors:
    • NER has about 6 per cent of the national roads and about 13 percent of the national highways. However, their quality is not good due to poor maintenance.
    • The prominent indicators of shortfalls in infrastructure in this region are: increasingly congested roads, power failures, shortage of drinking water etc.
  • Political challenges:
    • Chinese Aggression on Arunachal Pradesh (called NEFA at that time) in 1962, apparently refrain large scale investment from private player in North East.
    • Large scale Migration from Bangladesh led to various socio-economic- political problem
    • The culture of ‘bandhs’ is peculiar problem of NER, widely prevalent in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.
    • Three fourth of NER have no proper land records and Individual ownership of land is not well established
  • Social Challenges:
    • Remarkable growth of migration from the North East to different parts of the country mostly in search of education and job opportunities gives big blow to the local society.
    • Drug abuse is a serious problem among youth of North east with more than 30% of its youth being drug abusers.
    • The pandemic of HIV/AIDS, spreading fast in Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram, is also a matter of grave concern.
    • Migration from surrounding areas of NERs (Bangladesh and states of Bihar and Bengal) reduced the average size of land holding to about one hectare.
  • Lack of Social Infrastructure:
    • Inadequate number of polytechnics and higher institutions for engineering, medical and nursing studies etc.
    • Teachers’ Training is poor thereby leading to poor standards of education

Impacts of Infrastructure projects in NE India:

  • Political:
    • Strategic Importance: north-eastern states provide an important gateway to both China and the Southeast Asian states, these corridor projects will be crucial for India’s economic and strategic relationship with these countries.
    • Boost to India’s Act East Policy: better co-ordination with the south East Asian nations.
    • Regional Development: These corridor-based development projects may generate further economic activities and regional development, which in turn will influence economic growth through higher production and consumption
  • Economic:
    • Increases Connectivity: Not only is the region poorly connected to the rest of India, it is also poorly connected to neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. However, this could change.
    • Boosts Trade: Increased road density, because of these corridors, would lead to both greater freight volumes as well as greater gross domestic product growth in the states. They estimate the EWC itself will increase freight volumes by up to 90% in the states that are part of the corridor.
    • Encourages Investment: with better infrastructure, FDI and local investments increase leading to better economic opportunities.
  • Social:
    • Increase Socio-economic growth: A new study suggests that the completion of current and proposed infrastructure projects in the north-east could herald greater economic growth for the region and increase its geopolitical importance.
    • Strengthens Human Development: With better connectivity, there will be an emphasis on social sectors like education, healthcare leading to better human development indicators.

Recent Steps taken for Development

  • North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme(NESIDS)launched by Centre in Dec2017 to fill the gaps in creation of infrastructures in two sectors
  • One is physical infrastructure relating to water supply, power, connectivity and especially projects promoting tourism.
  • The other is social sector projects of education and health. The remarkable feature of this scheme is that this is a 100 per cent centrally funded scheme as against the NLCPR, where 10 per cent contribution had to come from the State Governments
  • National projects such as the East–West Corridor (EWC), which runs from Porbandar in Gujarat to Silchar in Assam.
  • International projects such as the Trilateral Highway connecting Manipur to Thailand via Myanmar, the Bangladesh–China–India– Myanmar Economic Corridor, and the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, that comprises a sea route for shipping cargo from ports in eastern India to Myanmar, as well as a land route to the country from the North-East.
  • Tuirial Hydro-power project is the first major Central Sector projects to be successfully commissioned in Mizoram to boost the socio-economic development of the State. With this, Mizoram becomes the third power-surplus State in NER after Sikkim, and Tripura.
  • Relaxation of restrictive regulatory regime of Bamboo: Given its importance in livelihood of NorthEast there will be no more requirement of any permit for producing, transporting and selling Bamboo products. This will benefit lakhs of farmers and will add to the efforts to doubling farmers’ income by2022.
  • In the latest budget (2018-19), the Government has allocated funds for revival of 50 airports and improving aviation infrastructure.

Way Forward: 

A six-fold strategy for the comprehensive development of the region has been proposed-

  • Empowering people by maximizing self-governance and participatory development through grass-root planning to promote inclusive development.
  • Creation of development opportunities for the rural areas through enhancing productivity in agriculture and allied activities such as animal husbandry, horticulture, floriculture, fisheries and generation of livelihood options through rural non- farm employment.
  • To develop sectors in the region having a comparative advantage such as agro-processing, Hydro-power generation.
  • Enhancing the skills and competencies of the people and building the capacities for institutions with the Government and outside.
  • Creating a hospitable investment climate to encourage investment by the private sector particularly for infrastructure.
  • Harnessing the resources of the Government and the private sector to realize the objectives of the Vision.

Conclusion:

Innovation, Initiatives, Ideas and Implementation–all the four needs to go together. Inclusive growth is possible through improved governance, doing away with the draconian laws and ensuring the local communities are empowered to implement basic services. For this, all the stakeholders need to formulate a comprehensive realistic plan for the overall development of North East.