By Dr Amrit Patel:
Acknowledging the significance of traditional system of self-governance and social customs of livelihood in North Eastern Region [NER], Government of India, after independence, initiated policy to accelerate the process of socio-economic development in many parts of the Region. Government recognizing the demand for autonomy of the relatively more backward areas created initially six States [Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura] within the NER and subsequently added two more viz. Nagaland and Sikkim. This article briefly highlights the existence of abundant resources of the region and stark poverty in rural areas side by side and suggests the need to improve the effectiveness of institutional infrastructure the Government of India has put in place from time to time to accelerate the socio-economic development and growth of the region.
Natural Resources: The NER is richly endowed with natural resources, viz. Agro-forestry accounts for 26 % of the forest cover of India, largest producer of bamboo, world’s single largest tea growing region (16% share), largest producer (55% share) and exporter of tea in India, producer of premium quality Jute and silk, horticulture and herbal resources. It is rich in flora and fauna and is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. The torrential Brahmaputra deposits its rich alluvial silt along the banks of the plains of Assam. Despite abundant natural resources and better education levels NER is one of the least developed – economically and industrially – regions in India. Per capita income in NER as a whole is amongst the least in the country.
With the establishment of the North Eastern Council [NEC] in 1971 by an Act of Parliament the policy, programs and strategies have been adopted for infrastructure
improvement and creation of basic minimum services in the region. With the implementation of Economic Reforms in 1990s, more importantly from the commencement of the Eighth Five Year Plan in 1992, the process of socio-economic development acquired added dimension.
New Initiatives: Government of India prioritized the economic development of the region from the Eighth Plan period onwards. In October 1996, the Government’s ‘New Initiatives for the North Eastern Region’ included, inter alia, specific measures for the development of the NER emphasizing planning and implementation of special programs for geographical area development and projects for the development of key sectors of the region’s economy accompanied by policy changes to suit the needs of the region with a radical departure from the policy pursued for the country as a whole, viz.
• To make financial resources available for the region’s development, a policy initiative to earmark at least 10% of the Plan Budgets of the Central ministries/departments
• The Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) created in 1997–98 to permit the accrual of the unspent balance of the mandatory 10% budgetary allocation of the Ministries/Department. The policy of NLCPR aimed at ensuring the speedy development of infrastructure to bridge the existing infrastructural gaps (economic and social) in the region through uninterrupted flow of funds available from the pool.
• Recognizing the need for significant levels of government investment and different types of requirements of the region, the States of the region have been categorized as Special Category States and Central Plan assistance to these States is provided on liberalized terms. For the Special Category States of NER, the per capita level of Central assistance is among the highest in the country. The per capita Central assistance, in the NER was Rs.2574.98 as compared to country’s Rs.683.94 in 2006–07. Central Assistance as a percentage of Gross State Domestic Product of Special Category States had been considerably high as compared to Non-special Category States during the Tenth Plan period.
• The Central Government has also been announcing special packages for socio-economic development of the NER from time to time. Priority funding (both in the Central plan and State Plan) is being arranged from time to time for expeditious implementation of these packages. Besides, NER implemented Government’s anti-poverty program of Integrated Rural Development from 1978 to 1999 and Swarnjayanti Gram Rozgar Yojana from 1999 to 2011 and now National Rural Livelihood program to alleviate rural poverty and since 2006 implementing Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to secure guaranteed employment of 100 days in a year.
Institutional Support: To accelerate the pace of development in NER institutions have been established from time to time viz. North Eastern Council; North East Development Finance; North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited; North East Handicrafts and Handloom Development Corporation, Indian Council of Agricultural Research Centre, among others.
Ministry of Development of NER: The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) was set up in 2001 to coordinate and give impetus to the Centre’s development efforts for socio-economic development of the region. DoNER now operates NLCPR which earlier the Planning Commission was operating. DoNER is responsible for coordination, planning, execution and monitoring of the developmental schemes and projects in NER. While DoNER is to coordinate with various Ministries/Departments primarily concerned with development and welfare activities in NER, the respective Ministries/Departments are responsible in respect of subjects allocated to them.
North Eastern Council: The NEC was established under the NEC Act, 1971 to act as an advisory and the Regional Planning body in respect of socioeconomic development and balanced development of the seven States of the NER in which the State of Sikkim was included in 2002, Sikkim. The functions of NEC, among others, include formulating regional plans and recommending the mode of implementation, monitoring the progress of project implementation and recommending to the Central Government the quantum of financial assistance to be given to the States. The function of NEC was to have been an effective regional planning body which will act as a bridge between the State’s priorities and the regional perspectives and ensure well-orchestrated investments of States and Central resources within a common regional perspective.
The NEC, since its inception, has invested Rs7182.61 crore till the end of the Tenth Plan [1972-73 to 2006-07]. Investments made in sectors include
• Rs.3315.32 crore in Transport and Communication
• Rs.2586.27 crore in Water and Power
• Rs.472.85 crore in Social and Community Services
• Rs.393.15 crore in Mapower Development
• Rs.241.53 crore in Agriculture and Allied Activities
• Rs.110.36 crore in Industry and Mining
• Rs.48.07 crore in General Services and
• Rs.15.06 crore in Externally Aided Projects.
North East Development Finance: NEDFi conducts feasibility studies of economic development projects involving agriculture, horticulture etc., training programs for capacity building of artisans, provides marketing support to rural artisans. It has established Business Facilitation Centre [BFC] in Aizwal in November 2011 to accelerate the pace of industrial development of the region. The BFC will assist, guide and mentor potential entrepreneurs in the MSE sector.
North Eastern Handicrafts and Handlooms Development Corporation: The Corporation is expected to
• Organize seminars and workshops to create awareness, provide training to the artisans and weavers for capacity building
• Design and Technical development workshops
• Integrated Design and Technical Development Projects
• Common facility centre for processing bamboo
• Set up handloom production unit to strengthen the common facility centre and provide training facility to tribal women weavers
• Provide marketing support through procurement of handicraft and handloom products directly from the artisans, weavers, SHGs at clusters and selling them through its emporia located at various metropolitan centres in India. It also helps artisans and weavers to sell products directly through North East Trade Expo, Crafts Fairs, Exhibitions etc. held in various parts of the country.
North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Ltd: NERMAC is engaged in capacity building of producers as sellers and markets farm products adding value to products. It assists to source, procure, and market cash crops and fruits from farmers of NER. It supports farmers in production and post-harvest technology to arrest decline in the prices arising out of larger output. It procures processed products from registered units in NER and supplies through its own outlets and other buyers to end-users. Its thrust area is to procure a variety of products from NER and market them inside and outside NER. Also, it markets seeds, planting materials and fertilizers. It has tie-up arrangement with National Horticultural Mission and National Food Security Mission for procurement and supply. In collaboration with Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Ministry of Development of NER, NEC American Soybean Association, Indian Institute of Packaging, etc. it has been conducting a number of programs, seminars, workshops, training on agricultural marketing, creating awareness, capacity building, investors’ meets etc. Under PPP mode it has set up vermin compost plant utilizing Agro-horticultural waste in Guwahati.