A Region Rich In Resources And Poor Economically: Improving Effectiveness Of Institutional Infrastructure [Part-2]

By Dr Amrit Patel

Part 1

Indian Council of Agricultural Research: The ICAR Research Centre for NEH Region at Umiam was established in 1975 with six regional centres to improve and develop sustainable farming systems for different agro-climatic and socio-economic conditions of the region. It has undertaken significant researches which have yet to create impact on improving productivity, production and profitability of agriculture.

Processing Units: NER has Fruit Juice Concentration Plant at Nalkata; the Cashew Processing Unit at Agartala and Ginger Processing Plant at Byrnihat

Credit agencies: As on March 2011, Commercial Banks in NER had 1,255 branches

Local Bodies: NER has 7564 local bodies comprising 5106 gram Sabhas, 2023 village panchayats, 376 Block Councils, 47 Zilla Parishads, nine Autonomous District Councils [ADCs] and three Hill ADCs. While ADCs strive for preservation of tribal identity and heritage Village Councils act as administrator, justice provider and custodian of land and other resources. The Village Councils function in Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura. Nagaland and Tripura have utilized the importance of these institutions to large extent. The PRIs functioning in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, major parts of Assam and plain areas of Tripura act as development agent.

Budgetary Provision: The budgetary provision for the NER in Central Plan has steadily increased from Rs.3,211.00 crore in 1998-99 to Rs.21,772.22 crore in 2010-11.According to the Ministry of Development of NER, total Plan investments by the Centre and States of the NER had been of the order of Rs80,000 crore during the Tenth Plan through funding from various sources, including Central assistance provided to the States under their plans. These include project-based assistance under the State Plan, NLCPR, North Eastern Council [NEC] and the Central Ministries as well as Central Sector Schemes. According to DoNER, the Central Ministries/Departments (except the exempted Ministries/Departments) invested Rs35,186.30 crore from 1998–99 to 2005–06. During the Eleventh Plan the estimated investment was Rs2,11,613 crore whereas investment during the proposed Twelfth Plan is Rs5,05,499 crore and during first three years of the anticipated Thirteenth Plan is Rs612,779 crore. The actual plan outlay for the NER during the Eleventh Plan (2007-12) funded through all sources amounted to Rs.184,155 crore, excluding private sector investment. The utilization of the 10% mandatory earmarked funds by the Central Ministries has gone up in recent years. The projected requirement of NEC for the Twelfth Plan is Rs21,507 crore.

Demographic and Economic Scenario: Region’s 327.71 lakh rural population accounts for significantly higher at 84.34% than 72.20% in India. The potential work force (15-59 years) constituting 56.97% is almost at par with country’s 56.93%. However, it is the highest in Manipur (59.45%) followed by Sikkim (59.34%), Mizoram (59.09%), Tripura (58.96%), Nagaland (58.62%) and lower [56.63%] in Assam followed by Arunachal Pradesh (55.02%) and Meghalaya (52.90%) than in India.

According to Vision 2020 document of NER
• Per capita gross state domestic product in NER was Rs18,027 in 2004-05 that was less by 30.6% than all India average of Rs25,968
• Gross State Domestic Product of the region will have to increase at the rate of 11.8% and region’s per capita income at the rate of 10.5% per annum on an average to cope with all India level by 2020.

Poverty: The reduction of poverty in the NER during 1973-74 to 2004-05 was relatively better as it significantly declined from 51.9% to 19.1% as compared to 54.9% to 27.5% in India during the said period. According to Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program, in the North Eastern Region 7.90 million persons were below poverty line [BPL] in 2004-05 accounting for 2.82% of country’s 280 million below poverty line population and according to Planning Commission, BPL population in NER was 19.1% as against country’s 27.5%. However, in rural areas of the region, the BPL population was 22.3 % as compared to country’s 28.3% whereas in urban areas BPL population was significantly low at 3.3 % as against country’s 25.7 %. NER manifests significantly more rural poverty than urban. The agricultural labourers and self-employed in agriculture and in non-agriculture in rural areas are mostly poor.

Since agriculture provides livelihood support to 70 % of region’s population and cultivators [41.61%] and agricultural labourers [13.07%] together constitute the majority of the workforce in rural areas, factors contributing to poverty, inter alia, include
• The land has difficult problems of rugged terrain, inaccessibility in the hills, water stagnation and flood in about one third areas of the plains
• Higher concentration of poor among the Self-Employed in agriculture has impact on the poor performance of agriculture economy in six out of the eight NER states namely; Mizoram (93.1%), Manipur (77.3%), Sikkim (67.7%) Arunachal Pradesh (66.8%), Meghalaya (63.6%), Assam (33.6%),), Tripura (15.5%), and Nagaland (NA)
• The size of the majority of the farmers is tiny and lack  technical and managerial skill
• Traditional methods of cultivation using more land and labour that has made very little change in modernizing and commercializing agriculture over the years reflecting less area under assured irrigation (11%), less area under HYV seeds, least replacement rate of HYV seed, least application of modern farm implement and machineries, plough is most common farm implement.
• High acidity in the soil and less sunny hours inhibit crop growth.
• Inability to diversify production system for sustainable food security and commercial production.
• Productivity of food grains per unit of land is low except for Manipur and some pockets of Assam and Tripura.
• Access to formal credit is cumbersome and expensive.
• Grossly inadequate processing units to process and add value to surplus production of vegetables, fruits and spices.
• Subsistence mode of production aggravated by lack of enabling environment for growth.

Enabling Measures: Despite several efforts of the Union Government to develop the NER viz.
• Radical policy shifts
• Significant budgetary allocations and
• Institutional supports,
the region has high rural poverty and continues to be a net importer of food grains even for its own consumption. NER covers 7.7% of country’s geographical area but produces only 1.5 % of country’s food grains. The region is deficient in products mainly milk, meat and eggs even though livestock population is ubiquitous. It is estimated that there is a huge deficit of 87% in meat and 50 and above in milk, eggs and fish each. This, therefore, calls for enabling measures to significantly speed up the process of socio-economic development in NER that include, among others.
• Local bodies have necessarily to be involved right from beginning to plan, implement, monitor and review all development programs. Their role and functions need to be defined and supported by adequate finance and intensive training for capacity building.
• Access to educational institutions promoting skill development is a prerequisite for providing trained manpower. As per 1991 and 2001 census literacy rate of NER was 58.09% and 68.5% as against country’s 52.2% and 64.8% respectively.
• NEC and ICAR have been established in 1971 and 1975 respectively but their impact has yet to be felt in the region. They, therefore, need critical review to enable them to play expected role for which their role can be expanded.
• In Public-Private-Partnership mode location-specific processing units to support agriculture and allied activities; horticulture and vegetables; forest and bamboo etc.
• Investments till 2006-07 in Projects in sectors viz.
a. Transport and Communication
b. Water and Power
accounted for a lion share of 82.16% as against a fraction of 3.36% in Agriculture and Allied activities and 6.58% in Social and Community sectors. While former two sectors need expeditious implementation to yield expected results latter two sectors need focused attention and significant investment of 15% and 30% respectively in the Twelfth Plan.
• It is necessary to improve the effectiveness of the institutions to achieve the mandated objectives and targeted goals. They should be strengthened organizationally and financially, and provided with professionals in key areas. Existing personnel need training for capacity building. These institutions need to spread their wings in each State and should have a robust computerized Management Information System with effective monthly monitoring system to monitor physical and financial performance
• NEC can concentrate to have feasibility studies for exploiting the potential in agriculture; horticulture and vegetables; sericulture; organic farming; livestock, poultry and fish farming; forest and bamboo based products; handicrafts and handlooms etc., and formulate strategic action plan to achieve goals by the end of the Twelfth Plan as envisioned in Vision 2020 of NER.
• Credit agencies should be pro-active and make financial services available to farmers by establishing branches at strategic locations as also through technology applications. In a time bound program they can provide Kisan Credit Cards to all farmers and where necessary link with insurance companies to facilitate farmers access insurance products. They can design simple borrower-friendly lending policy, procedure, documentation and customized and flexible financial products that match needs of farmers in NER rather than one-fits-all for the country as a whole
• States must involve themselves much more in creating enabling environment that can facilitate institutions to perform their role vigorously and efficiently. There is no alternative to peoples’ participation, group action, forming SHGs of farmers, women, artisans and weavers, supported by an efficient input, technology, credit delivery and marketing system
• An independent professional body should be entrusted to conduct a comprehensive evaluation study every three years to assess the impact of these institutions on improving the specific areas for which they are established, identify the deficiencies and suggest remedial measures to achieve the targeted goals by 2020.

Conclusion: Let the year 2012-13 be fully devoted to create awareness among rural masses with regard to the role and functions of these institutions and identify critical areas of support they need from these institutions. This will help institutions reorient their role and ensure effectiveness to meet with people’s aspirations. Elected representatives irrespective of political affiliations in close coordination with individual States, in order to scientifically exploit the abundant resources available in NER aiming at alleviating rural poverty and enhancing the socio-economic development process, will have to show greater degree of concern and commitment to redouble their efforts to improve law and order situation in some areas building a strong political consensus.

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