By Nishant Chhinkwani:
Retired General Vijay Kumar Singh has had the misfortune of being in the news for all the wrong reasons. Apart from being the first commando to be promoted to the rank of General and serving as the 24th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, he also holds the dubious distinction of being the first serving Indian military chief to take the Government of India to court. As Minister of State (independent charge) for North East Region (his other portfolio being Minister of State for External Affairs), he has his task cut out to bring the North East at par with other regions. Here are a few areas where the retired General would have to prove his mettle in.
- Transport Infrastructure in the North East Region is in an abysmal state, even when compared to most of the rest of India. Assam is the only state with a decent rail network. Setting up rail tracks in the difficult terrain is a strenuous exercise. Air service in the region is also extremely limited. Hence, roadways are of paramount importance when it comes to connectivity. More roads, better roads, could be the mantra when it comes to transport infrastructural development.
- The industrial economy of North East Region has largely been subdued despite the immense potential it holds. Agro based industries suited to the flora in North East can give the region the necessary facelift. The oil and gas reserves in the region remain largely untapped till date.
- As generic as it sounds, the North East region is one of the most beautiful places in the country and the tourism industry could really take off in the region. If handled properly, it could well become the biggest money spinner for the cash strapped region.
- Despite having a high literacy rate, North East Region (NER) states experience high rates of unemployment and disguised unemployment. Consequently, there is an exodus of the indigenous to states with better employment prospects. Infrastructure, agro industries along with oil and gas and hydel power electricity generation projects would go a long way in remedying the curse of unemployment.
- Interestingly, despite having high literacy rate, the healthcare in NER is in a deplorable state. There are not enough medical institutions and infant mortality rate is mortifyingly high. Healthcare has to be one of the first issues that have to be taken care of. Pronto.
- The NER has produced sportspersons of the highest caliber who have represented the country at an international level for a long time now. However, the infrastructure for the development of sports still lies in shambles. Special emphasis has to be given on the development of Olympic sports in the region.
- NER comprises of more than 220 ethnic groups and 440 languages. This sort of cultural diversity concentrated in a small geographic area is a wonderful thing. Preservation of the same along with harmony between the groups has to be a long term objective.
- Â Being a former General and Chief of Army Staff on the Indian Army, this may seem like a bitter pill to swallow, but one that is absolutely necessary- Repealing the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). The law is draconian to say the least, and there have been disturbing tales of the misuse of the Act. Irom Sharmila’s silence is perhaps the loudest voice against the AFSPA. For any region to grow and prosper, human rights cannot be compromised on and this fact has to be kept in mind.
- The issue of illegal immigration, especially from Bangladesh, continues to be a thorn to the side of the NER. This has to be dealt with firmly and quickly so as to avoid the communal violence that had escalated in the region just a few months ago.
- Last, but not the least, the racial attacks on the people of the NER in Delhi and Bangalore has further deepened their mistrust of the people from the mainland. There has to be a clear stand on the emphasis on inclusiveness and equality for the people of the NER and the Minister of State has to ensure that happens.
Because, despite the risk of a five year imprisonment, ‘Chinki’ is a word that is still thrown around an awful lot with a lot of impunity.