By Sanchet Barua
The Planning Commission has formulated a new development plan for the Northeast with an outlay of Rs. 68,592 crore to be spent over the next three years. The major hurdles for development of this strategic region are lack of infrastructure, corruption and most importantly insurgency.
The Northeast India comprises of eight contiguous states of highly undulating hilly terrains, covering 263,179 sq km which is about 8 per cent of the total geographical area of the country. The region is one of the landlocked regions of South Asia. About 4500 km i.e. 98 per cent of its border is with five different countries of South Asia-Nepal, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. No other region of the Indian union share common border with so many different countries connecting with the heartland through the tenuous 22 km Siliguri corridor.
The region is the home of extraordinarily diverse mosaic of ethnic groups having distinctive social, cultural and economic identity, more akin to their South Asia neighbours than main land India. The total population of the region is about 38 million, 3.8 per cent of the country’s total population, of which Assam contributes 68 per cent of the total population. Assam recorded the highest density of population with 340 per sq. km., which is also higher than the national average of 313 per sq. km., followed by Tripura with 305 per sq. km. Otherwise, the region is sparsely populated with an overall density of population of 149 per sq. km.
The decennial growth rate recorded in most of the states during the previous decade is higher than the national level of 21.54 per cent. Nagaland recorded the highest growth rate (64.46 per cent), also highest among the states of the Indian union, followed by Sikkim (33.25 per cent) and Meghalaya (30.65 per cent). Only Tripura (16.03 per cent per cent) and Assam (18.92 per cent), two of the most populated states, have recorded lower growth rate than all India level.
The region is richly endowed with bio-diversity, hydro-potential, minerals like oil and natural gas, coal, limestone, dolomite, graphite, quartzite, sillimonite etc. and forest wealth. Over 10 per cent of forest products requirement in the country are met from this region only. The region has a very high potential to generate hydropower i.e. about 80 per cent of the total hydropower potential in the country. Arunachal Pradesh alone is expected to generate 2,67,474 MW i.e. 30 per cent of the total available in the country.
With varied geo-climatic condition, the region is ideally suited for horticulture, floriculture and other plantation crops. A variety of fruits like pineapples, banana, orange, lemon, mango, papaya etc. grow abundantly in the region. The region is famous for most number of orchid varieties in the country. Tea is the major plantation crop grown in the region and is the largest producer in the country contributing over 95 per cent of the total production.
The region is grossly deficient of infrastructure to tap the available resources and push the economy forward. An examination of the infrastructure index-a composite profile of the availability of physical, social and institutional infrastructure available in the states revealed that all the states of the region are at the lowest rung of the infrastructure index ladder. It shows that the level of infrastructural development in the region is almost negligible.
In terms of human development index — a composite index capturing the three dimensions of human development viz. economic, education and health-the region have done reasonably well than most of the states of Indian union. Among the eight states, Assam ranked the lowest, which has been placed in lower middle category and Mizoram in high category while rest of the states are either in high middle or middle category. The success of these states in this regard is mainly induced by the education sector. Apart from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya the literacy rate in the remaining states are higher than the national average.
The economy of the region primarily depends on agriculture sector contributing over 40 per cent of the income and employ about 70 per cent of the total working population. Although NSDP share of agriculture sector has declined to about 30 per cent, the number of population dependent upon this sector continued to remain high even in the post globalization period. The industrial sector in the region continued to be in pathetic condition. Industrially the region is one of the most backward regions in India. Only Assam, and to some extent Meghalaya, have moved ahead of the rest of the states in terms of industrial development whose industrialization centred on tea, oil and timber. The higher growth rate of NSDP experienced in some of the states is not commensurate with the growth rate of per capita income. The per capita income growth rates of all the states, baring Tripura, falls below the national level. While Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Nagaland have worsened, the performance of Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura seem to be relatively better than the previous decade. The lower growth rate of per capita income experienced may be attributed to high growth rate of population, particularly poorer section of the society.
In the absence of major industrial establishment and other employment opportunities in the region unemployment rate, particularly urban educated youths, is not only high but also increasing rapidly.
The percentage of population living below the poverty line in the region continued to remain high. Only Mizoram seems to have done exceptionally well in poverty eradication where the percentage has declined from 36 per cent in 1983 to 19.47 per cent. In the remaining states there is only a marginal decline in poverty ratio.
Assam has the lowest per capita per month consumption expenditure followed by Manipur and Sikkim. These three states are even lower than the national level.
An overall scenario of the region in the post globalization period is not very impressive as in the case of other region of the Indian union. This may be attributed to the prevailing geo-political condition in the region and attitude of the central government in tackling the issues of the region The unattended issues and problems of the past are being accumulated, multi-layered and have become multifarious. Over and above, the mounting pressures of emerging challenges of rapid transformation need to be countered. The clock is ticking fast and situation in the region is very delicate which may explode anytime from now if not tackled carefully. At this juncture the old habit of alibis and hinting would only aggravate the maladies of the past. Instead, it is the time to think and act collectively.
The region has more issues to be addressed and challenges to face than any other parts of the country. Of which, the three most important areas which require immediate attention are insurgency, infrastructure and governance. All the other issues are derivatives which would dry up once these three are addressed. INAV