Friday, June 14, 2024

Paradigm shift in economic development of NE


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By Sanchet Barua


The 12th Five Year Plan has drawn up new parameters for development of Northeast India in view of its characteristics features and low density of population in all areas other than Assam and Tripura. The very low densities in many parts of the region are attributable to the nature of

the terrain. The second marked characteristic of the population of this region is its rapid rate of growth which has tended to be substantially higher than the national averages. The third important characteristic of the population of this area is the high proportions of scheduled tribes. Considering the fact that, the total tribal population of the area is only 6.35 million, there are a large number of relatively small tribes. Many of the tribes cut across not merely state boundaries, but also international borders. Thus, there is a great deal of heterogeneity of population within the region.

The ability of the tribal community to benefit from the job opportunities generated through development process is substantially greater in the Northeast than in the other tribal areas. There is a stock of educated youth who, if trained, can take up positions in development, administration and industrial projects. Production for self-consumption and subsistence is the basis for economic activity and calculations on market values are seldom the basis for decisions on what and how to produce. In this connection when the system is opened to market forces the local tribals, even though they may be well educated, may not in fact benefit. The processes of non-agricultural development generated in this area do not always benefit the tribals except in government employment.

There are some tribal groups which have had long tradition of contact with the market economy and they are in a better position to cope with the opening up of their economies, there are, however, many other groups which have lived a more isolated existence who may well lose out if they are exposed to uncontrolled market forces. These variations in the ability of different tribal communities to cope with a new economy have to be taken into account in any development strategy.

The high participation rates and the low rates of unemployment mean that there is very little employment slack to be taken up in the hill states. Because of this it has not always been possible to find labour for construction work in the region even at relatively high wages, to some extent, due to lack of mobilising labour. Development plans in the hill areas of the Northeast cannot be based on the assumption of an employment slack and the alternative employment generated by new developments in horticulture, plantations and animal husbandry. The possibility of shortage of candidates for technical and non-technical posts in development administration and in projects must also be kept in mind.

The hilly terrain and the pattern of land availability has led to two distinct systems of agriculture: settled agriculture in the plains, valleys and gentler slopes and jhum cultivation elsewhere. The general practice in Jhum areas is that each village has a well-defined range of operation in which the jhum cycle as well as other activity like hunting and wood cutting are confined. Within this area land is allotted to each household on the basis of its capacity or its need, by a village level authority like village council or a chief, guided by village elders.

From the point of view of infrastructure development the principal problem in the region is the inadequacy of communication facilities and exploitation of natural resources. The primary objective of development strategy must be to utilise these optimally and in a manner that maximises the benefits accruing to local people. This will require not merely additional investments in infrastructure and production facilities but also a programme of manpower development and measures to reorient the system of land tenure in the hill areas.

The main elements in the development programme for the Northeast must be measures to control jhuming, improvements in cooperative, husbandry in the flood prone valley, an animal husbandry programme oriented to local conditions, the tapping of the huge potential for horticulture, plantations ton forestry, the promotion of sericulture and commercial handlooms, the development of modern industries in a manner that will maximise local impact and the improvement of communications.

Most of the states and Union Territories in this region are too small to be able to sustain the full range of expenditure on education end training which is the charge of state governments in the rest of the country. Nation-wide leadership will be required to ensure that development is not hindered by lack of necessary technical and managerial personnel and attitudes of parochialism. A quickening of the pace of development in the hill areas of this region carried with it the risk of the tribal being exploited. Protective and promotional measures to avoid this must be an integral part of the development strategy for this region.

Promotional measures to encourage train and assist tribals, particularly the educated and urbanised ones, to utilise the opportunities for small industry, transport operations, trade and other services are equally important-. What is required is a supporting structure for credit delivery, marketing raw material supply and technical assistance that can provide a well thought out package.

The new developments to be promoted in different sectors will also require a close link up between basic research, adaptive research, field trials and extension effort. Thus, at the present stage of development, the state governments have the responsibility and the corresponding capability for high level technical supervision in fields like crop production, horticulture, plantations, animal husbandry etc.

Permanent rights over settled land are increasingly being recognised and the movement from community to individual ownership has begun. However, the individual needs to be given a legal right to the land. The District Councils can play an important role in this since the authority over land tenure is vested in them. State governments cannot pursue programmes for jhum control without such assistance from District Councils.

A large part of the forest area in the northeast is under the control of District Councils. However, these Councils do not have the technical staff to plan and manage these forests. A Certain commonality of approach in silvicultural practices is necessary and, to ensure this, silvicultural control over District Council forests should be allowed to rest with the state forest departments.

If such development measures are adopted Northeast will become a prosperous region of the country, and it will lead to weaning away youth from the path of insurgency and frustration against New Delhi. INAV


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