Introspection into Meghalaya’s economy on its 50th year
By RV Warjri
“Most states in India have come out with a policy to promote investments. They mention among other things the kinds of incentives with regard to land availability, supply of power, tax holiday etc. Meghalaya needs to do the same in a manner which fits into the ecosystem of Meghalaya.”
It is well recognized that whether it is the capitalist western system or the communist but market driven economy of China or the increasingly expanding private sector economy of India, it is capital formation or investments which have revolutionized the economic and technological landscape. Without capital there cannot be any economic activity, be it micro, medium or big
Meghalaya at Fifty 1972 – 2022, is condensed into a 141 page kind of coffee table book published by the Department of Education, Government of Meghalaya. It’s a good record about Meghalaya’s Freedom Fighters, Traditional institutions of Meghalaya and Traditional games of Meghalaya. The same cannot be said for the very sketchy chapter called ‘An Overview of the Economy of Meghalaya’. It should have been ‘On the Economic Progress of Meghalaya.’ Why? Because fundamentally, culture, belief and practices, traditions, society and life in general, can sustain only on the basis of economic progress. Fall of empires, nations and societies took place essentially because of economic upheavals. Instead, the chapter contains a surfeit of pictorials which are easily available on Google and other tourist literature. There is nothing reflective or introspective of the past fifty years. As such Meghalaya at Fifty turns out to be okay, only as a feel good book. Here is my critique.
Given that the elections to the state legislature is due, the book could have provided some opportunity for aspiring law makers or legislators to envision a Meghalaya for the next 50 years. A glimpse not only of the past but also a spark to the future; systemic and institutional changes and change of mindset that should have taken place but were not able to. How long can Meghalaya carry on as a special category state? What happens if there is no more Sixth Schedule and removal of the several reservations, protection and exemptions from paying income tax etc. does happen?
Then there is a need to look beyond one’s interstate and international borders and boundaries in this transnational digital age. Also the significance of trade, commerce and exports. The book mentions nothing about investment. There’s no mention of the economic policy, strategy or model suitable to Meghalaya; in short some road map for the future generation. That after fifty years when Meghalaya celebrates its centenary the people of Meghalaya would feel at par with the rest of the states in India and the world itself and devoid of any psyche of inferiority. A reality check to show that Meghalaya has graduated from a politically mobilized society to a society that is economically mobilized. The above is an imperative particularly because of the preponderance of a plethora of pressure groups which have become like a parallel government .
Meghalaya Government portal has been adopting the data format as per Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 17 goals under it. The same format could have been followed for the last fifty years. It would enable, for instance, to compare the poverty levels with the growth in state domestic product or per capita income. The graph on State Domestic Product gives the figure of Rs 2,89,284 lakh in 1980-81 increases to Rs 28,34,392 lakhs in 2018-19. The other on Per Capita Income says Rs 21,921 in 1980-81 and Rs 79,573 in 2018-19. There should have also been some cognition on policies and qualitative factors like human resource, technology etc. which led to the increase in State Domestic Product .
Coloured graphs on Sectoral Distribution of State Income placed the primary sector ( Agriculture, forestry and logging , fishing , mining and quarrying) at 37% in 1980-81 and decreases to 23% in 2018-19; The secondary sector (Industry & Construction) at 19% in 1980-81 decreases to 17% in 2018-19 and the tertiary sector or services( trade, repair, services , hotels and restaurants, transport, storage , communication & services related to broadcasting, financial services , public administration and other services ) at 44% in 1980-81 increases to 60% in 2018-19. Distribution of workers in 2017-18 stood at primary sector 57%; secondary sector 13% and tertiary sector 30%. In Agriculture so much has been touted about going organic? The growth of the service sector is universal. At the same time IT and ITES (IT enabled services)are not even mentioned. Some data on women’s role in economic development is commendable. What about the role of single mothers which is widely prevalent. Key areas on the State’s achievements included road connectivity and air connectivity have been written about but there’s nothing about quality of roads and the market for air connectivity to sustain. There’s nothing on rail connectivity, let alone digital connectivity which is paramount in the inevitably growing knowledge based economy .
Natural resources: The primary source of all economic activities is the availability of land. Farmers need land to cultivate and produce food. Land is required for livestock. Forests grow on land. There cannot be housing without land. Factories have to be built on land. Roads, markets, sports etc. need land. Even technology parks need land. Optimization on the use of land, acts as a major determinant of economic prosperity. An urgent reform on land beginning with cadastral survey for proper land records is called for. One reads that 76% of the population in Meghalaya is landless. There’s a need for necessary legislation even if it means a Land Ceiling Act. There’s a need to relook at the effectiveness of the Land transfer Act.
Human resources: Meghalaya at Fifty contains some data on the progress in education and health which are the primary prerequisites for any economic progress. Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the economic reforms in China, chose to be the party top functionary on education and health that made China what it is today . It may be recalled that in the 1980s India and China were more or less at the same level regarding levels of poverty, literacy , per capita income, infant mortality rate etc. Today the economy of China is more than five times that of India. Western investment into China poured in, in a big way because of availability of skilled labour that correlated with education. There is however no data on the proper utilization of the human resources. No data on skilled labour or personnel.
Technology : The ubiquitous mobile phone is now in everybody’s hands and pockets irrespective of profession , income level , gender or age . There should have been data on the density of mobile phones and access to the internet. The availability and efficiency of networks and laying down of fibre optics . Publicity on the launching of 5G is welcome but at least there should have been data on the efficacy of the 4G and to what extent there is a ready infrastructure for 5G. By the way all big talk about technology will come a cropper without a dependable and reliable supply of power.
Capital Formation: There is a line in Meghalaya at Fifty which says “ With the right kind of investment in infrastructure and a system of incentives, it can be a hub for the high value service sector. This is imperative in the face of growing unemployment among the educated youth.” The question remains what are the skills and levels of knowledge of the so called educated youth ? Most states in India have come out with a policy to promote investments. They mention among other things the kinds of incentives with regard to land availability, supply of power, tax holiday etc. Meghalaya needs to do the same in a manner which fits into the ecosystem of Meghalaya. It is well recognized that whether it is the capitalist western system or the communist but market driven economy of China or the increasingly expanding private sector economy of India, it is capital formation or investments which have revolutionized the economic and technological landscape. Without capital there cannot be any economic activity, be it micro, medium or big . At the same time lies the danger of the state allying with capital that can lead to a few oligarchic families controlling the resources of the State. It is crucial to realize that the economy of Meghalaya cannot remain to revolve only on schemes from the central government for the next 50 years .
Hopefully, notwithstanding the degree of seriousness , the manifestoes of political parties in Meghalaya, will for the record, go beyond the competitive populism and welfarism and instead lay down some realistic and reformist vision and mission for the next fifty years . Some kaleidoscope for the youth to visualize their future is the need of the hour.
(The writer is a retired diplomat and former Ambassador. He can be reached at [email protected])
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