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The North East Region And Its Vision For 2020

Not many in the north east today would perhaps recall that the North Eastern Region Vision 2020 document was adopted at the NEC’s 56 th Plenary session at Agartala on May 13, 2008 chaired by Mani Shankar Aiyar,then the Union Minister, DONER ; and was heralded as the first attempt made by the Government of India and the North Eastern Council to present a strategic road map for development of the region in the background of the Look East Policy and the emerging technology based globalised economy.

It was also the outcome of a consultative process – for the first time in the North East in which practically all key stakeholders -both at the regional and national levels , Central institutions like the National institute of Public Finance and Policy,civil society, Academia and the Media of the region took part in formulation of the ” Vision”and the action plan for development of thethe North East Region.

Briefly stated, its objective was to enable the NE states to catch up with the rest of the country by 2020 in terms of per capita income and other indicators of socio economic development especially in industrial development and production of value added goods and services. This would require a multi sectoral development strategy – state specific as well as regional to bring about the necessary synergy to bridge the’ development gap’ between the north east and the rest of the country by faster growth- a process the economists call ” leap frogging”. It therefore envisaged regional growth rates of 8.64% and15.16% in the 11th and 12th Plan and 15.16% in the last three years of the 13th Plan to reach All India level of per capita income by 2020.Of course the growth of the NE states would vary but the overall regional economic growth must be of this order to be able to achieve this development goal. The estimated “investment requirement for reaching the goal was Rs 1,32,9891 crores for the entire period- from 2007-8 to 2019-20 at the prevailing capital output ratio and at 2006-8″ prices. This amount will be much higher in nominal Rupee terms for the later years with the change of the base year Price for calculation of the investment requirement. Simply put it would be 35% to start with and end up with 55.6% of the region’s GDP in the last phase which may appear now a huge amount ;but as a proportion of India’s increased GDP in 2019-20 it might be about 1.5% of nation’s GDP, the Vision document assessed.

It noted with dismay that the benefits of the Look East Policy to the North East were negligible and the region thus remains under” economic imprisonment within its international frontiers” even when it shares long land borders with Myanmar, an ASEAN nation,China, Bhutan and Bangladesh and had old trade links.

The Vision document went on to observe that ” peace and development of the region critically depends on liberation from this economic imprisonment”: It provided a policy and institutional framework for comprehensive upgradation of connectivity of the region with its neighbourhood to overcome the constraints of being land locked to bring about a quantum jump in the region’s economic , technical and cultural interactions with the ASEAN and Bangladesh.

A lot has changed in the political landscape in the intervening years and as 2020 is just a few weeks away the deliberations of the 68th Plenary session of the NEC held on 8-9 September last under the Chairmanship of the Union Home Minister have special significance for the develelopment of the region. It may be recalled that in June last year the Centre made the Home Minister, the ex officio Chairman and the MOS independent Charge of the DONER Ministry Dy Chairman of the NEC to make it ” more effective and capable of performing the tasks undertaken by the various Zonal Councils to discuss such inter state issues as drug trafficking, smuggling of arms and ammunition, boundary disputes etc” that the PIB report dated June 13,2018 underscored. This is a significant departure from the earlier primary role of the NEC as the” regional Planning body” under the NEC Act and would give it a larger say in regional security which is a basic condition of economic development and is therefore a welcome change.

The session took note of the achievements of the NEC which are impressive- construction of 10500 km of inter state roads, its support to installation of 695 MW of power generation capacity and the necessary Transmission and Distribution lines, improvement in infrastructure of 5 major Airports and construction of a new airport at Tezu in Arunachal. It noted with satisfaction that the NEC’s outlay went up from Rs 3376cr under the 13th Finance Commission to Rs 5053 cr under the 14th FC and approved enhancement of the current year’s provision to Rs 1476cr and to earmark 30% of the allocation to for the ” underdeveloped” parts of the region, that is, areas suffering from more serious ” development lags”. The Chief Ministers of the NE states demanded further increase in the allocation: The CM Meghalaya sought “a quantum jump” to at least Rs 2000cr in this year to match the rising growth aspirations of the people.

The NE states made a strong plea for restoration of six sectors withdrawn from the NEC namely, School education, primary health, water supply, sports, power and roads by the Centre in 2017 as NEC projects in social and infrastructure building gave the much needed “extra push” to the development efforts of the states and therefore urged NEC’s “fast tracking” role in road building and transportation, power development, agriculture and allied sectors especially agro processing and agro based industries which are critical for sustaining the region’s growth momentum.

Implicit in these demands is a point that the Central Government must have noted that the NER Vision 2002 raised the expectations of the people of the north east for a better future leaving no option but to carry forward and improve upon the progress achieved so far. While the achievements in ” connectivity” have been steady and impressive in core areas the progress has been tardy; as for instance the per capita income of NE states barring Sikkim, Mizoram and Arunachal are well below the All India average of Rs 127748 in 2018-19@ current prices. As infrastructure deficit continues, the NE states demands for higher allocations in the NEC budget for roads, power generation and that allocations made would not lapse for 3 years seem reasonable.

The deliberations also reflect a feeling of disenchantment in region’s leadership about the role of the ” distant DONER Ministry” in reducing NEC, the regional Planning body established under the historic NEC Act 1971 and located in the region to one providing only some “additive support” to the states’ development efforts. Indeed the very reasons and circumstances for creating the NEC demand assigning a dynamic regional Planning role to the NEC with adequate Central funding for effectively ” repositioning” NEC as the catalyst for development of the north east. The good news is that it is also the Central Policy.

About RANGAN DUTTA

( The writer is a retired IAS officer of the Assam – Meghalaya cadre and has served as Scientific Consultant in the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India)

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