North Eastern Region of India
Monday, June 18, 2007
R V SHAHI
The Administrative Staff college of India, Hyderabad had organized a two day
conference at Hyderabad on June 1-2, 2007, focusing on constraints and
opportunities for development of the North Eastern Region of India. Various
aspects namely infrastructure, public services, agricultural, tourism and trade
were the issues which were discussed. The conference, which was sponsored by the
Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Govt. of India, also
deliberated on related important issues, such as building of a peaceful
environment, exploitation of natural resources, development of skills of human
resources and inter state as also Union - State relationships.
The Minister for development of North Eastern Region and
Panchayati Raj, Shri
Mani Shankar Aiyar made a masterly presentation of all the relevant issues in
his inaugural address. He covered extensively the perception of alienation and
discrimination between the North Eastern region and other parts of country and
quoted, in great detail, facts and figures to establish that both these
perceptions are far from realities. Making a comparison between situation that
prevailed 30-40 years back and now the Minister brought out that the number of
students studying in various colleges in Delhi and in other metro cities and
also a number of people of North Eastern region working in different parts of
the country would indicate the radical changes which have happened in last 2-3
decades and the extent of integration that exists today. There are a few pockets
where these types of feelings do exist. We may have to address these
misunderstandings and communication gaps which give rise to such perceived
Another misplaced perception is about discrimination. Here again, if we analyze
the facts, we would be able to conclude that if at all there is a positive
discrimination. For the 11th Five year plan, if we aggregate the
programmes that have been worked out by National Highway Authority, Border Road
Organization, Ministry of Rural Development, and State Level Rural Development
Programmes etc., a total of 30,000KMs of roads at an estimated cost of Rs.
50,000crores have been provided in the plan. In next 2-3 years as many as 28
airports would be facilitating 600 flights a week, by activating some of the old
air strips after they are properly strengthened and renovated. The minister
suggested that mini and micro hydel projects were the appropriate solution to
power problem of the region and not the large and mega hydel schemes. The
renowned journalist Mr. B. G. Verghese, however, made a strong plea for large
dam power projects so that water energy was not allowed to be wasted and flood
control could also help in reducing hardship to the people.
The Minister went at length to explain about the security situation in the
region. Giving facts and figures, he explained how Sikkim, Meghalaya, Arunachal,
Mizoram were almost completely peaceful; in case of Assam there are stray cases
in certain areas. Of course Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland we do have problems.
He emphasized the need for participation of people in administration and
development works. "If governance reaches the grass root we can expect much
better situation", he said.
The Chairman of the Administrative Staff College of India Governing Board Mr.
M. Narshimham, in his opening remarks made a few very important observations and
suggestions, as summarized below:
A major constraint to the development of the Region has been its geography.
Partition in 1947 rent asunder the natural communication links mainly
through inland waterways connecting the Region with Bengal. The North East
was not geographically isolated then as it is now. It was, in fact,
contiguous to the rest of the country.
Siliguri Corridor - Its limitations as an effective medium of connectivity
are all too apparent and which, therefore, has not moderated adequately the
There is scope for development of industry based on hydrocarbons, in food
processing based on horticulture and plantations and in processing forest
Government came out with a package of fiscal and credit incentives for the
development of industry and services in the North East, but incentives would
work better if accompanied by investment in infrastructure.
The scope, therefore, for the North East to expand economic relations and
act as a gateway to these fast growing neighbouring countries is an aspect
which could be one of the points for serious consideration.
Potential for transnational regional cooperation on the lines envisaged in
the BIMS-TEC arrangements provides a good scope for developing the region.
Priority needs to be given to developing communication links between the
Region and the rest of India on the one hand, and reaching out beyond our
frontiers to our neighbours in the North, East and the South East, on the
Improved inland communications through neighbouring countries could help
augment exports of the Region, especially from States like Tripura and
Mizoram, through nearby ports like Chittagong in Bangladesh and Sitwe in
Myanmar in addition to the present sole outlet of distant Kolkata.
A multilateral regional approach under the auspices of an institution like
the Asian Development Bank, which sets much stress on transnational regional
cooperation may be quite effective. The Bank has played a leading role in
bringing together countries of the Mekong river basin for an integrated
approach of development on a regional basis cutting across national
boundaries of the various areas around that river. There is no reason why
it cannot do likewise to promote transnational cooperation in the Region. A
Ganga-Mekong cooperative approach need not be a flight of fancy.
General K. V. Krishna Rao, Former Chief of Indian Army and also Former Governor
of Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura & Mizorum made a number of important observation
about building a peaceful environment in the region. He recalled how the
perception of people about excesses committed by Arm Forces Personnel was
analyzed and in most cases the truth proved to be otherwise; in cases where
there was a validity, corrective actions were taken. He stressed that in order
to bring about peace in the area on a sustainable basis it is important that an
atmosphere of trust between the security personnel and people is created.
Mr. K. Padmaibhaiya, Former Home Secretary Govt. of India and the Govt.
Inter-locator on Nagaland explained the salient points of his paper. Some of the
important comments made by him are as follows:
The question of ethnicity is real and important. The region is characterized
by presence of diverse ethnic groups living in clearly identifiable and
distinct areas. Attachment to the land where they have been living for
generations is an important socio-cultural reality. How to satisfy the
cultural, social and more importantly the political aspirations of these
various ethnic groups needs proper attention.
As far as decentralization and local autonomy is concerned, the 6th
Schedule is the present standard. The Autonomous Councils constituted by
the State Governments do not enjoy all the powers under the 6th
Schedule. Even within the 6th Schedule certain autonomous
councils like the Bodo Territorial Areas District and the Karbi-Anglong and
North Cachar Autonomous Councils have larger powers granted by specific
amendments made to the 6th Schedule. However, even for the
Autonomous Councils constituted under the 6th Schedule, there is
no adequate devolution of powers to the village level and most power is
concentrated at the district level itself. For example, commenting on the
working of the Autonomous Councils in Assam, the Advisory Panel to the
Constitution Review Commission observed that, "the scope for initiative at
the level below the districts has been minimized by the political
leadership. Consequently the participation of people in the development
process has been found to be absent."
Compared to this, the extent of delegation of powers available to the
Panchayati Raj institutions is larger as per Schedule 11 of the
Constitution. The 6th Schedule areas presently are excluded from
the operation of Part IX of the Constitution relating to Panchayats. In
these tribal areas, there are traditional systems of governance at the
village level ranging from autocracy/semi-autocracy to fully participative
democratic functioning. It would be useful to bring in democratic
functioning to these village bodies atleast to the level provided under the
Constitution for Panchayats. This needs to be done carefully without
creating any animosity within the traditional village leadership. The
Village Development Boards of Nagaland offer one of the models.
Another major irritant in the working of these Autonomous Councils is
regarding the flow of funds from the Government of India to these bodies.
General perception is that the State Governments, for some reason or the
other, do not allow smooth release of funds. This needs to be examined very
carefully and a solution found. When Government of India is releasing funds
directly to the district level and Panchayat level bodies, there should be
no problem in releasing funds directly to the Autonomous Councils.
Presently the Union Government plays a leading, if not an exclusive, role in
containing militancy in the area. The present practice, also to some
extent, increases the alienation between the local people and the Union
Government due to the alleged human rights violations by the armed forces
etc. The balance of advantage seems to lie in involving the State
Governments in stages in tackling the militancy.
There actually has been no dearth in allocation of funds to the North East.
In addition to the amounts provided in the State Plan, there are funds
provided to the North East Council (NEC) to take up projects of regional
importance. In addition, all the Central Ministries have been mandated
since 1997-98 to allocate 10% of their budgets for taking up programmes in
the North East. This budgetary provision has steadily increased from Rs.
3211/- crores in 1998-99 to Rs. 11,268/- crores during 2006-07. Any unspent
balance of the 10% provisioning in the budget by the Central Ministries goes
to Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) created in 1998. This
fund is at the disposal of the Department of North East Development. This
fund as well as the other funds provided to the Ministry of Development of
North Eastern Region amount Rs. 1363/- crores for 2006-07.
Fund flow from the Govt. of India has infact, not been a problem; leakage of
fund at the State Govt. level has been a major problem.
Development of Infrastructure and improvement of public services together with
the need for expeditious exploitation of natural resources were discussed in
great detail. The session, chaired by the author of this paper, had Sh. P.P. Srivastava, Member North Eastern Council, Shri Anil Razdan, Secretary Power
Govt. of India, Mr. Sanjay Hazarika, Center for North Eastern Studies and policy
Research, Mr. Shunso Tsukada, Asian Development Bank, as speakers.
Shri Srivastava emphasized on the need for development of technical and techno
managerial skills of people in the region so that larger number of them could
engage themselves in various economic and industrial activities. When various
projects and schemes are put into implementation, participation of local people
through their suitable employment is essential. But, it is equally essential
that they are suitably trained and their skill levels are upgraded.
Mr. Sanjay Hazarika, Center for North Eastern Studies & Policy Research, who had
prepared a paper for the conference stressed on the need for public
participation and involvement in issues of governance and delivery on promises.
One quote from his paper is worth mentioning. This highlights the thrust of his
"The Shinning India and its high growth rates do not exist in the festering
sores and darkness of Assam's villages and islands or anywhere else but in the
great mansions and buildings built by political leaders of all hues, by senior
officials and contractors and by the groups which espouse violence and
extortion, and those who have "surrendered". These are the corrupt faces of a
shinning economy in our region. Go to any town in the North-east and map the
biggest and most expensive real estate and do a check on its ownership: apart
from those with old money, a large number are from the categories earlier
Shri Anil Razdan, Union Power Secretary gave a detailed account of potentials
and possibilities of hydro electric power development in the North Eastern
Region and also explained the plans and programmes which the Govt. of India has
put in place to develop a number of large and medium size hydro electric
projects. Besides, he also explained about the possibilities of exploiting the
coal mines reserves as well as the gas in the region to develop power generation
projects. A very important point that emerged during discussion was that the
first priority for supply of power from the power which was generated in this
region should be given the North Eastern States and only the excess could be
sent out through long distance transmission systems. This will, however require
augmentation of State level transmission and distribution networks so that power
could be absorbed locally. This alone will enable in jacking up the level of
economic activities in the region which, in turn, will help in overall
The Asian Development Bank representative also made a detailed presentation
highlighting various aspects of infrastructure development and other
possibilities. Two very important points made by him were (a) there is a need
for bringing about greater degree of objectivity and transparency in the system
of contracting, tendering, tender evaluation, award of contracts and purchase,
and (b) in order that the economic and industrial activities are pitched up, it
would be essential to develop a large number of contracting and executing
agencies and due care will need to be taken to have a greater sense of quality
in construction and execution.
Recently, the Government has brought out a compilation "Prime Minster's Report
to the People" in May, 2007. A few important items from this report which cover
the infrastructure and industrial sectors are presented here to highlight the
efforts being made for development of infrastructure and industry.
The Government has approved a Special Accelerated Road Development
Programme for the North-East (SARDP-NE). It envisages improvement of about 7,639
km of National Highway, State Roads and General Staff roads, involving a total
of 83 roads, bridgeworks etc. This will ensure connectivity with National
Highways to 34 hitherto unconnected district headquarters at a total estimated
cost of Rs. 12,123 crore. Phase A of the project, involving work on 1,310 km of
roads at an estimated cost of Rs. 4,618 crore, has been approved and works are
scheduled to be completed by 2009. Preparation of Detailed Project Reports for
the improvement of the balance roads in Phase B of the project is targeted for
completion of December 2007, while the works are targeted for completion within
Railways: Kumarghat-Agartala and Jiribam-Tupul (Imphal Road) new railway
lines and gauge conversion of Lumding-Silchar lines have been taken up at a
total estimated cost of Rs. 3,450 crore to provide broad gauge connectivity for
Silchar and the State capitals of Tripura and Manipur and the State of Nagaland.
The Government has declared as national projects the construction of
rail-cum-road bridge over Brahmaputra River at Bogibeel in Assam and the
Rangia-Murkongselek gauge conversion project to serve as a lifeline for upper
Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, which would result in greater integration of the
North Eastern Region with the rest of India. The total estimated cost of the
works involved is over Rs. 2,200 crore, which would be taken up as additionally
over and above the normal Railways Plan so as to complete these projects by
Airports: Several schemes for development of airports in the region have
been taken up at Agartala, Barapani, Dibrugarh, Dimapur, Guwahati, Silchar,
Imphal, Jorhat and Rupsi. The Government has also approved procurement of ATR
aircraft by Alliance Air for improving air connectivity.
Hinterland waters: Government has also decided to introduce a Bill in
Parliament for declaring the Lakhipur-Bhanga 121 km stretch along the Barak
river as a national waterway along with development infrastructure facilities at
an estimated cost of Rs. 46 crore by 2008-09, to improve port-hinterland
connectivity for major commercial centers like Lakhipur, Silchar and Badarpur in
the Barak valley with the major ports of Haldia and Kolkata.
Power: The NTPC will start a 500 MW thermal power plant at Salakati in
Assam by 2009, involving an investment of Rs. 3,000 crore. To provide coal
linkage to the plant, the North East Coal Limited will upgrade production of
coal at Margherita in Assam from 1.1 million tones at present to 3.13 million
tones by 2013, through estimated investment of Rs. 3,000 crore. The Prime
Minister has laid the foundation of a 750 MW gas-based thermal power plant in
Tripura, with estimated private sector investment of around Rs. 3,900 crore. The
Kameng hydroelectric project of 600 MW capacity has been approved at an
estimated cost of Rs. 2,497 crore. Following the vacation of a stay order by
Supreme Court, work on the 2,000 MW Subansiri Lower hydroelectric project,
having an approved cost of Rs. 6,285 crore, was resumed and completion is
expected by 2010-11. Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana will reach
electricity to all non-electrified villages by 2009. The Assam Gas Cracker
Project has been approved with a project cost of Rs. 5,461 crore and project
commissioning target timeframe of 2011-12. With the setting up of this project,
many more downstream polymer/ plastic processing units are expected to come up,
generating employment. The qualifying minimum generation capacity for getting
mega power project status and consequent customs duty exemption has been halved
for projects located in the northeast.
A more liberal new industrial and investment
promotion policy for the North East has been approved, continuing 100% excise
duty and income tax exemption on finished products made in the Northeast and
doubling of capital subsidy to 30% of the investment in plant and machinery
given on investment by new as well as existing units for ten years. Skim has
also been covered for the fist time.
Earmarked investment in the Northeast: The total allocation in 2007-08 for the
North Easter Region, culled out from allocations under different Ministries /
Departments, has increased year after year to Rs. 14,365 crore in 2007-08. The
North-Eastern Council has been revamped and strengthened. Procedures for
approvals and release of funds from the Council as well as the Non-lapsable
Central Pool of Resources have been streamlined.
As mentioned earlier, the conference also focused on a few other areas such as
agricultural, trade and tourism. But, in this brief write up, infrastructure
development and exploitation of natural resources have been included. Besides, a
few important and related issues such as security, participation of people in
various economic and industrial activities etc. have also been presented. It is
needless to emphasize that development of infrastructure is key to development
of this region. Equally important is the need for a cordial & peaceful
environment to allow development of infrastructure. Respect to ethnic culture,
and local governance through people participation could enable creation of right