Irom Sharmila , Mary Kom , Bhaichung Bhutia , Kaziranga National Park , serene hills and valleys of the region, tea plantations. These are the personalities and places that strike our minds at the first instances respectively when North East India comes into picture. North East India also known as the Land of Seven Sisters before the inclusion of Sikkim, now comprises a total of eight states .
The states are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim. Skyscrapers, high end cars, bullet trains, world class airports are some of the visuals that have been successfully marketed as features of a developed state. Development or “Vikaas” has also been the major plank on which the last general election (2014) was contested.
Despite such hype we have not been able to enlighten us with the most relevant meaning of development . On delving deeper into the picturesque North East Indian states we will try to explore the Developmental Challenges in North East India in terms of economic, infrastructural , industrial and political development.Tracing the history of the word “Economic Development”; for the economists progress, growth and development meant the same. In 1970s clear meanings started to evolve. Progress became irrelevant ; growth and development were given proper meanings. Development indicates the quality of life in an economy. There could be many indicators for development such as nutrition, healthcare, literacy and education, level of income, safe drinking water, social security, peaceful community life, prestige, entertainment, pollution free environment etc. It has been a herculean task for the experts to achieve consensus on these indicators of development.
UNDP published its first Human Development Report (HDR) in 1990 which had a Human Development Index (HDI). It was the first attempt to define and measure the level of development of economies. HDR measures development on combining three indicators: Health, Education and Standard of Living which is converted into a numerical value between 0 and 1 known as HDI.
HDI serves as a reference for both social and economic development.According to the experts there were many indicators that HDI didn’t account for such as cultural aspects, broader view towards the aesthetic and purity of the environment, rule and administration of the economy, people’s idea of happiness and prestige, ethical dimension of human life. Most of the studies concluded that people’s life in the developed world was far from being happy. Their life was full of vices: crime, corruption, burglaries, extortion, drug trafficking, flesh trade, rape, homicide, moral degradation etc . It meant development had failed to provide happiness and well being . So the scholars came up with a concept of “Happiness” to define development . Before elaborating more on this concept, let’s have a look on our traditional indicators which are being still used widely.The most relatable and yet sounding intellectual term with reference to the economic development is Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP)is defined as a measure, in monetary terms of the volume of all goods and services produced within a boundary of a state. These figures represents contribution of each state to overall GDP of the nation. GSDP paints a grim picture for the North East Indian states. Out of the lowest nine GSDP states, seven are from North East leaving behind Assam which is relatively higher than its neighbouring states.
In terms of Literacy there has been some highs as well as some lows for the North East Region (NER). Story of Tripura is quite remarkable. From 12th rank in 2001 it leapt to the top (94.
65%) of literacy rate throughout the country in 2013 leaving behind Kerala (93.91%). Tripura’s success story is attributed to the involvement of local governmental bodies including gram panchayats , NGOs, and local clubs under the close supervision State Literacy Mission Authority (SLMA) headed by the chief minister. Mizoram is also one of the leading states in literacy rate. Success story of Tripura should be adopted throughout the country especially states marred with dismal literacy rate like Bihar (lowest in the country). The sad part for the North East Region (NER) is that Arunachal Pradesh is the second lowest (66.95%) in literacy rate just above Bihar.
Despite being so familiar in terms of topographical features, terrain, climate and in cultural aspects Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh are poles apart in terms of literacy rate. Factors for the stark difference needs closer attention and to be worked upon in improving the situation of literacy in Arunachal Pradesh.Health is one of the most vital indicator to gauge development and it can be fairly accounted by Infant Mortality Rate (IMR).
Tripura and Nagaland have been doing significantly well and continuously improving over a period of time . It is for their sincere, technological and innovation driven program that they have been awarded top ranks in reducing IMR among small states. IMR in Nagaland is 21 per 1000 live births (0 to 1 yr) and IMR in Tripura is 21. It would be worth noting that the national average of IMR is 40 deaths per 1000 live births.
To further improve upon its health care Tripura has adopted 13 point steps which includes measures like 60 delivery centres were made into ideal delivery centres with upgraded labour rooms, new born care corners, and new born stabilization units. The situation in Assam is just opposite of the above two states. It has improved a lot but it has to put in more efforts. It had an IMR of 68 in 2006 which has now slipped to an IMR of 48 which is higher than the national average of 41.
Maternal mortality rate (MMR) is also one of the highest in country. The main issue which plagues the high IMR and MMR is the early marriage of females. Child marriage has been very prevalent in Assam.
The state needs to run massive awareness programme to prevent child marriages, thereby reducing early pregnancy and recurrent pregnancy. It should diligently implement life skills education for school going children, strengthen social institutions and local governance system to prevent child marriages. Apart from stemming the issue of child marriage, it needs to seriously look and adopt to the healthcare system of Tripura and Nagaland and has started moving in the right direction by launching “Right to Health Services” scheme to provide affordable, accessible and quality healthcare for all especially the poor. Apart from the state govt. ,central govt. has also chipped in to improve the situation in Assam. The Centre has chosen 52 districts from the North East out of which 7 are from Assam for its Intensive Mission Indradhanush (IMI) program . Under this program, immunization is being carried out to reach 100 percent coverage.
Clubbing three components namely quality of life which includes IMR, quality of opportunity which includes literacy rate and economic well being; the HDI values for the north east states was calculated .. Among the north eastern states highest HDI was for Mizoram (0.584) and the lowest was for Assam (0.364). In general, the north eastern states did well in HDI as compared to other states of the country.
Despite a good HDI values for north eastern states, it is certainly lagging much behind other states of the country in terms of “ happiness” . Happiness as a measure of development is the latest feature to know about the overall situation of different indicators of development. World Happiness Report (WHR) 2017 was released on 20th March 2017(international day of happiness) by the Sustainable Development Solution Network (a UN Body). The report is a survey of 155 countries and fifth of its kind ( first being in 2012).India ranks 122nd which is very dismal. Ranking of India is clearly evident by the situation prevailing in the North eastern States as Sikkim tops the state with suicidal rates throughout the country. Tripura comes in at 4th and Mizoram has also entered the list at 7th.Over the years, north eastern states have been exposed to hostile environment and drugs which affects the mind of the children in the long run.
People in Sikkim seems to be living a life devoid of happiness. In Tripura tribals are mostly affected by poverty and unemployment. It also has an open border with Bangladesh which is an easy route for drug peddlers to smuggle in and flourish. Over abuse of these substances lead to depression and mood swings.
Among the farmers, the north eastern states have seen a four times increase in farmers’ suicide from 21 in 2014 to 95 cases in 2015. Major causes attributed to farmers’ suicides are Bankruptcy, farming issues, family problems, drug abuse. The govt. has not been able to ensure that the farmers get the right price for the crops, non- implementation of schemes for subsidy to farmers for availing loan and equipments are some of the challenges faced by the suicidal farmers.Around 96% of land in NER is bordering with foreign countries : Myanmar, China, Bhutan Bangladesh. Lack of connectivity not only isolated NER from the country and the world but also within itself. Infrastructure deficit is slowing down the NER economic growth and development. Development of roads, railways and airports have been significantly poor in NER.
Government through Department of North Eastern Region ( DoNER) has taken slew of steps to boost infrastructural development of the region. Railway network in this region is only 4% of the country’s total railway network. The North Eastern Council (NEC) ; nodal agency for social and economic development of NER has taken many projects for road development. It is implementing 715 various developmental projects in NER at an approved cost of more than 7 lakh cr rupees. India is also focusing on South Asian Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) road connectivity programme to counter China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative . 20 major railway projects including 13 new lines, 2 gauge conversions and 5 doublings having length of 2624 km has been taken up.Challenges to infrastructural development is the cost of delivery of service is very high due to difficult terrain, dispersed and small habitations.
It must also be noted that working season in North East is only 5 months. Other time of the year there is incessant rain and inclement weather which also deteriorates the condition of existing roads apart from stalling the construction, repair and maintenance work. Innovation and technology must be put in great use here to overcome this impediment like using materials for road construction which can bear the harsh climate and is also having good durability.
It is also to be seen that in looking to develop mega bridges, large rail networks, hydropower projects, it also simultaneously develops an inclusive model for the tribals too. Or else more chances are of they being left behind as doubly marginalized under such fast paced developmental goals. Preserving tribal way of life is key to understanding the diversity of region. Often with development challenges crops up as to how to protect tribals as well as at the same time use technology and innovation for the benefit of the region. NER being blessed with rivers, inland water transportation is important for its development. This region has an untapped potential of producing 60,000MW hydro electricity.
But the environmental concerns need to be properly addressed before exploring these potential energy reservoir. Airways is also in focus ; new Greenfield airports being proposed. Different states of NER are in the process of being connected through the scheme UDAN launched by the central government. Power and Telecommunication are also the two sectors which are key in bridging the gap of connectivity. And the government is investing heavily in these two sectors as well.In terms of industrial growth, North East India was given step motherly treatment since the colonial period.
For the British , NER was only a storehouse of raw materials such as coal, oil, tea . resources were mass extracted from here and exported to different parts of the country for processing after the partition of India, trade stopped which seriously damaged the economic growth and potential of the region. An industry which had the potential to grow is strangely going through tepid times.