By Dola Borkataki
A ssam, and more particularly Guwahati, have had a festive-like feeling in the last few days with the commencement of Advantage Assam-Assam’s Global Investors’ Summit on 3-4 February. The sudden and surprising but appreciable ormentation of the city with colourful lights, flowers, newly painted walls, and so on and so forth gave the city a new and attractive look exactly in tune with the purpose for which the makeover was done. Apart from the beautification of the city, it was also gratifying to witness Assam being portrayed as one of the highly potential and lucrative zone for economic investments. This initiative undeniably would contribute to the dismantling of the erstwhile existing pessimistic and depressing perceptions of the mainstream and also perhaps of the others countries of the world towards this part of the region as being violent, insurgent prone, backward etc. Moreover, the commitments of several investors to invest in Assam also makes one hope for and look forward to acche din.
However, the ambitious move on the part of the State government to invite foreign investments would be meaningful and commendable only if it can, in reality, wipe out the economic hurdles that the people of the State are currently suffering from. The numerous socio-economic problems that this region is beset with, like unemployment, poverty etc, resulting even in rapid outmigration of our youths to different parts of the country in search of livelihood undoubtedly calls for large-scale investments and industrial growth, but the question that arises here is whether the benefit of this initiative be another thriving opportunity for the privileged to exploit resources or a spark of hope for the otherwise poor and margilised to prosper.
The disturbing statistics of amount of land that has been taken away for various developmental projects from common people, especially the tribals till date, and from which these people did not gain anything, triggers apprehension about this new initiative. The past experiences from the development projects ranging from paper mills to oil and other industries, highways to expansion of towns and cities; how they have taken away land and other resources, destroyed livelihood, margilized and impoverished various sections of people sets the backdrop for fear and anxiety of again losing out our resources to others and in turn being exploited, deprived, impoverished and cheated upon. Despite the alluring or lucrative promises of development, the reality at the grassroots has always depicted a completely different or rather opposite picture. In the words of Sajal g regarding the people affected by development projects, “Although raw materials are extracted out of the tribal lands, the tribals themselves do not get any benefits. They are dispossessed from their lands, their territory; their environment polluted permanently and these self-sufficient people are pauperized and made dependent on the mercy of the others”.
This initiative also therefore requires careful scrutiny, strategic and responsible action on the part of the government so that our people won’t have to again sacrifice their land and other resources for the advantage and affluence of the investors and in return get dispossessed and empty-handed. The government must ensure that our people would not become further underdeveloped in the process of development. People have voted this government to power with utmost hope that things would change for better and hence they don’t expect and deserve to be just the sacrificial goat at the altar of development. One hopes that the Advantage Assam initiative would not be an advantage only for a small group of elites or investors. The benefits of this should percolate to grassroots and it should be an advantage for all.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, KK Handiqui State Open University, Guwahati)