The 'Meghalaya State Public Private Partnership Policy-2021' approved by the State Cabinet is aimed at facilitating more private investment in Assam. Incorporation of the concept -- Community Public Private Partnership (CPPP) is a key focus of the policy. The State estimates that investment to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore is needed over the next 10 years to bridge the deficit in the Infrastructure sector such as roads, power, and telecom in order to achieve its vision of being among the top 10 States of the country. Road density of the hill State is only 47.8 km for every 100 sq. km against the national average of 180 km/100 sq. km. Rising traffic loads have made the existing roads congested and the new roads are required to decongest them. The per capita annual consumption of electricity in the hill State is 880 kWh, which is also quite low as compared to the national average of 1,200 kWh. As only Rs 3,000 crore of the total annual Budget of about Rs 17,000 crore is earmarked for development activities, the Meghalaya government expects that the CPPP policy will help the State leverage investments along with sector-specific expertise from the private sector. The policy outlines two PPP concepts -- one for large 'Infrastructure Projects' that require large investments, typically more than Rs.10 crore such as major roads projects, hydro-power projects and another for 'Community Infra Projects' to be implemented in the CPPP model. Projects under CPPP will require smaller investments, typically less than Rs. 10 crore. Under CPPP, the community shall be actively involved and contribute through the entire process. The community will not only provide the land, but their consent would also be taken at critical junctures and at the end of the project cycle, the assets along with the land would be passed back to the community. On the role of the State Government, the policy states that the government will be involved throughout the project's lifecycle both as facilitator and enabler; while the private sector will assume the roles of financier, builder, and operator of the service.
The policy clarifies that land belonging to the departments or taken on lease from communities/individuals shall be used for the project; and all provisions related to the 'Meghalaya Land Transfer Act-1971' will be applicable to ensure that the rights of the communities/individuals are protected. The Act prohibits the transfer of land in Meghalaya by a tribal to a non-tribal or by a non-tribal to another non-tribal except with the previous sanction of the competent authority which explains the rationale behind the CPPP concept in the state with majority population belonging to Scheduled Tribes. While the CPPP concept emphasises participation of the community in the infrastructure projects to be funded and built by the private investors, negotiating the commercial-legal relation by the community with private entities is going to be a challenging task. In the PPP model, private sector brings capital and expertise to deliver on projects, their operation and maintenance while the public sector, in return, transfers the right to the private investors to levy user charges e.g., toll fee for a highway built under a PPP project for the project period till it is passed back to the public entity. Operation of such project entails long-term commercial-legal contract to be entered into between the public and the private entities. The community must possess expertise to negotiate with the private investors in respect of the CPPP projects in a manner so that the user rights and the community interests are protected. Balancing land requirement for an infrastructure project and land required by the indigenous communities for food and other social security will also require the communities to be careful in negotiating with the private investors. Those entering into any such commercial-legal contract on behalf of the community should decode the details of the contracts to every member of the community so that they are explained the risks involved. Benefits projected in a long-term development project are critical for success of the CPPP model. About 70 per cent of Meghalaya's population is dependent on agriculture and allied activities for livelihood. Traditional practices and rights of communities have shaped the land holding and land tenures in the State and the complexities cannot be overlooked or ignored while pushing the policy for the CPPP concept. The Meghalaya government must facilitate the communities to build up their capacities to negotiate the commercial-legal terms before entering into any contract with the private investors. This move will help create the roadmap to implement the PPP policy. Availability of land documents without any ambiguity will be crucial for the necessary credit flow to implement the infrastructure projects under the PPP policy. Digitisation of land documents on a priority basis will also boost the confidence of the private investors to join hands with the communities for the CPPP projects. Prioritising the protection of interests of the communities will be critical to build the required eco-system for the PPP or the CPPP projects.