The Government of Assam is going to host its first ever global investor summit next month to woo domestic and foreign investors to speed up industrial growth of the State. In order to make the summit successful, Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has already met Indian industry bigwigs like Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani, who will be among the participants in the summit, which will be iugurated by Prime Minister rendra Modi. The summit aims at showcasing Assam’s unique geostrategic advantages and core competencies in various economic sectors. It also aims at highlighting various policy initiatives undertaken by the present government for ease of doing business. For Chief Minister Sonowal, the event provides an opportunity to showcase to the world the potential of this resource-rich region and what it can offer to global business. On the other hand, if the summit mages to attract a sizeable chunk of investment, it could give a fillip to the tepid industrial growth of the State. Chief Minister Sonowal had said that the Prime Minister’s special focus for development of the Northeast and his multiple initiatives for the region will be the basis for the success of the summit. But, stakes are high for the Assam CM to make the summit a grand success. In last one month, he has undertaken a number of trips to economic hubs of the country like Mumbai and Bangalore to invite investors to take part in the summit. The State has identified a number of focus sectors, including agriculture and food processing, organic cultivation and bamboo, handloom, textile and handicrafts, inland water transport, port township, river front development and logistics.
However, in the past too efforts had been made to attract investors to the State. The Tarun Gogoi-led previous Congress government formed an industry advisory committee which included most of the leading industrialists of the country to take Assam to the cusp of industrial growth. But, results of those initiatives were nothing much to write home about. The lack of adequate infrastructure which has plagued business environment in the State for six decades after independence, means that organising an investment summit of global ture will merely be of cosmetic ture. The real need of the hour is to develop necessary infrastructure like improving air, road and rail connectivity in the State for faster movement of goods and services. Poor infrastructure, limited connectivity and backward policies are a few reasons why Assam has failed to attract industries despite having 22 lakh jobless youth, industry body Assocham has said in a report. Assam, being the largest State in North-Eastern region, alone has 2.2 million unemployed youth. A key constraint to growth has been poor infrastructure and limited connectivity (roads, telecommunications and power supply), both within the region as well as with the rest of the country. The study paper ‘Nurturing the Start-ups — for building economy’, prepared jointly by Assocham and Resurgent India, said the total forest area of Assam is 27,645 sq km, but it is not being utilised due to stringent policies. Downstream ancillary industries could generate around 1,50,000 jobs, but the Government of Assam doesn’t have huge land bank to set up large industries and cannot acquire land by displacing small farmers. The region, connected to the rest of India by a rrow stretch of land dubbed the ‘chicken’s neck’, needs better infrastructure to support and ensure significant investments and developmental aids, the study said.
All these factors combined are responsible for lack of economic and industrial growth of the State. It would have been prudent enough on the part of the government to create the necessary ecosystem needed to attract big ticket investment in sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and services. For meaningful economic growth, the manufacturing sector of any State or region needs to be robust. Assam has negligible manufacturing activity as industrialists shy away from setting up manufacturing facilities due to lack of adequate power, land bank etc. Another area that needs immediate attention is the government playing an effective role in clearing negative perception across the country about the State being insurgency ridden. Surely, an economic event of global ture will help the cause of Assam but much needs be done if the rusted economic engine of the State is to run at its own pace. Despite being resource rich, Assam for long has been languishing at the bottom of the pyramid of economic growth of Indian States. This needs to be changed for an employment hungry State. The NDA government at the Centre has taken up skill development on mission mode, so that lakhs of youths coming to the job market every year are employable or can set themselves up independently. Sadly, this initiative has had very little to show in Assam so far. Most youths here are still clueless where to acquire some job skills, and how these will eble them to manoeuvre in the job market. The present State government ought to introspect and learn from the failures of its predecessors in developing a flourishing agriculture, agro-industries and ancillary activities base that could have provided lakhs of rural youths with ready income. It is very well to roll out the red carpet for potential investors from outside, but the powers-be in Dispur should ask themselves what has been done so far to nurture, encourage and support local entrepreneurial talent.