The meeting of the chief ministers of the north–eastern States in Delhi on Sunday was significant for more reasons than one. Given the general impression in mainland India that the Northeast is one homogenous region and can be virtually treated as a single State, it is significant that the Prime Minister himself should have made it clear that the Centre would “move away from one–size–fits–all” schemes and “forge a better match between the schemes and the needs of States.” For once, there was clear understanding of the fact that States within the Northeast could be as different from one another as chalk from cheese in terms of demographic composition, religion, culture, dress and food habits. The other significant happening was that the chief ministers of the region were able to speak at the first meeting of the Niti Aayog that has replaced the Planning Commission. Most of them highlighted the need for improvement in planning and implementation of projects. Almost all the chief ministers expressed their apprehensions about a change in the fincial assistance to the cash–strapped north–eastern States. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi insisted that the fincial assistance to the north–eastern States should continue at 90:10 grant–to–loan basis. “While advocating the strengthening and the revamping of the NEC as a body for regiol planning, I would affirm that intra–region uniqueness of States in terms of problems, population and possibilities should not be lost sight of. While there are common threads that weave a pattern in the Northeast, there is also a need to address each State individually given the differences in size and complexities. I would urge Niti Aayog to work closely with regiol councils and individual States, addressing shared concerns and unique needs simultaneously,” he said. Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla wanted a speedy dovetailing of the Act East policy with the process to integrate the Northeast to Southeast Asia. “The Northeast needs special attention. The agenda papers seem to be devoid of adequate emphasis on the development of the Northeast and the implementation of the Act East policy,” he said.
One is not entirely convinced that enhancing the role of the North Eastern Council (NEC) could really make a substantial difference to the development of the region and the funding for such development. The NEC has been around for a few decades now and is generally seen as some kind of a super State. There are many who share our belief that direct disbursement of Central grants to the north–eastern States could make for speedier development if only some of the States could get out of the mindset that all Central grants are meant to be siphoned out into private coffers. In States like Assam, the greatest hurdle to real development is the all pervasive culture of loot of the exchequer in respect of Central grants as a means of securing easy money for privileged parasites. There is one other common feature of the north–eastern States that has stood in the way of any worthwhile development for decades. This is the disinclition and/or ibility to undertake any purposeful and productive work that calls for the use of skills. Over the years, successive governments have done great disservice to the entire region by failing to promote a desirable work culture and ensure the development of skills needed for survival in the 21st century. Given this scerio, the Act East policy is unlikely to be of any benefit. We can just go on looking while those who put in the hard work can derive all the benefits. The Northeast needs to kill the culture of easy money and its disinclition for sustained productive work and to promote both competition and merit in order to survive with dignity. And that is why it is also time to reject the 90:10 grant–to–loan basis and accept what the Centre gives to industrially advanced States. Walking with crutches when there is nothing wrong with one’s legs is the surest way of ensuring that one will never walk properly.