Umpteen times has Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi spoken about attracting investments to Assam from other parts of the country and abroad. All too frequently, he has gone on foreign junkets ostensibly to learn about means to attract investment and sweet-talk investors to come to the State. The result of all these brave talk and exertions have been nowhere near expectations. When the public sector in the country is ceding space to the private sector and the government talks repeatedly of public-private partnership (PPP), the news is that the contribution of the private sector in Assam has been drying up over the past decade. In a study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), it has come to light that private sector investment in the State has declined from 30.1 to 11.4 per cent from 2004-05 to 2014-15. This has occurred in a period of supposedly improved law and order with sundry rebel groups sitting down for peace talks with the government. Holding additiol charge of the Home department in the last 14 years, Chief Minister Gogoi has frequently patted himself on the back about how this ‘peace dividend’ has created a better climate for investment in the State. But the private sector has clearly not been taken in, with ASSOCHAM figures now showing that it is public sector investment which is primarily keeping Assam afloat.
The ASSOCHAM wish list is quite long, calling for major infrastructure overhaul in the agriculture sector, strategic investments in irrigation and watershed magement, and a clear roadmap for improving transport infrastructure, storage facilities, logistics, power, communications and marketing. With the State having 22 lakh jobless youths, the ASSOCHAM has called for creating sufficient job opportunities in value-added food products, fish rearing and processing, sericulture and silk textile, fibre products, handloom, mall plantation products, cane and bamboo handicraft, construction and tourism. So what must the Assam government do to get its act together? The ASSOCHAM report says that Assam needs to upgrade its physical and social infrastructure; significantly improve connectivity in roads, telecom and power supply; create a more investor-friendly policy framework; and make its bureaucrats play a more conducive role. But don’t these recommendations sound familiar? These are precisely the shortcomings Chief Minister Gogoi has long been claiming his government will address. But all that has proved to be mere empty talk, with private investors giving the State a wide berth due to disincentives like rudimentary infrastructure, bureaucratic corruption and red-tape, lack of business-friendly environment, and the widespread prevalence of a ‘hafta culture’ in which militants, social groups and law-enforcers vie to extort businessmen.