(BSL, LLb, MSc., PMP, ITIL)
During a recent interrogation (perhaps termed differently, in official terms), I was facing a barrage of questions on the recently enacted Assam Skill University Act (2020) and the location benefits of having such an institute within the region. My answers were perhaps not very charitable, but then condescension has never sat well with me. Perhaps, I should have been more circumspect and kept my vile tongue in check. I remember asking, about the Nation or the State, rather cheekily!!!
The Senior Director, with great patience, pointed out that wasn't the two the same.
I respectfully disagreed, though the Director was in essence correct. What is beneficial for the nation, is beneficial for the State. But in a heterogeneous country like India, Assam cannot be equated with Andhra Pradesh or Arunachal with Kerala. Our development so far has been skewed and mere institutions won't hold the edifice intact unless there is a structured approach.
In the words of a frighteningly erudite uncle, planning needs to be holistic, especially keeping in mind the revenue prospects and actualization of proposed revenue. For example, training hundreds and thousands of workforce in a State like Assam (or any of the 7 sisters) which lack a large enough industrialized sector would merely mean resource drain. Our future generations would be trained and capable but without jobs, emigration to industrial hubs would be the next logical step. Even if we talk about the much-vaunted "entrepreneurship" avenues, our hinterlands are bereft of access and restricted by local markets and intermediaries. In urban planning, this is termed Ribbon Development.
Insimple words, to paraphrase my beloved "Mamashree", planning highways without actual foresight of allowing for a network of subsidiary arterial roads capable of handling large volume commercial transportation from the hinterlands prevents the very basic tenet of development. This defines "balanced planning" from being actualized. Again, these are not views held by a trained urban designer, rather a curious lawyer who often works with his hands and thinks, unfettered by qualifications.
In my last section, I highlighted the need for a behavioural change in bias and mindset, or innovation and cultural change management. Allow me to take forward the argument in a peripheral aspect – Hinterland Development.
Let's take a beat from this rant. What do you invest your money in? In my family, we were taught that land comes first, then comes the gold, all else is a waste. Traditionally, the population grows, but the earth is not… There's wisdom in history, after all, landed gentry have survived better than most, down the ages.
But in a developing country or even State, this causes phenomena of "Capital Freeze". Real Estate boom and highway/roadside developments are dead investments for a State like ours. The crazy purchases across every highway in Assam on either side are now festering sores in investment terms and hideous wounds in economic development. Did you know that lack of large-sized arterial roads caused by over-kill of real estate investments are stumbling blocks to the same future entrepreneurs being trained by our proposed institutes under skill universities and more? Never mind, all the global tie-ups, we're merely producing fodder for the economic development of other States and Nations.
In business consulting, we drive something called a "funnel". This means a pipeline of proposed engagements almost 12 months ahead of schedule. A healthy funnel defines a true consultant's worth, his/her "book" which means bonuses or losses. Can any
government ignore holistic planning in terms of the pipeline of their State's resources and our youth are the most prized resource available? Can we fritter away the raw products of the State to benefit another?
Some Trivia - Forget road/highway development, let's also consider that we have merely 5 bridges across our Brahmaputra as compared to 30+ across the Ganga?
India undertook the unbalanced approach to development when it became independent. Assam was given the "step-motherly treatment" populist literature taught to us. But subsequent governments were perhaps not far-sighted enough to consider the viability of limiting large-scale industries, and rather an encouragement of medium-scale industrial zones built around resource-rich areas with greater access roads. In short, creating burgeoning pockets of industrial pockets/mini-hubs, allowing for an inflow of labour residencies in pockets adjacent to such industries.
It's not been all bad - we had good thinkers and planners who did set up the industrial estates but these were over-run by non-productive, subsidy hungry efforts. Sick-industry sops were social banes but sadly, they were the adopted strategy of get-rich-quick administrators and even some well-meaning officers.
Whatever we call it, hinterland development, import-substitution, resource allocation – the question remains, what happens AFTER you have trained the youth?
The future will demand answers; our fathers have died unable to answer the same.
Do we suffer the same fate?