The National Institution for Transforming India – NITI Ayog – vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar on Tuesday announced that the premier policy think tank of the Government of India would soon develop an ‘implementable’ action plan for the North-eastern Region which would be ‘practical, tangible and doable. While NITI Ayog was created by abolishing the Planning Commission in January 2015, this announcement made in Guwahati by Kumar only reflects how serious the BJP-led government at the Centre has been towards the North-east.
According to the NITI Ayog website, the Government of India had in 2015 replaced the Planning Commission instituted in 1950 in order to better serve the needs and aspirations of the people of India. The website also says that an important evolutionary change from the past, NITI Aayog acts as the quintessential platform of the Government of India to bring states to act together in national interest, and thereby foster Cooperative Federalism. No wonder very important mandate and agenda announced in January 2015. But when it came to Northeast, those at the helm of affairs in NITI Ayog woke up from slumber only in February 2018, which is exactly a little over three years from the creation of the Ayog to create NITI Forum for North-East. If one remembers correctly, Press Information Bureau had on February 21, 2018 stated NITI Forum for Northeast, notified by the Centre that month, was tasked to identify various constraints on the way of accelerated, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the North East Region of the country and to recommend suitable interventions for addressing identified constraints. It would also review the development status in the Region.
While NITI Forum for Northeast was launched in Agartala in April this year, the first operational meeting of the Forum took place only this month, one which picked up five specific areas – tourism, tea, bamboo, dairy and fishery. These five are indeed very important areas, especially in bringing about socio-economic transformation covering a large chunk of the region’s population. But what should have also found place in the list of priority areas are the inter-related issues of floods, erosion, deforestation, forest encroachment and river dams too, especially because a very large percentage of population of the region have been continuously affected by these factors. Floods, erosion, deforestation, encroachment of forests and river-beds, poorly-planned dams that look only at generating power required elsewhere in the country at the expense of the tribal people of the Northeast – all these are definitely ‘constraints on the way of accelerated, inclusive and sustainable economic growth’ of the region as was mandated when the Forum was created.
Likewise, it is also important that the people – and more particularly college and university students – need to be roped in to the Forum through a specific mechanism so that the younger generation too have the opportunity to give their opinion in turning into reality the Centre’s oft-repeated mantra of ‘accelerated, inclusive and sustainable growth’ of the region. Going by media reports, several ‘experts’ from the government, industry and academia were roped in to take part in the Forum’s crucial meeting held in Guwahati on Tuesday. Who were these ‘experts’ and what kind of expert opinion did these ‘experts’ share in Tuesday’s meeting which did not include the youth who should be the ultimate beneficiary of such deliberations?
Despite such shortcomings, it is heartening to note that the Forum discussed about creation of synergy between industry, authorities and academia, minus of course the farmers. It is also heartening to note that the Forum discussed issues of mismatch between demand and supply in the tea sector, as also rising costs and stagnant prices, minus of course the problems faced by lakhs of tea labourers and thousands of small tea growers. It is also heartening to note that several aspects of tourism were discussed in the Forum, minus of course the haphazard establishment of dhabas, restaurants and resorts right on the boundary of Kaziranga, and of what benefit Assam would accrue of Assam Tourism Development Corporation sponsoring a feature film that chose insurgency as the backdrop of the story-line. It is heartening to note that the Forum discussed UDAAN, without of course discussing that there is only one flight daily flight between Guwahati and Aizawl, which too is irregular. What the Forum discussed about fisheries and dairy are not immediately known except for the fact the panels for these topics hurriedly made a power-point presentation each just before the meeting concluded.
That the Forum was constituted only towards the fag-end of the BJP-led government at the Centre, and that its vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar said on Tuesday that the Forum would ‘identify’ various constraints that the North-east suffer from, are enough to understand what kind of priority NITI Ayog – and for that matter the Centre – has given to the region. With election to the Lok Sabha round the corner, the people of the North-east must remain prepared to see a few more such activities to ‘identify’ constraints on the way for ‘accelerated, inclusive and sustainable’ growth of the region, which in turn would recommend ‘suitable interventions’ for addressing those constraints.