SHILLONG, July 9: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked the north-eastern States to expedite the work on long-pending projects of the North Eastern Council (NEC) and ensure maximum utilization of funds. He also asked the Council to work for fruition of its objectives of having an accelerated, inclusive and sustainable growth of the north-eastern region.
Addressing the 67th Plenary Session of the NEC in Shillong today, the Union Home Minister in his address virtually hauled up the NEC and the States for their lackadaisical implementation of the Centrally funded projects, even as he pointed at approved extension of the schemes of the NEC beyond 2020. He said that the approval comes with a direction to focus on NEC intervention in specific areas and to ensure convergence with schemes of other ministries of the Union Government.
The financial package of Rs 4500 crore for the three financial years 2017-2018 to 2019-2020 was approved with a window for the NEC to receive additional infusions of funds during 2018-19 depending on the availability of resources, performances of scheme and utilization of funds.
The Union Minister stated, “The NEC will have to ensure maximum utilization of existing funds for completion of ongoing schemes in order to enable it to approach the Ministry of Finance for additional funds.”
Pointing out that the third party evaluation of the NEC carried out by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Shillong had indicated that large amount of NEC funds were lying with the eight north-eastern States in the form of unspent balances, Singh exorted the participants to thoroughy deliberate on the issue.
Underlining the importance of civil society participation in the developmental process, the Home Minister advocated social audit of the projects and use of modern technology to effectively monitor project implementation. “In the north-eastern region, civil society is a very powerful medium to be engaged in all our development efforts. The participation of the civil society is crucial. They should be the partners in socio-economic change. One such partnership can be through social audit,” said Singh, in his first address to the NEC after the Union Cabinet’s recent approval of a proposal making the Union Home Minister the Chairman of NEC.
“Social audit not only provides information on how funds are spent but most crucially it enables people’s participation in the planning of developmental activities and also enables mid-course correction as projects and schemes roll on,” he added.
He expressed happiness that through the use of remote sensing and satellite imagery, NEC had partnered with the North Eastern Space Application Centre (NESAC) and developed a ‘Projects Monitoring’ portal and a mobile application where stakeholders can monitor progress of capital works funded by the NEC. Regarding the security scenario in the north-eastern States, the Home Minister said the Government was giving special attention to improving the internal security. “Private investment and the economic activity would not flourish in the absence of peace and normalcy. During the four years of NDA government the security situation has drastically improved. When compared to the 90s, the insurgency-related incidents have declined 85 percent. There is 96 percent reduction in civilian and security forces casualties,” he said.
The Home Minister further said, “Today, Tripura and Mizoram are completely free from insurgency and there is tremendous improvement in other north-eastern States as well. Due to marked improvement in security situation, the AFSPA has been completely lifted from Meghalaya and its coverage area has been reduced in Arunachal Pradesh”.
Underlining the need for a critical analysis and revision of strategy for development in the north-eastern region, Singh called for drawing a short-term, medium-term and long-term roadmaps.
Singh said there have been a number of reports and vision documents on how to develop the north-eastern region. He emphasized on the need of taking stock of progress made in implementing recommendations contained in them and taking expeditious steps further.
The Union Home Minister said the Government had set up the NITI Forum for the North East in order to provide a platform to identify various constraints on the way of accelerated, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the region.
The first round of the discussion of the Forum was held on the 10th April. The suggestions of this Forum have been made available to all the departments concerned for examination and consideration. He has given 31 October, 2018 as a timeline for decision on suggestions made by the Forum.
The Union Home Minister also urged the NER State governments to create a conducive environment for investment so that entrepreneurs take this opportunity to set up industrial units and generate the much needed employment in the region.
Stating that the Ministry of DONER had recently launched the North East Venture Capital Fund through the North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Limited (NEDFi) with a corpus fund of Rs100 crore, he exhorted the entrepreneurs of the region to access funds to take up economic activities in the field of tourism, waste management, medical healthcare, handloom and handicrafts and agro products etc.
“The Union Cabinet, in March 2018, approved the North East Industrial Development Scheme (NEIDS), 2017 with an outlay of Rs 3,000 crore up to March, 2020. The Government will provide necessary allocations for the scheme after assessment before March, 2020,” he said. He expressed hope that the scheme would promote industrialization in the NER to boost employment and income generation.
The Union Home Minister lauded the NEC for leveraging its community-based projects, North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project (NERCORMP), to design sustainable livelihoods interventions and for improving the life of a lot of rural households in the NER.
“Strong Community base is the strength of this region. NERCORMP can serve as a centre of excellence for livelihoods. It can coordinate with various Ministries of the Central Government and engage with State Governments, District Administrations and non-government bodies for improving grassroots planning in the backward areas of the region and for facilitating exchange of ideas and dissemination of the best practices of various livelihood programs for wider application,” he said.
“After creation of the North Eastern Council under the NEC Act, 1971, the States of NER were deleted from the purview of Eastern Zonal Council. I suggest that NEC may be used as a forum to discuss and resolve Inter-State and Centre-State issues effectively as the other Zonal Councils are doing,” said Singh.
In view of the peculiar geographical terrain of the NER and fragmented farmland holdings, the Union Home Minister called for “high-value low-volume” produce for export and “out-of-the-box” solutions to doubling farmers’ income by 2022. He also said that the NEC could become a spring board for regional integration and prosperity with South East Asia towards realizing the objectives of the Government’s Act East Policy.
Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel/ DoPT, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh, who is also the Vice-Chairman of the NEC, in his speech gave details of NEC history and changes from time to time. He said that the Ministry has brought DoNER to the doorsteps of the North East region. Dr Singh said that out of 116 aspirational districts of the country, 14 districts are in the north-eastern region. These districts are assessed on the basis of 48 indicators of the growth.
Regarding infrastructural growth in the region, Dr Singh said that the Government is addressing the concern of ‘Orphan roads’, common to two bordering states but not being attended by either state in the region.
Enumerating the activities of the DoNER Ministry, Dr Singh said that the Ministry is organizing ‘North East Calling’ and ‘Destination North East’ activities in different parts of the country for faster integration.
Dr Singh also mentioned about the hostel facilities for North East students in New Delhi, where hostels are constructed in Dwarka and Rohini. He said that hostels for North East students in Bengaluru are also being constructed “as it is the need of the time”.
Governors of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Sikkim, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Arunachal Pradesh, and six Chief Ministers from the NE states of Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland delivered their speeches at the plenary session. Senior officers of the eight north-eastern States, top officials of NEC and DoNER ministry were also present on the occasion.