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EDITORIAL

Right Accent on Projects

One of the best things to have happened as a result of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh taking over the chairmanship of the North Eastern Council (NEC) is the importance he has given to the speedy execution of the long-pending projects of the Council and the maximum utilization of funds. Addressing the 67th plenary session of the NEC on Monday, he asked the Council to work for the fruition of its objectives of having an accelerated, inclusive and sustainable growth of the north-eastern region. In his address at the plenary session of the NEC he virtually hauled up the NEC and the States of the Northeast for their lackadaisical implementation of Centrally-funded projects, even as he referred to the approved extension of the NEC schemes beyond 2020. He made it clear that the approval for this extension was linked to a directive to focus on the intervention of the NEC in specific areas and to ensure convergence with schemes of other ministries of the Union government. He said that the financial package of Rs 4,500 crore for the three financial years from 2017-18 to 2019-20 had been approved with a window for the NEC to receive additional infusions of funds during 2018-19 depending on the availability of resources, performances of schemes and utilization of funds. The Home Minister made it very clear that the NEC would 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. The minister also referred to the third party evaluation of the NEC carried out by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Shillong that had indicated that large amounts of NEC funds were lying with the eight north-eastern States in the form of unspent balances. He exhorted the constituent States of the NEC to thoroughly deliberate on the issue.
One of the pertinent issues relating to Central funds for the north-eastern States is that certain funds are released directly to the States while other funds are allocated to the NEC to be used for particular States. This should be evident from the fact that there are instances of funds routed through the NEC lying unused with the different States. One cannot see any justification for such an arrangement whereby States receive development funds from the Centre allocated directly to the States concerned and also funds allocated to them through the NEC. One fails to see the justification of funds meant for a particular State being routed through an organization like the NEC, since such arrangements are not in force for States of India elsewhere.
Be that as it may, the participation of the Union Home Minister in the 67th plenary session of the NEC has achieved at least three desirable objectives. First, it has served to make the NEC aware that its functioning on behalf of the people of the Northeast over the years has neither been effective nor even visible in most cases, and that it has to do much better even to justify its existence. Secondly, the Home Minister has drawn pointed attention to the fact that the present pace of the development projects of this region is inadequate considering the decades of backlog that the region has suffered from. His emphasis on speeding up the completion of development projects has been welcomed by everyone concerned with the development of the Northeast and the extremely tardy pace at which anything happens in this region. Thirdly, the Home Minister has done his bit to destroy the myth that the Northeast has remained undeveloped due to lack of financial support of the Centre. As we have known for many years, the backwardness of the region in respect of development is largely due to the inefficiency and failure of our own rulers and bureaucrats than to any shortcomings of people.

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