DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
One has heard enough of talk about the road to Assam’s development. Now, it’s time to actually zero in on a doable agenda and act on it. And since only the State Government can largely act on such a development plan, one tends to be cynical because of the near perennial failure of the authorities in Assam to put the State on the course of progress and well-being. But efforts must go on with the hope that a set of leaders in the Assam Government would one day emerge and be able to zero in on that doable agenda and implement it satisfactorily. Private players will have to play the lead role in the fruition of any such agenda, of course!
I see a clear linkage between honesty, development and accountability. Unless there is honesty, integrity, vision, dymism and commitment among our elected leaders, Assam cannot hope to reach anywhere near some of our ‘developed’ states like Maharashtra and Gujarat, not to speak of catching up with them. The other day, ideas man, Shyam Kanu Mahanta, took the lead in organizing a round-table to discuss ‘Assam’s Development Agenda’ as part of the State-backed Rongali Festival. Leading industrialists (whatever little of such people we have here) told the gathering how they have to bribe people in authority to get their business or projects moving.
The first thing I suggest when we talk about Assam’s development agenda is to set up an Accountability Commission to monitor governce in the State. Such a Commission need not have Constitutiol sanction or teeth in the strict legal parlance. It could comprise of credible people from different fields and its job will be to look at the functioning of key departments and bring irregularities into the public domain. This will at least act as a deterrent and help reduce corruption. Secondly, I would bat for de-linking Assam for the bracket called the North-east because that dilutes the State’s independent entity purely from the marketing point of view. Any development plan must be state-centric and not region-centric. Thirdly, we must stop talking about Assam’s so-called ‘geographical isolation’, and also stop complaining about how the State was once linked through the sea to Kolkata and how Independence spped the communication links and so on. After all, 68 years after we attained freedom, we have not been able to generate much of livelihood options or visible development in Assam.
Also, we need to realize that we have waited enough for investors to set up industries in Assam. That big investment is just not coming, and we cannot wait indefinitely for that to happen. We must utilize our three basic resources to achieve a turn-around. The three areas we must look at and put all our resources into are: agriculture, tourism and info-tech. As the economy in Assam is agrarian, agriculture must be transformed into a big industry. The turn-around in agriculture cannot come with the kind of leadership demonstrated now by Assam’s Agriculture minister or the department. It can come provided a multi-discipliry approach is adopted and several other departments like horticulture, fisheries, commerce and industries and transport come together. Food processing and other value addition, besides a solid R & D will be key factors.
Similarly, tourism cannot happen just by talking in semirs or by holding so-called ‘ethnic food festivals’ or fashion shows. Packaging holds the key and then communication to let the world know about the destitions or cultures. Again, simply creating the hype without the basic infrastructure in place will do more harm than good. Here, too, only the tourism department or Assam’s unimagitive tourism ministers cannot bring the tour-around. If the Assam Government wants to boost tourism, it should only play the role of a facilitator and leave things to the private sector. Create a brand, create a class of tourist-friendly and tourism-informed entrepreneurs. Assam also needs trained tourist police. Well, if the rhino or if Kaziranga is Assam’s best known tourism brand, then for God’s sake begin by first adopting the area around the entrance to the Kaziranga tiol Park. Commission a world class architect or architectural firm and build a nice ambience around the entrance. Build a cluster or whatever where you can to accommodate the shabby kiosks already existing or the grocery shop or the restaurant at that place. The architecture should be such that it blends into the Park’s ambience. A tourist reaching the spot must get some shock and awe before he or she checks into the hotel or goes inside the sanctuary.
And yes, Assam can indeed be an IT hub. All the Assam Government needs to do is to press the Centre to engage in talks with Bangladesh and get the high-speed broadband linkage that is available from Cox Bazar. Direct connectivity with Cox Bazar will help us provide bandwidth services to IT companies at 20 to 25 per cent cheaper rates besides improving connectivity. At present, the North-east is linked with the Mumbai and Cheni intertiol gateways, which is 2,700-kms away through the rrow Siliguri corridor. The Assam government in 2011 did move the centre for setting up an internet gateway in Guwahati with connectivity from Cox Bazaar, which is 470-kms away, but seems to have forgotten about it now. The time is now because it is the Modi Government that has the best of relations with Dhaka in a long time. Yes, one will have to wait and watch things unfold.