WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
One of the major aberrations of development in India is that we consider only the material or physical aspects of it leaving out of consideration the ways in which human beings will be benefited by it and the ways in which people will participate in and contribute to the facet of development contemplated. The other serious aberration is that the measuring instrument for development in India is invariably the amount of money allocated or spent on different projects. The crores of rupees allocated for a development project constitute the yardstick by which development is measured. As such, if a bureaucrat has maged to spend the money allocated for a development project, that little bit of development for which the funds were allocated is deemed to have taken place. How many people are working for the development project and on it seem to be quite inconsequential details for our government. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that development projects—particularly in a State like Assam—have begun to be viewed in terms of buildings, roads and bridges constructed without any regard to a more comprehensive assessment of the development project itself and the benefits that accrue from it for human beings. In other words, in Assam, development is seen more in terms of steel, concrete, bricks and mortar rather than anything else. Obviously, no real development can ever take place with a perspective of development that excludes human beings that were origilly seen as the beneficiaries of such development. Any so-called ‘development’ in urban areas of Assam has begun to be dreaded because it generally means further reduction of the green areas of the town or city and an addition to the burgeoning concrete jungle that we have maged to turn urban areas into. The unwelcome impact of the concrete jungle called Guwahati can well be judged by the fact that the man-made concrete jungle gives out enough heat to make fans necessary even in November! These are the warts of our development.
It is in this context that I was surprised to read in yesterday’s newspaper that Assam had jumped to the seventh place in overall growth from the 19th place in a matter of just one year. Apparently, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi even received an award for this ‘achievement’ at the State Conclave 2015 organized by the India Today group in New Delhi on Saturday. However, Assam was ranked 14th in inclusive development, a category introduced for the first time this year. Telenga was at the top of the list for this category. What most people will find difficult to understand is how overall growth can be anything but inclusive and why two separate categories of development are needed for the purposes of comparison and the presentation of awards. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that people should view with some suspicion such rankings and awards.
A closer look at the so-called development in Assam over the last 14 years should serve to convince people that in actual fact there has been hardly any real development in the State during this period. Seen against the impact of so-called development on human progress and well-being, what is more in evidence in Assam is negative progress. To start with, there has been a virtual explosion in the crime rate. To make matters worse, in crimes involving trafficking in women and children, Assam leads the rest of the country. This phenomenon is directly related to acute rural poverty arising mainly from a very high level of unemployment in the State. The present situation in many villages is that people do not have the means even for two meals a day not to speak of other needs like health-care and the wherewithal to feed their cattle. In such a situation it is relatively easy for unscrupulous crimil elements to lure women and children into believing that they can have well-paid jobs outside the State. Once they fall into the clutches of such unscrupulous traders, they are no longer able to control subsequent developments. These women and children are taken to States like Delhi, Punjab, Harya, Tamil du, Kartaka or Maharashtra and sold there like cattle. The possibilities are limited for both the women and the children. The women can end up as mistresses or prostitutes, while the children invariably wind up as slaves. While the Assam Police has done a good job of rescuing some of the women and children, the business of rescuing them from other States cannot go on for ever. Other crimes like the loot of ATMs for money (sometimes with the connivance of police officers), robbery and theft of cars (also with the connivance of the police at times) and land-grabbing (with more frequent help from the police) are not happenings that indicate real progress for a State where people should be able to count on the police force to protect them from crimils.
The other major lapses constituting negative progress are poor health care, a very low standard of primary and secondary education, an abnormally high rate of highway accidents and a rapid rise in alcoholism among the youth. Health-care in rural health centres is actually a myth, considering the lack of doctors and paramedical staff, lack of medicines or use of medicines well past their expiry dates. A general disinclition of doctors and nurses to work in ill-equipped rural health centres is the most important factor affecting proper health-care in our villages. As for our poor level of education, the main reasons are a total lack of any kind of planning over the years (especially during the last 14 years) and complete neglect of teacher training for the secondary level. Added to this is nepotism in the recruitment of teachers and the raw deal that primary and secondary school teachers get in respect of salary payments. There are hundreds of teachers in the State who have not been paid for over three years, and the political executive and the bureaucracy do not regard this as a serious crime committed by the government against teachers. Highway accidents in Assam have increased phenomelly because (a) proper driving tests are no longer being conducted prior to the issue of driving licences; (b) a whole lot of people are out there driving on our highways without driving licences; (c) the highways are smoother inducing people to drive faster often without control; (d) people are driving cars with much more powerful engines and (e) there is a great deal more of drunken driving.
Much of the high rate of alcoholism can be directly related to the very high level of unemployment in the State (the highest in the country). People who are unemployed despite being qualified for jobs in a State where the politician needs no academic qualification to be a minister will tend to drown this social injustice and their sorrows and frustrations in liquor. This is predictable behaviour anywhere in the world.
The main reason why we have no industrial development and are not likely to achieve any in the coming decades is that we have no power generation needed for industrial development. And when we talk of development in the 21st century we cannot sidestep industrial development and be talking about handloom production instead. The equation has become rather simple: no power, no development. For about 40 years we have had no planning for power in the State. Our installed capacity for power generation which was a measly 514 MW for many years, has declined to about 200 MW instead of increasing. Considering the high rate of population growth (due mainly to unchecked illegal immigration from other countries) the present level of power generation in the State cannot even take care of the domestic needs of people. Ambitions of industrial development become ridiculous preoccupations in this kind of a scerio. Unfortutely, the present regime did nothing about increasing power generation in 14 years of continuous rule, despite rash promises being made in 2004 about getting over the existing power crisis by the year 2006.
All said and done, we are in a situation where talking about development becomes a futile and farcical exercise. In the 21st century, there can be no development without adequate power generation. And as of today, Assam is generating less than a fifth of the power requirement during peak hours even for an industrially undeveloped State. So what kind of development can we really talk about or witness other than the development of the persol assets of a select few? We cannot expect development in the State with our available resources. However, nothing stops us from expecting some honesty when our rulers choose to talk about development.