People always think poverty means having no money. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it can be the lack of development in a region, which then leads to the lack of accessibility to basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter.
In India, there are a lot of rural pockets that face this problem, but there’s a chunk that stands out most. Can you guess which one? Clue: They are sisters.
Yup, it’s the North East! These states have felt left behind in India’s development plan for a while. One of the first things PM Modi did when he took office announced a number of schemes and projects to boost growth in the North East region. But let’s see if the schemes are even hitting the mark on what the people of the region need and if they’ve been properly executed since their inception.
Problem #1: There aren’t enough jobs in the region
NaMo’s Vision: Realising that this region could be India’s window to trade with our eastern neighbours, PM Modi wants to turn North East into a commercial hub. More commerce = more job opportunities. By cutting the red tape on several stalled projects like the Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymer Ltd. (petrochemical firm) and the Numaligarh Refineries Ltd. (wax plant) in Assam, the government has kickstarted this effort. BPCPL alone is expected to create over 1 lakh jobs. Through the North East BPO Promotion Scheme (NEBPS), the government is also trying to expand the IT sector in this region, which will create even more employment opportunities.
Remarks: To really gauge how much change these schemes have caused in terms of direct and indirect employment, we’re probably going to have to wait for the numbers from the 2021 census. But in the meantime, looks like both the Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymer Ltd. and the Numaligarh Refineries Ltd. are doing well and it’s safe to assume that if the companies are doing well, they must be hiring. About 2,100 of the 5000 seats allocated for companies to receive incentives from the NEBPS scheme have been filled. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s some progress.
Problem #2: There are too many people living below the poverty line
NaMo’s Vision: According to the 2011-12 poverty estimates released by Planning Commission, the population living below the poverty line (less than Rs. 123/day) in the North East was very significant – on average around 23.42%. The Government introduced the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Mission in 2016 to develop skilled labour and local entrepreneurship by providing the appropriate infrastructural facilities in clusters of ‘smart villages’. Additionally, various self-employment and subsidy schemes were initiated under the Integrated Rural Development Program (IRDP).
Remarks: The IRDP scheme alleviated 15% to 20% of the poor that were above the poverty line but did not significantly change the lives of those below poverty line. Like most subsidy schemes, the success of the programme depends on accurately calculating who are the beneficiaries, something that has not been properly executed for this scheme. Additionally, it’s also under-financed, and most self-employment initiatives are focused on secondary earners (women) rather than the primary earners (men). While this is great for empowering women, it does very little for poverty eradication.
Problem #3: These states are geographically isolated from India
NaMo’s Vision: PM Modi has been trying to reduce travel time between the North East and the Indian mainland in an attempt to boost tourism and reduce the prices of commodities by making transport easier.
The Indian Railways has commissioned repair and improvement projects on about 900 kilometers in the area and a 132-kilometer railroad from Maynaguri–Jogighopa is to be constructed.
Roadways are part of the plan too. As of 2016, the Government has already announced over 80 road projects for the region. The Special Accelerated Road Development Program for North East (SARDPNE) includes upgrading 10,141 kilometers of national highways and state roads.
Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has mandated to develop National Waterways including National Waterway – 2 (River Brahmaputra) from Bangladesh Border to Sadiya for the purpose of inland water transport.
North Eastern Council (NEC) and Alliance Air (Air India subsidiary) signed an MOU in 2014 for increased flight operations in the region by connecting Shillong, Lilabari, Tezpur and Silchar with Kolkata/Guwahati.
Work has also begun on building a bridge over Feni river in Tripura, which will ferry heavy goods to and from the region and the mainland via the Chittagong International port in Bangladesh.
Remarks: The push for transport in this area has definitely been big and all-encompassing. However, this was long-pending and much needed as one of the biggest problems in this region is the fact that it’s actually really difficult to access it. Having said that, the road to building roads through this region will be taxing and long since the topography of this area simply does not lend itself to this sort of human activity. Unpredictable weather, frequent landslides and undulating land are likely to cause consistent stalling of these projects. Let’s hope the State is determined to get this done, otherwise, like most other attempts to access this region, these too will remain incomplete.
Problem #4: There is no connectivity within these states
NaMo’s Vision: As of 2016, PM Modi announced a project for improved Internet connectivity for the Northeast region in collaboration with Bangladesh. This was to make 10 GB of seamless alternate bandwidth available for the region.
Along with Reliance Jio, the Government was successful in collaborating with various state governments of the Northeast to ensure Internet and call connectivity in these regions as a part of the Digital India movement.
Remarks: Even with all these efforts recent numbers of Jio subscribers show that connectivity issues still exist in these regions and the telecom company has only managed to rope in 9 lakh users so far, that’s just 1.98% of the region’s population. I guess it’s time to become more aggressive on this front.
Problem #5: These states don’t generate enough electricity for everyone
NaMo’s Vision: The seven northeastern states face around 379 million units of power deficit annually. The first and the only green power plant, the Palatana Power Plant, with a 726 MW capacity in the North East was set up in Tripura only recently in 2014. The recent commissioning of Bishwanath-Chariyali-Agra transmission line has also brought a 500 MW additional capacity to the region. The government has made a total investment of around Rs. 10,000 crore in power transmission projects covering all the states in this region.
The North Eastern Electric Power Corporation confirmed that its generation capacity would rise to 2,060 MW by the end of 2017, as commissioning of three more power projects would be completed before the end of this year.
Remarks: The Palatana project is a hallmark of cooperation between India and Bangladesh, as India has initiated the process to supply 100 MW of power from Tripura to Bangladesh. It’s also the only installation to be certified as green power project in the country, which is not only great for the region but also for the country. Since the big steps in the North East energy sector have only just been taken, it’ll take some time to see if they bear fruit. However, these steps do look promising.
Today, the issues of North East India are making their way into the limelight due to the media coverage of the constant insurgency attacks in the region, forcing the Government to take action and address the local development problems. A big factor that leads to these insurgencies is government ignorance, to begin with. Check out our article about the unfortunate series of events that led to the rise of Naxalism to understand this further.