Friday, July 11, 2014

North East India - Modi and Financial Management

A myopic bureaucratic and political class lacks the will to overcome north-east India’s institutional deficiencies, but now it is high time for northeastern states to wonder as to what they can really do for the country.

Development cannot be a mere destination. Rather it has to be a method of life. This is easier said especially in the context of northeast India, as in this development-starved region cradled amid hills and valleys generally we are used to phrases like non viability, collapse of road sector, financial crunch. And how they have derailed a host of developmental and infrastructure projects. The near 50-day Modi dispensation has tried to show the mirror about northeast India’s projects to the states in the region and perhaps also to itself. 
Firstly, the White Paper on National Highways Authority of India brought to light menaces like “undue importance” given to projects without considering project preparedness and viability factors. 

Thus, nationwide we have 189 projects in ‘dispute’ with the total amount of money at stake being Rs 27,209.56 crore. Out of these, 8 projects in north east India are in ‘dispute’ and the amount in question is Rs 608.52 crore.
In terms of national budget, this is definitely peanuts; but for the development-starved 7 or 8 sister states it comes to significant number of projects and also money.
Again during the presentation of the Railway Budget 2014-15, the Railway Minister D V Sadananda Gowda did some plain speaking and showed how various crucial projects and papers related to them were gathering dust.

"Railways have been suffering heavily because of time overrun and cost overrun due to poor project management," the Minister said adding there are as many as 23 railway projects underway in the northeast. Official sources point out that among them a few like, Lumding-Badarpur-Silchar Gauge Conversion in Cachar region in Assam is pending for about a decade now.
The project was decided and launched in 1996 with a 10-year deadline but the work progress is at snail pace and far from satisfactory. The Railway Minister proposed a quantum leap in fund allocation for these projects saying there will be near 54 per cent jump over allocations than previous year. With higher allocation and close monitoring of works, it is hoped, Lumding-Badarpur-Silchar Gauge conversion (Assam), Dudhnoi-Mendipathar (Assam-Meghalaya) new line, Harmuti-Murkongselek (to help connectivity in Arunachal) and Balipara-Bhalukpong sections will soon get commissioned.
The Northeast Frontier Railway has already ear-marked that the branch line from Balipara to Bhalukpong will be ready by January 2015. The 20 km Harmuty-Naharlagun was identified as crucial to national security owing to the presence of Chinese railway infrastructure on the state’s borders.
Then came in the Budget 2014-15 where in the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has made a realistic assessment of things and according to none other than the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, presented a ‘ray of hope’.

Over the decades, Governance and Developments or the lack of these two aspects form the cardinal factors about providing an administration to the northeast. There need not be a shed of sentimentalism in the argument but it goes without saying that irrespective of inherent cynicism, true developments and upliftment of native people’s condition always seemed to give a moral brooding to local youths not to go haywire.

The absence of development is a catalyst for the younger lots and others towards age-old insurgency or anti-India movements in India. The taste of the cake is in its eating. 

It is more in the region as job-accountability is a fast eroding commodity these days. The Modi government’s maiden budget for 2014-15 lists out a few new and revamped projects for the northeast. The true test for the Modi government will be to ensure that these promises are implemented and the projects get commissioned at the earliest. 

The implementation is much with the state governments. Here, Congress party is in power in important states like Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Mizoram. No chief minister is known in these five states for delivering exceptionally well. Moreover, opposition-parties - Left in Tripura, NPF in Nagaland and SDF in Sikkim due to plethora of factors including a myopic bureaucratic and lack of a national vision. 
The Finance Minister also spoke about the need to generate ‘more resources’ to fuel the economy. Having said these, I come to the stage where, for instance, compatriots in a state like Nagaland in 1990s had opposed the imposition of income tax provisions on locals.
The plea that these states in northeast fall under Special Category states is also no healthy argument as the funding pattern to northeast was also changed by the 9th Finance Commission in 1991-92. Therefore, as Arun Jaitley moots bold steps to enhance economic activity and spur growth, it is high time northeastern states too wonder for themselves as to what they can really do for the country, mainstream India.

A far-sighted vision or the lack of it is what got the northeast where it is, only a neo-pragmatism and responsible economic management can now save the day and also take the region to newer heights.


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