Thrust on North East self reliance

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by Hoihnu Houzel
The boss of DONER prefers the focus to be on the job – development of the North East – rather than on her position.
Jayati Chandra guards her privacy. She`™s media shy and does not believe in parting with personal information. And she`™s quite firm that she does not want to be photographed nor is she willing to part with a photo of hers.

However, as the secretary for the Ministry for the Development of the North-East Region (DONER) Chandra will never disappoint anyone wishing to gather information on her department. So, in a way, it`™s easy to gauge Chandra`™s level of efficiency and professionalism.

She promptly answers queries on email. She communicates through her staff which is rather polite and courteous. Perhaps, briefed by her to be just so.

A 1975 batch of Uttar Pradesh cadre, Chandra is a seasoned bureaucrat who has served in different ministries. She was the Secretary in the Department of Youth Affairs in Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. She was also the Principal Adviser, Planning Commission, among others. At the helm of DONER, Chandra is known for her pragmatic and hands-on approach. She tours the region frequently and monitors the pace of development in every state. A no-nonsense lady, Chandra oversees each project at DONER which is an important ministry that was set up in September 2001 under the Vajpayee government. The ministry acts as the nodal department of the Central government to deal with matters pertaining to socioeconomic development of the eight states of North East i.e. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. Touted as the as fulfillment of a long-felt need of a region that is often been neglected and cut off from the rest of India, DONER has since then initiated many channels to enhance the region`™s connectivity with the rest of India whether by road, rail or air.
Hoihnu Hauzel catches up with Jayati Chandra to discuss DONER.

Current: The very purpose of why DONER came into existence in 2001 was to act as the nodal department of the Central government to initiate socio-economic development of the eight states of Northeast India. Looking back, do you think, it has served its purpose?

Chandra:It is serving its purpose and is continuously striving to do better.

What are the many challenges in your role as a bureaucrat?

I would say it that is the same as any other bureaucrat`™s.

Are there much room for innovation in executing or initiating projects and schemes?

Certainly more than innovation `“ our job is to enhance motivation, commitment and dedication in anything that we do including planning, executing and putting to use whatever projects and schemes that are taken up.

What is your personal contribution to the ministry or what are the changes that you have brought to the ministry of DONER.
I am as good as the team with whom I have the honour to work.

What are the challenges in working with the eight North Eastern states?

Getting everyone together (physically) in one place most of the time! Otherwise it has been a pleasure and privilege to work with them.
Do you think people from the North East are too dependent on Central funds for development?

The Volume I of the 11th Plan document states that `for the special category states of NER, the per capita volume of Central assistance is among the highest in the country. Against the all- India average of Rs 683.94 the per capita Central assistance in the NER was Rs 2574.98 in 2006-07. But you have to understand that unlike most other states the level of private sector investment in the NER is almost zero. It may be observed that the per capita Central assistance is the highest in the state of Sikkim.

Is it true that 60 lakh was left unspent from the general advocacy fund for the North East in 2009-10? If so, was it because there was no convincing proposal or activities?

The plan scheme of Advertising & Publicity has been formulated to project the inherent potential and achievements of the North Eastern region and to create an awareness of its unique and distinctive features. It also seeks to highlight the role of the government in facilitating development processes through appropriate strategies in the region. Under the scheme, various events and programmes are organized within and outside the region which include trade expos/ fairs, seminars, publicity of the potential of the region through media etc.

Yes there was some underutilization of funds. The Thrust to make North East self reliant reasons are many, but chief among them is that this amount is given programme wise and the fund is released in two installments `“ the final one after the conclusion of events. Sometime events are rescheduled and/or the original scope is curtailed leading to savings.

Moreover the avenues for raising the states`™ own resources are, at this time highly limited. Gradually as the status of basic infrastructure like power, roads, connectivity etc. increases, this scenario would change.

There is a perception that DONER only doles out money but rarely monitors the execution of a project till the end, thus, lacking in real commitment. Please justify this perception. And what is DONER`™s policy on follow-up and accountability for all the funds and schemes assigned to different projects meant for development in the North East.

The perception is erroneous. First of all these projects are implemented by the state governments. The funds are released in three installments. The release of 2nd and 3rd installment is made against the report of the state government. This report includes physical and financial progress, comments of nodal officers and photographs. Select projects are physically seen by the ministry`™s own representatives. Periodic reviews are carried out by me and other officers too.

Does DONER encourage entrepreneurs to approach the ministry for assistance? How do you judge the work of an entrepreneur or is there any yardstick in order to get support or financial assistance from the ministry?

This Ministry does not have any scheme for funding entrepreneurs etc. We would advise entrepreneurs to approach the state governments and NEDFI. However, they are always welcome to approach the ministry for policy clarification and/or facilitation with state governments.

There are some externally aided projects by organizations like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and IFAD. What is the status of these projects?

The broad objective of ADB assisted North Eastern state roads project (NESRP) is to facilitate regional integration and trade flows in the North East. The project also seeks to develop institutions for capacity building of state PWDs for effective and efficient management of road assets. It is proposed to cover a total length of 433 km at a cost of US $298.6 million. ADB will contribute US $200 million by way of loan. However, the proposal is yet to be finalized as loan negotiations with ADB will be undertaken after obtaining the government of India`™s internal clearances.

IFAD assisted North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project (NERCRMP) is under implementation since 1998 in two districts each in Assam (Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills), Manipur (Senapati and Ukhrul) and Meghalaya (West Garo Hills and West Khasi Hills).

The project being implemented in collaboration with NEC through local communities, aims at improving livelihoods of the people through capacity building and introduction of new technology and techniques for sustainable growth. The project, costing Rs 159.36 crore with IFAD`™s contribution of Rs 109.92 crore, seeks to improve livelihoods of the poorest in targeted villages.

Are there any upcoming projects with any of these global organizations?

North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project for Upland Areas (NERCORMP) is a jointly funded project of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and North Eastern Council, Ministry of DONER, government of India. NERCORMP is a livelihood and rural development project aimed to transform the intervened lives of the poor and marginalized tribal families in North East (NE) India, and thereby become a developmental in the region.

NERCORMP is operating in three states of Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya in North East India, covering two districts in each state. These are Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills districts in Assam, Senapati and Ukhrul districts in Manipur, and West Khasi Hills and West Garo Hills districts in Meghalaya. The project is working in 860 villages, covering 39161 households, 1012 Natural Resource Management Groups (NaRM-Gs), 3168 Self Help Groups (SHGs), 103 NaRM-G Associations and 103 SHG Federations.

NERCORMP aims to synergize the best strengths of the government. IFAD (an international organization with rich and long global experience), partner NGOs, a dedicated project team and the inherent remarkable strengths possessed by communities. Fortunately and gladly, this has happened. Most of the proven and well known modern community and rural developmental tools were employed. Further, innovative and creative solutions kept emerging along the way in NERCORMP.

The overall objective of NERCORMP is `to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable groups in a sustainable manner through improved management of their resource base in a way that contributes to preservation and restoration of the environment.` Another IFAD loan of $20 million which will partially cover the cost of expansion of NERCORMP in the adjoining villages has been sanctioned. NERCORMP-II is going to cost Rs 200 crore (Rs170 crore for new villages plus Rs 30 crore for handholding on tapering basis in existing villages). It is proposed to cover 20,000 household in 400 new villages assuming 50 household per village over a period of six years.

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