By Professor N. Mohendro Singh
Former Member, Steering Committee, NER Vision, 2020
Well, it is good that the 60th plenary session of the North Eastern Council to be held on 16th and 17th June at New Delhi has been meaningfully designed to give effect to the NER Vision, 2020 signed on 13th May 2008 at Agartala after exhaustive preparation of three years. The development initiative marks a turning point to get down to the ground realities. In fact it is a Bible of Development for the entire North Eastern Region with the Transfer of Development Rights in the wake of challenges of globalization and imperatives of liberalization which was set in motion in 1991. Regional imbalance continued to pose a tantalizing headache for the planners in the country. The performance of economic planning in the country for the last 58 years fails to address the issue of regional imbalance. Curiously, to the dismay and disappointment, the North Eastern Region was found lagging 30 per cent behind the rest of the country. It was therefore essential to prepare the roadmap and guiding framework for a structural
change and responsive trajectory of growth.
In order to catch up with the rest of the country the North Eastern Region should be prepared to achieve annual average growth rate of Gross State Domestic Product of 13.17 per cent and Manipur 13.25 per cent by 2012-2017 as against the national average of 9 per cent. This is a new development challenge.
Any exercise has, therefore, to be made keeping this reality in view not merely the routine exercise of a few projects not carefully worked out to ascertain the accurate multiplier effect on the growth acceleration and stimuli released by way of externalities. In this connection we have to identify four major issues:
1 Where do we stand now i.e. by 2011-12?
2 Where to go (economic destination)?
3 How to go (potentials/priorities/strategy)?
4 How soon (time frame/time line)?
In the course of preparation of the Vision Document we suggested six components of strategy
a. Empowerment of people
b. Creation of Development Opportunities
c. Developing sectors with comparative advantage
d. Capacity Development of people and institution
e. Creating hospitable investment climate
f. Investment by both public and private sectors
It could be fair and equally convincing if the projects prepared by the Government of Manipur for the plenary session touch on and are derived from the components of the strategy. Of course, one should not ignore the abject ground realities in the state.
Well, it could be necessary to reiterate the fact that any major development initiative neither preceded nor accompanied by sufficient social empowerment invites inequality, imbalance and instability in due course. The very purpose of inclusive growth gets defeated. A sound strategy demands that Development and Empowerment should go together. Look at the impact of heavy projects of high capital intensity. The lion’s share of the intervention goes to the wealth-to-do rich contractors, companies and suppliers. The poor and unorganized sector remains a mere marginal beneficiary with a spill-over of daily wages.
Secondly we also identified crucial roles of social capital and social entrepreneurs to implement, run and maintain the economic projects. In this connection, once in a meeting of the Steering Committee, SHREE MANI SHANKAR AIYAR, former Honourable Minister, DoNER, in reply to my strong argument on Investment Gap in Manipur said “Professor Mohendro, please don’t worry about money. I will give you enough money for any project but who will look after the project? I know maintenance remains an unsolved problem in Manipur”. Even today plan for plan maintenance remains criminally ignored as a result of which many assets to-day remain half-completed, idle or underutilized. We suggested Administrative Reforms before any policy initiative. What we need in Manipur today is bureaucratic machinery with commitment rooted in domestic institutions not merely so-called refresher programmes.
One should not expect good governance without a fair knowledge on what to do and not to do. In fact confusion begins withjack of fair knowledge and firm commitment. Right now the bureaucratic apparatus in the state, by and large, fails to appreciate the historical necessity of Plan Culture not merely the so-called work culture. The compendium of a few schemes cannot substitute the planned works born out of a series of economic relationships.
It is really surprising that we are harbouring the false notion of inefficiency of District Planning while the whole world has accepted the principle of decentralization of planning and development as cornerstone of inclusive growth. Even to-day we do not have District Resource Inventory, District Perspective Plan and District Annual Plan. We have schemes but not plans. The Hill Development Strategy should necessary be part of the long term District Perspective Plan based on District Resource Potentials. To-day the development process in the hill areas gets distorted and remains visibly insensitive.
Lastly, yes, participation in the 60th plenary session is important;— but more important is the WAY the preparation is made and much more important is the SPIRIT with which you participate. The burden of heavy involvement in the gigantic task of the production of Vision Document remains a reminder of seriousness and thoroughness with which the action plans have to be prepared in order to initiate a directional departure.