By R.K. Ranjan Singh
Lopsided development processes in Manipur have led to vast inequalities, leaving almost 80 percent of the geographical area in under-developed zone. This underdeveloped geographical area is the hilly terrain, predominantly settled by the indigenous highland communities. 90 percent of the total population of the highland communities is the underprivileged victims of poverty. They remain underdeveloped in the midst of bountiful natural resources surrounding their habitats. Similarly, 80 percent of the rural population of the valley communities are neither able to enjoy the fruits of development programmes nor able to take active role in the development processes of the state.
Earlier attempts were made to develop hill and backward areas and measures were initiated to develop these areas. There were efforts to create democratic institutions to decentralize power and ensure people`s participation in the development programmes. Further, attempts were made for creating growth centers. There were also schemes in the form of special projects or special rural development programme. And, voluntary organizations, self-help groups and NGOs were encouraged to undertake development programmes. Finally, at present efforts are on to privatize the public organizations and withdraw the state`s role from them. Behind these attempts was the underlying idea of creating a self-sustainable society for all.
However, the New Economic Police of 1991 has changed the direction and process of people`s participation in development. More emphasis was placed on privatization and liberalization and the use of information technology (knowledge-based economy) for development. The issues related to the need of structural changes in our economy along with governance reforms are being envisaged today. Even then participation in the development process widens the gap between developed and under-developed areas like the hills and the valleys; urban and rural areas, etc., as these polarizations dictate the nature, location and utilization of the development projects.
Though the methods and institutions of development in Manipur had become independent, the overall continual growth of the state was mainly negative. For example, education system in the state makes people more stupid and hospitals make them sicker. Autonomy of the individuals is often encroached upon. A transport system aimed at ever-faster individual traffic produced traffic jam, accidents, deaths, dying forests and hinder the movement of cyclists and pedestrians. Similarly, once motorable roads were introduced in the far-flung villages, the village has been continuously invaded by surplus products from developed areas in a disguised form of supply. Consequently, the primary production system of the area/village has been crumbling, turning the people into passive consumers with an accelerated rate of consumption. People are, thus, made more dependent under the monopolized production system.
Similarly, the allopathic system monopolized the healthcare system so that even simple healing methods were reserved for the specialist class. Ironically, a growing number of ailments were caused by so-called professional medical treatment. Thus, the developing society created prosperity, but impoverished the ones whose resources were too scarce and destroyed their freedom and rights. The impact of development planning simply had to be convivial. It had to be acceptable without any expert`s license or compulsion or violation of other people`s right to freedom. Till today, the development processes and institutions remain rooted in orthodox perceptions. The funding and implementing agencies for development both hope for more from the same thing. Under free and compulsory education provision of the Constitution, what is usually perceived is more funding and creating many more avenues for expenditure in the name of total literacy programmes etc. Similarly, under better health care system, more doctors and more infrastructural development expenditure has been incurred. But most of the people are suffering without any treatment and others who could afford are compelled to go outside the state. Therefore, the goals of development policy are always far from the set target in every corner of the state when measured in terms of the consumer value and the service facilities extended. As a result, privileged sections are vividly standing out from the total populace. In a sense, development policies serve as a tool for modernizing poverty with higher degrees of dependence and consumption, thereby creating more and more underdeveloped areas. This process of underdevelopment creates the basic essentials out of the reach of the common people, negating the fundamental right of a citizen. Under such circumstances, some of the politicalised planners are trying to impose certain kind of project at the cost of people`s right to environment and the fundamental right of a citizen. It is in contravention to the universal concept of development.
The providers of infrastructural facilities should have the idea of enhancing the capacities of people to generate income and scope for self-sustainable development rather than suppress their activities for participation in the process of self-sustainable development. Currently, what we have observed is that once an all-weather motorable road extends to a remote part, the extended road is always used for extraction of raw materials from the forests and for dumping other outside productions to the area under the banner of `essential commodities`. For example, when the Boarder Road passing through Kharasom (Ukhrul) connecting Kohima via Phek area, the educated youths began to extract the rich pine forests of Kharasom and export the forest resources to the business and trader groups for some tiny amounts with the aim for procuring motorbikes. Finally, their primary forests were degraded, their natural fresh air has been polluted with carbon monoxide, whereas the hard-earned incomes of their parents were exhausted and ultimately their livelihoods were put under extreme conditions. Hence, this kind of development will always deviate from the common goal of sustainable development of the Nation.
Similarly, in the rural valley and foothill areas of the state, when a motorable road was extended, some prominent peasants of the area sold away their paddy fields. The price of the paddy field is invested for buying Buses for plying between the village and towns. At the beginning a little domestic surplus production of the areas was marketed to the urban areas. But simultaneously large-scale production materials form the urban areas flowed into the villages. Gradually, endless free flows of materials from the urban areas began to flood the rural market. Ultimately, the primary production sectors of the rural areas became sick sectors. Traditionally the state was self-sufficient in good and safe drinking water. However, after the strengthening of the Department of Public Health Engineering, the government monopolized the supply of drinking water. Till today none of the water supply schemes was successfully operating in a practical sense. A large number of women-folk in both urban and semi-urban areas were waiting in long queue daily forgetting a few liters of water from the public supply point. Most of the man-days were spent for waiting for the `pipe water`. Surprisingly, most of the local ponds and tanks, which were once conserved by both the individual households and the community were not used and thus filled with earth. Consequently, neither the state Water Supply Scheme nor the local traditional system could provide safe drinking water. It is no wonder that 75 percent of the common diseases occurring in the state are water-borne diseases. If the state had planned systematically on providing safe drinking water, all the water borne diseases occurring in the state could have been effectively prevented.
The present patterns of governance in the state may also handicap the functioning of sustainable development processes in manifold ways. Some groups of thinkers say that development planning in the state has been reduced to simply projecting the budget and not physical growth or achievement in real terms. A huge expenditure was continuously being incurred for construction of roads and other such projects. However, all these projects are in blueprints only. It is also a fact that most of the developmental funds are utilized for the service and salaried sectors and not for accelerating the overall growth of the state`s economy. It is also said that most of the institutions do not like to submit or prepare developmental projects because of the law and order situation prevailing in the state currently. For example, all the approved development projects were continuously threatened by some elements either to get contract work or to get percentages of the project funds. To negotiate and convince the elements is nothing but simply risking the life of the personnel. Some opine that the process of development planning in almost all the plan periods was not known by the people of the state. There is no feedback or monitoring mechanism to assess development projects. As a result, people`s participation in the development process is negligible. There is a good feeling that government belongs to the bureaucracy and the political class but not to the people. In a democratic country, the government without people`s participation is simply meaningless.
Considering all the above-mentioned aspects, the nature of development process and its effects in the state need to adopt a new perspective of strategies. New development strategies should be an alternative way of satisfying needs and attaining sustainable growth of the state and the people. It is also true that humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the poverty of the common people. The underprivileged groups have a right to expect solutions to their poverty and hence new development strategies may be initiated. While making an alternative planning policy like poverty eradication strategies, special attention should be given to education and health.