By Oken Jeet Sandham (NEPS News Service)
The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), established in September 2001, was just a nodal Department of the Central Government to deal with matters related to the socio-economic development of the Northeastern States of India. It was later accorded the status of a full-fledged Ministry in 2004. The basic idea of establishing this Ministry was to bridge the economic and developmental imbalances that had been between the Region and the rest of the country.
There was initial euphoria over the creation of this Ministry but it didn’t take long before it went into oblivion.
In the past, any Minister who was in-charge of the Ministry happened to be from outside the Region. Some of them were Dr CP Thakur from Bihar, Mani Shankar Aiyar from TN, etc. Otherwise in other times, it was headed by Ministers hailing from the Northeastern Region. Some of them were Bijoy Krishna Handique, Paban Singh Ghatowar, etc. Ghatowar is incumbent Minister for DoNER.
It has been 13 years now that neither significant economic growth nor any policy for the economic development was seen. We only hear of earmarking 10% of their Annual Plan Budgets by Central Ministries for the North Eastern Region to address the development deficit of the NER. Earmarking of 10% of the Annual Plan Budget of over 52 Ministries of the Union Government is immense. Yet, we hardly know how the money is spent.
The present DoNER Minister Ghatowar is, perhaps, the most unpopular DoNER Minister in the history of the Ministry since 2001. Interestingly, performances by DoNER Ministers who were from outside the Region were better than those Ministers hailing from the Region itself. In fact, Aiyar when he was DoNER Minister tried his best to become closer to the people of the Region and within no time, the people of the Region could feel quite comfortable with him. Aiyar himself used to highlight many burning issues of the Region in many fora when he was DoNER Minister and Union Minister for Sports as well.
On the contrary, past DoNER Ministers hailing from the Region were mostly shrouded with controversies and they miserably failed to be in the good book of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Handique as DoNER Minister was a non-performer and Prime Minister, at last, was compelled to replace him with Ghatowar as DoNER Minister. Regrettably, Ghatowar could not be better either but it was too late for the poor Prime Minister to rectify anything of this fragile and namesake Ministry of the Region.
In order to streamline, a serious review of the functioning of the DonER Ministry is essential.
Some of the urgent steps to be taken up are:
- The Office of the DoNER Ministry should be placed anywhere in the Northeast preferably at Shillong or Guwahati, instead of Delhi.
- Any MP from anywhere in the country can be appointed as DoNER Minister, not necessarily only from Northeast Region. The crux of the point is he or she should fairly perform and deliver.
- A nodal officer with minimum supportive staffs can be appointed and placed at each State Capital Headquarter of the Region. So that implementation of works can be expedited, besides it will minimize physical, financial and metal burdens to many. Citizens can also get proper access to the offices and get all the necessary information of the works under the Ministry meant for them.
- The budgetary allocation for the DoNER Ministry, which is normally done on Lump sum, should be enhanced triple as the current allocation is too meagre to take up any noticeable projects in the Region.
- The DoNER Ministry should come up with modalities suitable with the Region’s environment, while constantly working on to incorporate the fundamental national character into the regional mainstream.
- The DoNER Ministry should formulate modalities to incorporate the regional character into the national mainstream by tying up with various Ministries from time to time. This way the social fabric of national character remains.
- North Eastern Council (NEC), which has its head office at Shillong, should be restructured and restored to its earlier model where any serving Governor of any State in the Region was Chairman. It was on rotational basis. This system was, later, done away with. Now any DoNER Minister would automatically become the Chairman of the NEC and functions from Delhi. This way, the functioning of the NEC has been badly affected. NEC is normally considered as Regional Mini Planning Commission and therefore, it is more appropriate going back to its earlier model by reappointing any senior serving Governor of any State in the Region as Chairman of it. In this way, the NEC can be effectively administered.
The Northeast Region will be completely crippled if these two institutions remain immobile. Therefore, restructuring these institutions is of urgent necessity. In a way, their activities are at the lowest ebb. Corruption, nepotism, favoritism, etc. have allegedly dominated in the overall functioning of the DoNER Ministry.
In spite of having our own Ministry vis-à-vis Northeast Region, the Minister serving there would hardly pay any visit to any of the States of the Region during their tenure. Many educated youth of the Region keep talking that there is a Ministry called DoNER at the Center looking after their welfare, but they have no knowledge of the nitty-gritty of the Ministry. In fact, hardly does anyone know the nature of the Ministry.
The high expectation that this Ministry would deliver goods to the people of the Region was extremely negligible. It is really lamentable the way they have chosen to remain silent when the Parliament was rocked due to the continued racial attacks on the Northeast students at the national capital. The DoNER Ministry should try to live up to the expectation of the people of the Region and also be a strong advocate for the issues facing the Northeast people in not only national capital but also other major cities of the country.