By Priyanka Roychoudhury
Recently, there has been a huge surge in investment activities by the government in the Northeast states. However, these states have still been experiencing a slower pace of industrialization and socio-economic growth than the rest of the nation. The region is blessed with abundant natural resources for industrial and socio-economic development, which have not been tapped to their complete potential, thus missing out on opportunities for the overall development of the region.
The region has some distinct advantages – It is resource rich and it is strategically located with access to foreign markets of Myanmar, Bangladesh and China. However, on the other hand the region also faces some unique challenges, which hinders its growth process to a large extent. These challenges are inter-related, and a solution to one problem needs to address several other issues as well.
The ethnic communities which are native to the north-eastern region have cultivated a strong sense of unity over the years. Ever since Independence, some misdirected policies of the government have propagated a sense of alienation amongst the people of this region resulting in the need for them to protect their cultural identity. Before the anti–foreigner agitation, Assam received a meagre Rs. 42 per tonne of crude oil as royalty whereas the Government of India collected six times that amount in cess. The repressive Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 in Assam and Manipur, which gives special privileges to the army in these regions has become redundant and taken up a dictatorial mask leading to harassments and inhumane treatment of the common people in the region. These and numerous other examples can be cited here. In order to protect the demography of the region, to include its native ethnic population in the socio-economic development of the region and move towards achieving the much discussed inclusive growth, we need to tread cautiously in these waters. The issues that we must address are:
- The large scale influx from neighbouring countries, the change of demographic structure of the region, communal conflicts and impingement on cultural identity, crisis of agricultural and construction labourers.
- The market constraints of the northeast region, as it shares 98% of its borders with other countries.
- The lack of proper infrastructure and connectivity with the rest of the country due to the slow pace of infrastructural development in the region.
- Despite availability of abundant water resources and infinite potential for the development of hydro-electricity, there are still acute power shortages in the region.
- The large-scale insurgency activities that are plaguing these states with demands ranging from sovereignty or separate states in order to protect their cultural identity, to abolishing the AFSPA for bringing an end to the wanton exploitation of the masses.
Owing to the large scale influx of illegal migrants, the demography of the North-eastern states has changed. It has also given rise to several instances of ethnic conflicts in the recent years. According to a Census report (Primary Census Abstract of Assam, 2011), the decadal population growth rate in nine districts, which are allegedly dominated by illegal immigrants, is over 20 per cent. Furthermore, the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, which was created to protect the minorities in Assam during the Assam agitation and repealed only a few years ago, has provided these illegal migrants protection from identification and deportation. Although the problem has been identified, there has been very little progress in finding a solution to it. The situation has degraded to such an extent that some illegal migrants have been able to include their names in the voter’s list. As this concern is over an international border, it is the duty of the Indian government to take swift and necessary action, which still shirked off without giving a second thought to the possible consequences of the neglect.
China has already started showing a part of Arunachal Pradesh within its territory on the Google maps and with the possibility of a complete conquering of the state by the Chinese troops in the not so far future, it is yet to be seen how long the centre can avoid addressing the problems of the north east. A ticking bomb in the making, the patience of the north eastern region and its people are being tested and if left unseen, it can most likely turn out to have disastrous consequences.