The Northeast is on a downward spiral and policymakers seem to be groping in the dark. Latest data shows that incomes in seven of eight northeastern
states are now below the national average. Just 15 years ago, four of these states had income levels higher than the country’s average.
Mizoram is the only state where per capita income has remained above the national average through the past decade and a half.
Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Sikkim had incomes 10% to 20% higher than the national average in 1993-94. All three have now crashed below it. Arunachal is below the national benchmark by over 15% while Nagaland is lagging by a whopping 25%. Sikkim is fractionally below the national average by 2%.
Of the remaining four states, always poor in terms of incomes, three have slid even further down. Assam and Manipur are trailing by over 35%, compared to about 25% in 1993-94. Meghalaya used to be 10% below the national average, now it is 17% behind.
Tripura used to be the most laggard state 15 years ago with its net state income per person almost 30% short of the national average. In 2007-08, it is still behind, but only by 5%.
These figures are based on the net state domestic product data released by the National Accounts Division of the CSO recently. Comparison of state data with national average indicates relative performance among all states in the country. Home to more than five crore people, belonging to over 80 ethnic groups, the eight northeastern states are rich in mineral and natural resources.
Policy makers in New Delhi have spent crores on development of the region, yet the results are dismal. ‘‘The region continues to remain a less favoured area and consequently, mountain inhabitants, often indigenous people, are on the fringe of society geographically, politically and economically,’’ says Eklabya Sharma of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development.
Since 1998, all central government ministries have been earmarking 10% of their annual budgets for northeastern states. According to the Ministry of Development of North-Eastern Region, between 1998 and 2006, more than Rs 42,600 crore was kept for the northeast.
The North-East Council, the key agency for channelizing funds to the region, has approved nearly Rs 1,100 crore in the last three years for development projects, although only Rs 560 crore has actually been released, according to a recent Lok Sabha statement by the minister. Since it is common for funds to get lost in India’s bureaucratic-political maze, unspent funds meant for the Northeast were collected in a huge treasure chest that goes under the rather awkward name of Non-Lapsable Common Pool of Resources. It was to be used to directly fund developmental projects ranging from educational institutions to roads and bridges. Between 1998 and 2006, over Rs 10,000 crore accumulated in the corpus.
About Rs 4,800 crore of this has been spent, that is, less than 50%. Officials claim that implementation is poor at the ground level, but activists say that the whole set-up is riven with nepotism and corruption. Project sanctioning has become a tool for patronage rather than development.
‘‘No proper research is done prior to starting development projects,’’ says Hilloljyoti Singha who works for sustainable livelihoods with an NGO in Guwahati.