Table of Contents: North East
2.Inclusive Growth in the North East
3.North East: An Economic Perspective
4.Bamboo Mission: A Tool for Economic Prosperity
5.Giving Momentum to Skill Development
6.Gender Mainstreaming in the North East
7.Successful Education Transformation
8.Moving Towards Integration
9.Reaping Benefits of Artificial Intelligence
10.Providing World Class Logistics
The eight states Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Sikkim are always discussed as a complete entity in all planning fora. Budget allocations, infrastructure facilities allocated development projects are all planned for the region as a whole. This has given the region an impression of being different and unique from the rest of the nation.
Alexander Mackenzie was the first to use the term ‘North-east Frontier’ to identify Assam, including the adjoining hill areas and the princely states of Manipur and Tripura in his book ‘North-east Frontier of India’ in 1884. Mackenzie said, ‘The North-east frontier of Bengal is a term used sometimes to denote a boundary line, and sometimes more generally to describe a tract. In the latter sense it embraces the whole of the hill ranges north, east and south of the Assam valley, as well as the western slopes of the great mountain system lying between Bengal and independent Burma, with its outlying spurs and ridges.
Queen Kanchan Prabha Devi was a princess of Reva Kingdom of Madhya Pradesh who was married to the Tripura ruler. It is Kanchan Prabha Devi who signed the accession treaty with India. The peculiar geographic location opens the region’s border to five foreign power namely China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.
North Eastern India: A Historical Explanation
India’s North Eastern region is historically identified with three names Pragjyotishpura, Assam and Kamrupa. Other than oral history, the earliest mention of Assam can be found in KalikaPuran, Vishnu Puran and Jogini Tantra. Puranas and Tantra describes Assam as Kamarupa while the province is known as Pragjyotishpura in Mahabharata. Recorded history about Assam starts with the decoding of Nidhanpur Copper Plates Grant and the Doobi Plates.
Assam during the Mughal-British era, divided into three regions – Sylhet, Manipur and Assam. The three regions interacted separately with various foreign regimes namely the Mughal, Burmese and British. Sylhet passed into the hands of British in 1765, together with the rest of Bengal. It was during the Mughal rule, precisely during early 1700s, the region first interacted with the Muhammadans. Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl clarified that Sylhet was an independent region. In Aurangzeb’s reign (1648-1707), it is said that Raja Gobind of Sylhet was summoned to Delhi and there he became a Muhammadan. Since the conversion of Raja Gobind, some Muslims settled in Sylhet and that was the beginning of Islamic presence in Assam and adjacent regions.
After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, when the East India Company established its administration in Bengal and when Assam came under the Company’s protection after the treaty of Yandabo in 1826, Muslims from the two provinces interacted frequently with each other.
Although by virtue of negotiation with the British, Assam saved her territorial limit from Burmese invasion, the Treaty of Yandabo established the grip of another foreign power, the Christian-led British East India Company.
By 1838, the entire region including Upper Assam, Khasi Hills, Jaintia Kingdom, Cachar, Garo Hills and Kashmir were annexed. The province was made part of Bengal Presidency in 1838. By the year 1874, Assam was separated from Bengal and formed ‘North East Frontier non-regulation province’ or Assam Chief Commissionership.
At the time of Independence ‘North east’ basically meant Assam and the princely states of Manipur and Tripura. With the advent of independence, 25 Khasi states had formed themselves into a federation of Khasis in 1946. Being one of the flamboyant areas of India, the ‘Northeastern States’ signed the instrument of accession without the slightest trouble or second thought. Tripura signed the instrument of accession 13August 1947 and three days later, Governor General Lord Mountbatten accepted the accession on 16 August 1947. On 21 September 1949, Maharaja Budhachandra signed a Treaty of accession merging the kingdom into India.
North East relies on agriculture as the major sustenance occupation. However, low agricultural productivity and problems due to traditional framing practices like Jhum cultivation have created livelihood problems for the region. To alleviate this situation the government has introduced a restructured National Bamboo Mission with an allocation of Rs.1290 crore which is expected to promote holistic development of Bamboo.
North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project for upland Areas (NERCOMP) and NARMGs (Natural Resource Management Groups) etc, have acted as vehicle for bringing about gender empowerment.
Such renewed efforts to bring about development of all sections of society and make North East a part of the national development process have ensured that the people of the North East are never going to be considered as different either developmentally or culturally from the rest of the country.
Chapter 1: Inclusive Growth in the North East
- The geographical area of the North Eastern region comprising of the eight states is 2,62,179 square kilometres.
- The North East is connected to the rest of the country through a narrow corridor, generally called the chicken neck, near Siliguri region.
- It is surrounded by five countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal and Myanmar.
- Only about thirty to thirty five per cent of the area of the North East is plain land, mostly in three valleys namely, Brahmaputra, the Barak and the Imphal valleys. The rest of the areas is hilly land.
- Continuous migration from surrounding areas has increased the population of the North East to such an extent that the average size of the land holding is just about one hectare.
- The region has very high rainfall and presence of one of the biggest rivers of the world namely the Brahmaputra and its major tributaries numbering more than seventy in the North East.
From 1947, the following major historic events have changed the North East dramatically and retarded its development in many sectors. The events are as follows:
- Partition of the country – When the major road, rail and river routes connecting North East to the rest of the country suddenly got snapped.
- The Chinese aggression of 1962 – When the Chinese army entered Arunachal Pradesh (the then NEFA) and returned of their own.
- The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 – When crores of people from Bangladesh entered some states of the North East as refugees. Insurgency affected the present day Nagaland and Mizoram in the fifties and sixties of last century.
In addition to the aforesaid natural and historical challenges some other major challenges of the North East are as follows:
- Low agricultural productivity
- Low cropping intensity
- Low coverage if irrigation
- Low application of chemical fertilizers
- Low credit flow from banks. Credit deposit ratio is less than fifty percent in the North East
- Inadequate facilities for godowns, warehouses and cold storage etc.
- Absence of modern well equipped mandis or markets in the region, barring a few places
- Very low per capita consumption of power compared to the national average
- Very low use of power for irrigation
- Non-availability of ores of industrially useful metals like iron, aluminium, copper, zinc, tin, lead and nickel etc and substances like mica and sufur etc.
- Non-availability of big reserve of good quality coal. Coal present in the North East often contains high percentage of sulphur which makes it unfit for industrial use
- Inadequate number of polytechnics and higher institutions for engineering, medical and nursing studies etc.
- Teachers’ Training in the whole of North East is another issue which needs immediate attention for overall improvement of the general standard of education in the region
- Absence of big industries except four oil refineries and two petrochemical complexes
- North East is very rich in culture and there is great talent among the youth of the region in music, dancing and painting etc. If sufficient numbers of schools are set up in the region for teaching, singing, dancing and playing various musical instruments, then a large number of youngsters are likely to get employment in these fields.
- If large scale investment is arranged in the above sectors and cropping intensity in the region is increased to 2 to 2.5 there will be sufficient employment opportunities for the local people in the region.
- The number of bank branches and credit-deposit ratio has also been increased in the region.
- There also urgent need for improving tele connectivity in the region for bringing about complete financial and digital inclusion of the people in the North East.
- However, it has to be specifically ensured that the process of development does not by-pass the small and marginalised ethnic groups of the region.
- The centre’s renewed emphasis on translating the Act /east Policy into reality has brought great hopes to the people of the North East.
- To make North East the hub for opening this part of the country to South East Asian nations like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan the region has to be made economically more active and prosperous.
- Connecting the aforesaid countries with the North East through roadways, rail lines, riverways and airs will automatically increase the flow of men, materials, technology and ideas from and to the North East.
Chapter 2: North East: An Economic Perspective
Since the colonial period the North East region has been a witness to highly inequitable rates of economic growth. For the British, the North-East India was a storehouse of raw materials such as coal, natural oil, forests and tea. There was a mass extraction of these resources which were then exported to the other parts of the country for processing. This region, however did not benefit from this process as the British did not set up processing and manufacturing units here, nor did they pay any attention towards the development of transport and communication facilities in the region. With the partition of India, for a long time, trade with Bangladesh came to a stop which seriously damaged the economic growth potential of the region.
The reasons behind the tardy progress of the North Easter Region could be attributed to the following factors:
- Geographical factors:
The hills account for about 70% area of the NER and accommodate about 30% of the population and the plains constituting the remaining 30% of the area hold about 70% of its population. The region’s accessibility has always remained weak due to geographical reasons and underdeveloped transport links with the rest of India. Also, as the region witnesses floods and landslides in the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys, of Assam, considerable strain is exerted on the economy of not only Assam but other NER states too.
- Infrastructural factors:
One of the reasons for economical backwardness of the NER is the poor state of basic infrastructural facilities like the roadways, waterways, energy and so on as well as social infrastructure like educational institutions, health facilities etc.
- Constraints on Industrial Growth:
Post-Independence, due to the partition of India, Assam received a serious setback as its trade routes were cut off from the rest of India.
Besides the dearth of local capital, marketing and transport bottlenecks hinder the industrial development in the region.
Despite agriculture being the major subsistence occupation of the tribal population here, the pattern of agricultural growth has been uneven across the states and between crops. The Green Revolution was largely limited to the North Western parts of the country and has not been of benefit in the NER. One of the most common agricultural practices in the NER is the shifting/Jhum cultivation. Approximately 1.7 million hectares of land is under it which leads to a large scale deforestation resulting in soil erosion and loss of soil fertility.
- Natural Resource Base:
The resources are being indiscriminately exploited and mismanaged, thereby leading to the depletion of the very assets that are usually highlighted as triggering the greatest potential for growth and development of the NER. Also the biodiversity of the region is under severe threat.
Another greatest challenge of the NER today is globalisation. With India’s Act East policy which heralded the tectonic shift of India’s West oriented stance towards east-oriented posture, it is extremely difficult for NER to successfully compete with the MNCs and foreign entrepreneurs in business and trade.
- Social Disorganisation:
Substance addiction is one social evil prevalent in the region. It is generally accepted that more than 30 per cent of its youth are narcotic drug abusers.
Steps taken by the government to improve the situation:
- With a view to give an undivided attention to the development of the region, in 1971, the GOI set up the North Eastern Council. All the 8 states are its members. With the headquarters in Shillong, it functions under the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (MDoNER). The council, initially set up as an advisory body, now has been sanctioned as a regional planning body since 2002.
- The Ministry for Development of North Eastern Region established in September 2001, which functions as the nodal Department of the Central Government to deal with the matters related to the Socio-economic development of eight states of NE, acts as a facilitator between the Central Ministries/ Departments and the State Governments of the North Eastern Region in the matters of economic development including removal of infrastructural bottlenecks, provision of basic minimum services, creating an environment for private investment and removing the impediments to lasting peace and security in the region.
- Other organisations under MDoNER include the North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited (NERAMAC), Sikkim Mining Corporation Limited (SMC) and North Eastern Handlooms and Handicrafts Development Corporation (NEHHDC).
- The North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd. (NEDFCL) is a Public Limited Company providing assistance to micro, small, medium and large enterprises within the NER.
- Coming to the developmental initiatives taken by the Central Government recently in December 2017, the centre has approved North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme which will fill the gaps in creation of infrastructure in two sectors – One is physical infrastructure relating to water supply, power, connectivity and especially projects promoting tourism. The other is social sector projects of education and health.
- The remarkable feature of the scheme is that is a 100 per cent centrally funded scheme as against the NLCPR, where 10 per cent contribution had to come from the State Governments.
- Tuirial Hydro-power project is the first major Central Sector Project to be successfully commissioned in Mizoram.
- Proactively following the ‘Act East Policy’, some of the major initiatives like the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project, the Rih-Tedim Road Project and Border Haats have been started.
A six-fold strategy for the comprehensive development of the region has been proposed-
- Empowering people by maximising self-governance and participatory development through grass-root planning to promote inclusive development.
- Creation of development opportunities for the rural areas through enhancing productivity in agriculture and allied activities such as animal husbandry, horticulture, floriculture, fisheries and generation of livelihood options through rural non-farm employment.
- To develop sectors in the region having a comparative advantage such as agro-processing, hydro power generation.
- Enhancing the skills and competencies of the people and building the capacities for institutions within the Government and outside.
- Creating a hospitable investment climate to encourage investment by the private sector particularly for infrastructure.
- Harnessing the resources of the Government and the private sector to realise the objective of the Vision.
- Tripura and Mizoram are two of the country’s most highly literate states.
- The Assam Tea industry is the second largest commercial producer of tea, next only to China.
- The first ever oil well of Asia is in Digboi of Assam.
Chapter 3: Bamboo Mission: A Tool for Economic Prosperity
No story of the North East India can be complete without the story of its inherent resilient power. The agricultural management and the traditional systems of cultivation practices form the principal facet of that resilient strength. Native people- including tribals have been maintaining traditional agricultural practices, agro-biodiversity and indigenous knowledge banks. Generally farmers practice Jhum Cultivation with other sedentary agricultural practices.
Various ethnic communities, in general, follow two major types of agricultural practices such as shifting cultivation and burn agriculture and secondly the Terrace cultivation. The terrace cropping is practiced in valleys and foothills while the Shifting methodology is practiced in and around the forests.
Jhum cultivation is a primitive practice where vegetative and forest cover on land slopes of hills is cleared by drying and burning it before the onset of monsoon and cropping on it thereafter. Originally, the Jhum cycle worked well. However, with the increase in human population and increasing pressure on the land, the Jhum cycle reduced progressively causing the problem of land degradation and even threat to the ecology in the region.
How can Innovation help?
The tribal farmers in the North East use ingenuity and skill. As a result, they can make optimum use of locally available resources. One such practice is where stones and gunny bags are used in an ingenious manner in the maintenance of terraces and to stop soil erosion problems. The hill streams are tapped and the water is channelled to accommodate a series of terraces. In this system, the water flows continuously from the upper terraces to the lower terraces. This method of irrigation has been found much result-oriented in a non-fertile land- especially for raising rice crops.
When it comes to sustainable practices and economic reforms, for ages, the north eastern people have been depending upon bamboos.
The Union Budget of 2018-19 rightly calls Bamboo the ‘green gold’. Bamboo is essentially a type of grass, but its classification as a tree for about a century had prevented the northeast natives to make optimum use of the same commercially. North East India, in effect, grows about 68% of India’s bamboo – a substantial rich genetic resource. Estimates say India has 30% of world resources but contributes only 4% share of the global market.
Bamboo mission is a centrally sponsored scheme with 100% funding from the Government of India and in coordination with the states, it seeks to achieve certain objectives like promoting bamboo and bamboo based handicrafts and generate employment opportunities for skilled and unskilled people, especially unemployed youth.
Besides industrial benefits, the communities have been using bamboo shoots as nutritious food. This also has medicinal values. Among tribal bamboo growers it is also well known that the bamboo also works for land protection; soil quality improvements including improved water holding capacity, higher water capture and recharge, benefiting agriculture and food security.
In November 2017, the government removed bamboo from the list of ‘Trees’ and thereby relaxed rules on bamboo felling, transit and processing. This boosted free export of bamboo products, opening up new vistas of opportunities.
- Storing paddy for seed purpose is usually done in a specialised bamboo container commonly called Thiar in Meghalaya.
- The wooden bin indigenously made by Khasi tribes of Meghalaya is called Duli
Organic State of India
- In 2018, Sikkim was declared as the “Organic State of India” by the Prime Minister. Subsequently, a Central Sector Scheme namely, Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region was launched for promoting organic farming in the region. The Government of India also laid attention on increasing the area under organic farming in the country under a programme called the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana.
North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme
The scheme aims to cover the social sectors namely health and education in the North Eastern Region. The funds under the scheme, will be distributed among eight North Eastern States on the basis of well-defined criteria on certain parameters, Ex: Areas, population, Human Development Index, Road density etc.
NITI forum for North East
The Union Government has issued an order setting up the ‘NITI forum for North-East’. This exclusive forum at the NITI AAYOG will prepare plans for the development of the North East Region and will look at various proposals both at the central and the state levels and prepare plans for the speedy development of the North Eastern Region. The Forum is tasked to identify various constraints on the way of accelerated, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the North Eastern Region of the country and to recommend suitable interventions for addressing identified constraints. It will also review the development status in the NER.
The forum will be co-chaired by the Vice-Chairman of NITI Aayog and Minister of State (I/C), Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER). The Forum may examine and address any other issues which are of importance but not specifically spelled out in its Terms of Reference. It may devise its own procedure to conduct its business/meetings/fields visits or constitution of Sub-Groups etc.
Inter-Ministerial Committee on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants
An Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) has been set up for the North Eastern Region. The IMC is to create synergy in various programmes of the union government to enable medicinal and aromatic plants sector to become vibrant and develop the resources to its potential. The IMC will facilitate coordination among the Ministries and
Departments in various programmes being implemented on conservation, suitable management and development of MAPs in NER for enhancing the livelihood and economic transformation.
The Ministry of Development of North-East Region (MDoNER) will be the coordinator for the IMC of MAPs. The IMC will identify gaps in the existing mechanism or institutional arrangements, suggest a policy intervention for optimally harnessing the MAPs resources of NER and accelerating the development of MAPs sector, suggest a Plan of Action for the dovetailing of the schemes and programmes of concerned Ministries and Departments.
Chapter-4 : Giving Momentum to Skill Development
The ‘demographic dividend’ of a nation is defined as the growth potential of the nation that can occur due to rapid increase in the percentage of working population (15-64years), in comparison to the total population of the nation. Since the last two decades, while other countries have witnessed a decline in the percentage of working population, in India, it continues to rise. Economists across the globe have termed this as India’s demographic dividend and a key factor in propelling India into a five trillion dollar economy within the next decade.
In the last ten years, successive governments have prioritised Skill Development as a key component of economic development. A full-fledged Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship controls the pace and tenor of skill development in the country while similar nodal structures have been replicated in the state levels as well in the form of State Skill Development Mission (SSDMs).
The rebranding of North East as ‘New Engine in New India’ is a testimony to the prominence that
North East India holds today. The trajectory of Skill Development in the region does not betray this new found focus in the region.
Steps taken for Skill Development in various states:
The Department of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has also announced the setting up of ‘Rural Skill Development Training Centres’ in Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) mode across the state. A unique Skill Development University is in the development stages while the country’s first ‘Home Stay Skill Development Programme’ under PMKVY was launched in Tawang.
In Assam, skill development is imparted through EDM (Employment Generation Mission) as well as Assam State Livelihood Mission and National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM).
Assam has been one of the first states in the country which has rolled out a unique ‘Karaghor Pora Karighor Scheme’ which is imparting skill development to jail inmates, for them to be able to contribute meaningfully when they return into mainstream society. Government has partnered with companies like Cisco and Dabur to focus on sectoral skill development programmes, which would undoubtedly reap rich dividends.
Manipur has set up a number of committees that are engaging with varied stakeholders to carry the idea of skill development forward.
The government has also given special focus to imparting skill development to tribal women as well as surrendered militants.
The DDU-GKY (Deenj Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kausalya Yojana) aims to train rural youths and bring them into the job market. “The Meghalaya government has also identified a few key sectors to work on, including Tourism, Automobiles, Mechanics and Housekeeping among the others through this scheme.
Mizoram and Nagaland:
Both Mizoram and Nagaland have aligned their skill development schemes and goals within bthe gambit of broader skill development goals of the country.
Tripura has set up a separate Skill Development Mission in order to give impetus to skill development in the state.
Sikkim has inaugurated livelihood schools where skills are imparted to youth in different sectors including training them in arts and crafts. The Edu work Japan Centre of Excellence opened its first Skill Development Centre in Sikkim.
Suggestions to sustain the momentum in achieving the goals of Skill Development Mission:
- A framework for imparting knowledge, establishment of MSME industries in cluster mode and creation of ecosystem that helps in achieving the desired objective of ensuring employment to the unemployed can be implemented in various districts. For example, Cachar district is known for its pottery and Sital Patti work.
- Sontipur district can be developed into a prominent rice milling centre, given its experience and expertise.
- Tripura can harness its immense potential of becoming a rubber giant.
- Nagaland can focus on tourism centred on the Hornbill Festival which has become a nationwide phenomenon today.
- Meghalaya can stress on few areas like Sohra, Dawki and the unexplored Jaintia hills to develop centres of excellence in tourism with a whole support system of food and beverage, hospitality, adventure sports spun around it.
- A second measure that can give further impetus to making skill development more meaningful is its integration both the international market by identifying new areas where traditional domain knowledge of these areas can be harnessed to create a market for certain products in neighbouring countries.
- The North Eastern states must take the advantage of close proximity to its East Asian neighbours and derive economic prosperity through the same.
- The third measure that can be taken is shifting to outcomes-based approach by adopting the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSOF) standards.
- There is also a need to catch aspirational youth at a young age to prevent a high dropout rate. Vocationalisation of school education is a welcome step in this regard.
While the task of skill development is huge, the infrastructure available is finite. The north eastern states must embark on utilising the un-utilised government infrastructure for skill development to effectively tackle the infrastructure constraints faced by these states. The revised National Policy on Skill Development gives guidance to the question of leveraging the existing infrastructure to its maximum use. The presence of private training providers in the region must also increase, perhaps new ways could be found of linking CSR for companies present in the region and acting as a training provider for that particular sector. Barring Assam, none of the other states have Institutes for Training the Trainers and that is one aspect that the states must focus on, on an urgent basis.
Chapter-5: Gender Mainstreaming in the North East
In many respects, gender indicators in the North Eastern states compare very favourably with the average Indian situation. This, however, does not convey the whole situation. While performing their day to day functions, women face many difficulties than men because of the nature of functions they perform. Women in the North East have taken on themselves the mantle to take care and feed their children and make their household done hearth burning. This they have not done out of any choice but out of certain historical and traditional reasons. Their role in decision making is completely absent, as their presence in the traditional institutions is almost non-existent. Exclusion from political and social decision making makes women have an inferior position in the society in comparison to men.
North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project for Upland areas (NERCOMP) came into being in 1999 as a joint initiative of the North Eastern Council, Ministry of DoNER, Government of India and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) with an overall objective “To improve the livelihoods of vulnerable groups in a sustainable manner through improved management of their resource base in a way that contributes to preservation and restoration of the environment.
The approach of the Project is to build up women’s friendly activities through women’s groups in order to increase their confidence and managerial capabilities and to improve their voice in the community gathering.
NERCOMP also took up different measures to involve women in the implementation of the following Project activities:
- Gender Sensitization formed a major element of any training conducted by the project.
- Women were given equal access to training and improved production methods, especially in the handloom sector.
- Involving women in project activities has enabled the rural women to enhance their mobility, ensure better health care and as a consequence also improve their productivity.
- Basic rural infrastructure like low-cost sanitation, providing safe drinking water, inter-village roads (IVR), waiting sheds, and collection centres etc has helped extensively in reducing the drudgery of women besides providing better health and hygiene and reducing the constant occurrence of diseases.
- The low cost sanitation has helped in bringing back the long-lost dignity bto the rural women.
NERCOMP as a project has significantly reduced women drudgery, created an atmosphere for better women participation in planning and decision making on village development in the line of Women Empowerment. It has provided financial literacy including opening of bank accounts of women based SHG members in the line of Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. It has improved the health and sanitation for women through Low Cost Latrines and Safe Drinking water in the lines of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Food and nutrition security of women has been ensured through diverse livelihood activities in line of National Food Security Programmes.
NERCOMP is striving towards a conducive atmosphere for women besides aiming for a hunger free society across the North Eastern region of India.
Ambubachi Mela is an annual hindu mela held at Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati. It is the celebration of annual menstrual course of goddess Kamakhya. There is no idol of the presiding deity in the mela.
Chapter 6- Successful Education Transformation
The recently announced budget has been one of a kind in the last decade or so. This year’s budget has laid clear emphasis on education. This is evident from important initiatives such as bringing integration in the school education sector and integrated B.Ed. Focus is also laid on training of untrained teachers which reminds us of the fact that the ‘quality of school education can be no better than the quality of its teachers’. The investment in education now should not only be perceived as just ‘financial investment’ rather investment of resources and optimising the available budget. After sustained capital investments in programmes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) for a long time, it is now time to ensure that money is invested in areas to strengthen quality.
Another big and bold step which the current budget speech has underlined is the focus on rationalising the centrally sponsored/funded education related schemes. The current budget has made significant strides towards improving education in tribal areas.
India has historically been conservative on public spending on education and continues to be so. The reforms envisaged through the NPS would require substantial increase in public expenditure on education as well as support through CSRs and CSOs. The central and state governments must also look to international development partners to provide strengthening support in education sector.
The merger of educational schemes would be useful in many ways and can be expected to
- Optimise the use of funds available for the sector
- Cater to the diverse needs of States/ Union Territories through a cafeteria approach
- Lead to streamlined and efficient management, monitoring and supervision
- Reduce administrative efforts and costs
- Bring fluidity in inter-component fund flows
- Institutionalise systems of financial control and discipline.
Quality improvement in education is a much needed outcome for India to remain competitive in the global sphere.
The current budget gives boost to on-going efforts to address the issue of dropouts amongst the tribal students, particularly north-eastern students, by increasing outlay for post-matric and pre-matric scholarships. In addition to budgetary outlays, the emphasis on improving learning outcomes is a significant way forward towards improving the quality of education in North-Eastern States as the significant.
Chapter – 7: Moving Towards Integration
India is like a kaleidoscope made up of its diversified arts, cultures, races, languages, religions etc. In that sense, one may confidently argue that North East, as an integral part of the country, does not need any more mainstreaming that South India or Saurashtra or Punjab would. However, that the region needs integration to the mainstream is a popular notion which beckons examination.
What is it that constitutes mainstream India and why is the North East Region often considered to be out of this mainstream?
The concept of mainstreaming should signify the level to which a region or state has imbibed the ideals and has / is continuing to achieve the goals and aspirations mentioned in the Constitution.
Thus defined, we can safely assume that each state or region in the country is a part of the Indian mainstream in varying degrees. For example: the North Eastern region which has a better literacy rate than any other regions of the country can be said to be more mainstreamed in that aspect whereas it may compare poorly in terms of infrastructure facilities like road and rail connectivity, power, industrial development etc.
The last three decades have seen a remarkable growth of migration from the North East to different parts of the country mostly in search of higher education and job opportunities. This has enabled intermingling and interaction in a process that has thrown up a host of issues and puts to test long held notions on both sides.
Factors of Migration:
Given the huge size of the country, the number of people migrating from the North East may not appear significant in proportion. However, by the sheer speed and scale from the region’s perspective, strong push and pull forces are seen to be responsible for this phenomenon.
The Shukla Committee concisely pointed out that the region is confronted with four deficits, ‘a basic needs deficit, a infrastructural deficit, a resource deficit and most important, a two-way deficit of understanding with the rest of the country which compounds the others’. This assessment provides us with a plausible explanation. An intricate interplay of the first three deficits creates an atmosphere in the socio-economic fabric of the region to provide a big push for migration. The main push factor has been the lack of quality educational infrastructure.
Safeguarding the vulnerable migrant:
Government of India set up the Bezbaruah Committee to look into concerns of the persons hailing from the North-Eastern states who are living in different parts of the country, especially the Metropolitan areas, and to suggest suitable remedial measures which could be taken by the Government.
Increasing intermingling and interaction between people groups can aid in bringing gaps if it is allowed to happen within a framework with adequate safeguards.
Setting up of Debarment for North-Eastern Region and the North Eastern Council by Government of India has been instrumental in forging a concerted effort to look into development issues of North East. The current focus of the government to upgrade infrastructure in the region through various projects for improvement of roads, rail and inland waterways and air connectivity and communication network is a welcome change. Beside, Government is implementing various schemes for development, up gradation and promotion of micro, small and medium enterprises in the region.
Look East Policy of the government has a huge potential to transform the development landscape by providing the growth engine and ensure that the states fully partake as growth centres and not merely participate as a conduit for flow of trade from other parts of the country. The success of this renewed focus on North East India through various initiatives will, however, depend on proper implementation of the schemes.
Chapter 8 – Reaping Benefits of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is defined as the ability of a machine to perform cognitive functions we associate with the human mind, such as perceiving, reasoning, learning, interacting with the environment, problem solving and even exercising creativity. There are varying views on Artificial Intelligence globally – some see this as the next biggest disruptive technology that would bring accelerated growth and productivity, whereas the others view it in a rather negativce sense combined with huge job losses.
Where can AI be used?
- India faces large skill gap in sectors like the health-care and such AI based technologis can help in bridging the gap by empowering the citizens and making them more productive in their daily functioning.
- The applications of AI are unlimited in the Indian context – judiciary can use AI based systems to reduce pendency in the court cases.
- In the field of Education, new learning modules can be developed which can be in syn with the pace of the student’s learning
- In agriculture AI based systems based analysis of satellite imagery can provide early estimates of crop yield.
Like other disruptive technologies, AI would bring in a shift of paradigm in the way people live and work today. The last big disruption occurred when computers were first introduced in banks and other institutions across India – even leading to wide spread protests. The computers brought in the information technology (IT) revolution, which made India global leader in IT space – where home grown Indian firms are competing globally with the best IT companies of the world and India as the leader with the highest volumes of software exports. When computers were introduced, there were no IT skilled people in India and now India has the largest talent pool of IT professionals. AI can lead to automation moving people from low productivity jobs to high productivity roles.
AI Ecosystem in India:
The current budget made the following announcement: “Global economy is transforming into a digital economy, thanks to the development of cutting edge technologies in the digital space – machine learning, artificial intelligence, internet of things, 3D printing and the like. Initiatives such as Digital India, Start Up India, Make in India would help India establish itself as a knowledge and digital society. NITI Ayog will initiate a national program to direct our efforts in the area of artificial intelligence, including research and development of its applications.
The key pillars for developing a vibrant ecosystem in India are Universities, Start-ups, Large companies, Policy Makers and multi stakeholder partnerships – India has strong potential across many of the pillars. Universities and research labs in India have been involved in cutting edge AI research for the last 40 years. India is home to some of the largest IT companies of the world along with all the global MNCs having their development or research centres already based in India. India has very vibrant start-up ecosystem with a large number of venture capital funds based in India and the government is very supportive of start-up initiatives in the country. The policy making body NITI Aayog, has already embarked upon the mission of accelerating the innovation ecosystem in India.
Chapter 9 – Providing World Class Logistics
The Indian Railways (IR), a 162 year old national asset has the distinction of being the second largest railway system in Asia and the fourth largest railway system in the World. Indian Railways plays a critical role in facilitating economic and social development of the country by enabling geographic connectivity, citizen mobility and commercial activity in addition to providing a world class logistics and transportation infrastructure.
Indian railways employs 1.3 million people and is a massive task to streamline its operations.
- Slow pace of modernisation and expansion:
While passengers traffic and number of routes operated by the IR has increased significantly since its inception, the corresponding growth in infrastructure is inadequate. In fact, the IR has added only 10,000 route-kms since Independence while China has added more than 50,000 route kms in the same period.
- Railway Accidents:
The incidence of railway accidents in our country is greater as compared to other countries of the world. Accidents occur due to the errors and negligence of the employees.
- Travel without Tickets:
Another problem that is being faced in India is that a large number of passengers travel without tickets. IR has to bear extra loss of about Rs. 5 crore every year on account of travelling without tickets.
- Fiscal Problems:
The working of IR is caught up between making it a self-sufficient organisation and serving as a transport system for the poor. The result being no rise in the passenger fares and new trains and routes being decided on non-commercial reasons.
The recent decision of surge pricing of tickets in premium trains is a move in a right direction. But the biggest headache for Railways is expansion of frwight basket.
- Operating Efficiency:
IR has a huge employee base of 1.3 million, which includes powerful workers’ union. It has become a centralised organisation with hierarchical decision making. As a result, even simple decisions take years to resolve.
- Finance and Accounting:
IR spends heavily on revenue expenditure there is little left for capital; expenditure.
IR need to generate enough funds on its own for capital expenditure and also find new, non-government sources of funding in order to witness a noticeable change.
But that can only happen if Railways is run as an efficient corporation with a healthy balance sheet that can be leveraged to raise debt.
- Old Track and Poor State of Rolling Stock:
The tracks are old and outdated. These old tracks cause many serious railway accidents. This has also resulted in speed restrictions.
- Lack of Modern Management:
There is a lack of modern management as railways failed to attract adequate incentives and suitable talent.
- Outmoded Technology:
The rolling stock technology is absolutely outmoded. The system is beset with excessive man-power and manpower development has not kept pace with technology up gradation.
- Inadequate Investment:
The railway transport has lagged behind the requirement due to inadequate investment. The shortcoming has been highlighted by different committees, like the National Transport Policy Committee, the Rail Traffic Enquiry Committee and the Railway Reforms Committee.
- Competition with Road Transport:
The competition with road transport is growing in intensity, both in passenger and in goods transport. The lack of coordination between railways and road transport has lowered the earning capacity of the railways. This has further caused delay in traffic movement and inconvenience to passengers.
Investments/ Developments in India’s Railway Sector:
- Plan for redevelopment of Surat’s railway station will soon be announced.
- The Indian Railways is planning to invest around 3000 crore to convert 40 out of its 100 yards into smart yards and end manual inspections.
- The Indian Railway Network is growing at a healthy rate. In the next five years, the Indian Railway market will be the third largest, accounting for 10% of global market. Indian Railways which is one of the country’s biggest employers, can generate one million jobs, according to Railway Ministry.
Indian Railways is planning to invest in order to adopt European Train Control Systems (ETCS) which will help in the development of infrastructural facilities.
Recommendations in the Economic Survey:
- Traffic Rationalisation:
In a bid to make rail transport attractive and arrest the declining trend of rail share, the survey said, various initiatives were taken in FY2017 which includes tariff rationalisation, new policy guideline for station to station rates, withdrawal of dual freight policy for export of iron ore and rationalisation of coal tariff.
Following are the measures to attract rail traffic:
- Classification of new commodities
- Rationalisation of coal tariff
- Expansion of freight traffic through containerisation
- New policy guidelines for station to station rates
- Liberalised Automatic Freight Rebate scheme for traffic loaded in empty flow directions
- Withdrawal of dual freight policy for export of iron ore
- Policy guidelines of Merry Go Round System
- Discount for loading of bagged consignment in open and flat wagons
- New delivery models like roll-on and roll-off services
- Re-introduction of short lead concession and reduction in minmum distance for charge
- Digital payment of freight business and Long Term Traffic Contract Policy
- Station Redevelopment:
According to the Economic Survey 2018, the project of station redevelopment is the “biggest non-fare revenue generating” one. Also, the commercial development undertaken near the stations will become the nerve centres of the city and provide quality retail, commercial and hospitality development. Besides, the redevelopment, the stations will improve passenger experience by providing better amenities.
Safety of Indian Railways:
Apparently concerned with the increasing number of rail accidents in India recently, the World Bank has pitched in a list of guidelines to the Indian Railways that would help the national transporter avert large-scale of disasters in future.
The level crossings and paths are to be painted with a crosshatched pattern that can alert and highlight the dangers for people in the area. Review timetables such thata maintenance block of four hours is provided weekly on all main lines as well as review safety performance in terminal operations with the intent of recognising prevailing risks.
An independent rail safety regulator is to be created by the railways to strengthen the powers of commissioner of railway safety and form a safety management system under the Chairman of Railway Board.
Anil Kakodkar Committee Report:
The committee had made 106 recommendations covering various aspects.
Of the 106 recommendations, 68 recommendations have been fully accepted, 19 partially accepted and 19 not accepted by the Ministry of Railways, so far, 22 recommendations of the committee have been implemented. 20 recommendations are in the final stages of implementation.
Government support in liquidity crunch, increased compliance with the rail safety procedures like LHB coaches, ultrasound based rail testing etc. are some of the schemes that could be adopted.
Indian Railways face a stiff challenge in reforming itself back to a star among the existing PSUs. Reforming the bureaucratic structure into more open and inclusive structure would lead to quick results to different endeavours by the Indian Railways; railway should put a system of online reporting of deviation, also there should be periodic analysis of safety investment made; summary of findings of major accidents and follow up action taken should be put in public domain.
Existing unhygienic conditions created by direct discharge toilets, which also corrode the rails should be replaced by bio-toilets. Other recommendations by committees like Bibek Debroi, Anil Kakodkar, Sam Pitroda on removal of Encroachment and Sabotage, up gradation of signalling, telecommunication and train protection system, up gradation of rolling stock, track, bridges, elimination of level crossings should be considered and acted on immediately.
As the Bibek Debroy Committee report pointed out, the supply side improvements have not been commensurate with demand end requirements, indicated by the slow speed of passenger and goods trains as well as the delay in modernization and expansion of the network.
Therefore, it has become imperative for the Indian Railways to undertake a concerted effort at improving passenger amenities, decentralizing decision making, fast-tracking projects of national importance, adopting uniform accounting standards and ensuring better delivery of services in order to drive the growth of the economy and also improve its financial health as suggested by various committee reports submitted recently and in the past.