The United Nations Development Programme and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative released the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index report last month. According to the report, Meghalaya and Assam are some of the poorest states in India. The Niti Aayog’s Multidimensional Poverty Index report also puts Assam, Meghalaya, and some more Northeastern states on the poorest list. Why are some of the Northeast Indian states that are endowed with rich natural resources multidimensionally poor? Hear this Podumentary out!
Dr Dibyajyoti Saikia
Human rights and Social activist
Dundee C Khongsit
President, The Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo people (FKJGP)
Editor in Chief
Prof Sanjoy Hazarika
Director, Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia
Director, Rights & Risks Analysis Group
Produced below are the abridged version of the transcripts of our Podumentary (audio documentary) titled: Unlock The Power Of The Northeast
The United Nations Development Programme and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative released the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index report last month. According to the report, Meghalaya and Assam are some of the poorest states in India. The Niti Aayog’s Multidimensional Poverty Index report also puts Assam, Meghalaya, and some more Northeastern states on the poorest list.
“One of the main reasons, as some of the country’s top editors would put it, is the tyranny of distance and how far Northeast is located from the rest of India. So, due to that, the region was ignored by various governments that came into power one after another. So, there was very little development, as far as the building of roads and railway lines are concerned. The other reason, of course, was the kind of insurgencies we saw. In fact, at one time, it was known as the land of thousand insurgencies. Now, when you mean poverty, do we see people out of their homes? Do we see homelessness? Do we see people dying of hunger? No. We do not see that. It’s a tribal society. So, we take care of each other. But, we have huge malnutrition related problems because people, especially children, do not get the necessary nutrition. The second issue is the lack of basic healthcare in most remote regions. We do not even have doctors in many regions,” notes Karma.
“A major internal conflict has gone on since the 1950s, first in Nagaland. Then in Mizoram, Manipur and then Assam and Tripura. To a much lesser degree in Meghalaya. So, this has been one of the biggest factors in the lack of growth. The second thing as far as Assam is concerned, there is a very peculiar geographical condition: Assam is a narrow state which largely lies in a valley. Most of it lies in a valley. The Brahmaputra valley, where the floodplains extend for many kilometres on either side of the river. As a result of annual floods, you have very few months in the year when you can actually do what is called development or infrastructure work because first, you are preparing for the flood. Then you are dealing with it. Then you are repairing the damages caused by the floods, erosion, and the widespread devastation that has occurred,” says Prof Sanjoy.
Faced with insurgencies and dismal job prospects, the Northeastern youth today are not just moving out to other states looking for jobs but also moving to metros for education. Dundee C Khongsit, President of The Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People, says the problem is so precarious that the states alone can’t stem the tide anymore.
“I am very sorry to say that it is almost seventy-five years since India celebrated its independence, and we have reached the stepping stone of fifty years of celebration since we got statehood, but our state has been neglected in every sector. As it is today, Meghalaya does not have its own university or an engineering college, medical college and so on. Our state needs much support from the central government, and the state government alone cannot achieve anything,” asserts Dundee.
The politics of NRC and CAA, the devastating impact of Covid-19 coupled with internal conflicts have all affected the economy of the Northeast, says Suhas Chakma, Director of Rights and Risks Analysis Group. “Assam and Meghalaya also are the two states in Northeast India which rely quite a lot on tourism, and during the Covid period, tourism was adversely affected, and apart from the tourism issue, prior to the start of the Covid19, Assam was affected by the politics of NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Act, and the entire state machinery was caught in that.”
Even though the seven sister states are endowed with rich natural resources, most of it is still untapped. But even when many states in the Northeast are multi-dimensionally poor, Suhas Chakma says not many people sleep hungry in the region.
“The tea industry of Assam is one of the biggest Industries in the world. Here, we have thousands of small tea gardens. However, the cultivators are not getting the money they deserve, even after working hard. The green leaf buyers do not pay the actual money the tea cultivators and producers should be getting after putting in so much effort, time and money. The vegetable cultivators also get less money. The ones who make money are the agents or the middlemen. Further, there are several government taxes, due to which common people pay more money to buy vegetables, and the producers or the farmers do not earn anything.”
Most states in the region have hilly terrain, which makes road transport difficult. Poor connectivity is one of the largest impediments to the economic growth of the states. According to Dr Dibyajyoti, Northeastern states will show economic growth once indigenous industries are given an impetus, the private sector, which is sparsely distributed, is given a boost and farmers and cultivators are given a fair price for their produce.
Northeast India not just has untapped economic reserves but rich human resources. Unlocking the power of the people of the Northeast could just be the way forward, says Karma Paljor. There is immense power in the indigenous communities. A growth of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, skilling up the youngsters, and a relentless focus on tapping the abundant natural resources – could just help the Northeast unlock its true potential.
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