The Memorandum of the Forum of Chief Ministers of the North Eastern States
Submitted to the Prime Minister on June 21, 2000
We, the Chief Ministers of the North-Eastern States met at Shillong on the 12th of May 2000, to discuss various matters of mutual interest, common problems and other collective concerns of the region, and formed the Forum of Chief Ministers of North-Eastern States including Sikkim with the Chief Minister of Assam as the Convenor with the objective of fostering better understanding of issues relating to regional cooperation and development, with a view to jointly taking up issues of common interest and concern with the Central Government, wherever necessary and lay before the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India issues vital for the accelerated socio-economic development of the region and its people.
We, on behalf of the people of the region, take note and appreciate the special attention that the Central Government, under your leadership, has been paying to the North-Eastern Region in recognition that the region, despite its potential and rich resources, has inherent problems and that we still have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the country. We have been encouraged by the special meeting convened by you in January 2000 to discuss the problems of the region and the subsequent development package announced.
We, the Chief Ministers of the region have deliberated at length on the various administrative, political and economic issues pertaining to the region and seek to place before you Sir, the undermentioned issues for your kind consideration:
A. POLITICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUES
Insurgency problem plagues almost all the North-Eastern States, and it is further spreading. This is not a localised normal law and order problem and the insurgent outfits have links with each other. Their common goal is to secede from India, which directly threatens the unity and integrity of the country. Moreover, forces inimical to India are actively abetting the insurgents. To counter such dangerous trend, quickly and effectively, the Government of India should recognise the insurgency problem in the North-Eastern States as a national problem and take appropriate measures for its early solution.
We, therefore, urge the Central Government to deploy adequate and effective forces for combating the insurgency situation in the North-East. We further urge strengthening border surveillance to seal our frontiers and check cross border movement of insurgent outfits.
A co-ordinated approach for the entire region is essential. It is also necessary that the Government of India should prevail upon our neighbouring countries to demolish their hideouts and eject the insurgents operating from across the border.
At the same time the Central Government is urged to initiate meaningful dialogue with the insurgent groups, in consultation with the State Governments.
2. Upgradation and modernisation of police and law enforcing agencies
The various insurgent groups are equipped and armed with the latest generation of assault and communication equipment. As such, we urge for implementation of a fully centrally funded programme for the upgradation and modernisation of police forces in the States inclusive of District Administration as law enforcing agencies. We also urge the Central Government to fully bear the cost of infrastructure and the recurring expenditure raising Reserve Battalions to be deployed in the North-Eastern States.
3. Demographic Issues
Illegal immigration of foreign nationals to the region has assumed alarming proportions and it is vital to evolve policies and take appropriate actions to check such development. If not tackled firmly, it will lead to greater conflicts in the region, which will be detrimental to the country at large.
Apart from illegal immigration from Bangladesh, the 'Treaty of Peace & Friendship' entered into between India and Nepal during 1951 has resulted in the entry of large numbers of Nepali nationals into the North-Eastern States, adversely affecting the socio-economic interests of the indigenous inhabitants.
As an initial step, we suggest implementation of a Comprehensive Identity Card Scheme, and strengthening of measures for checking influx of foreign nationals. We also urge for an uniform law for detection and deportation of illegal migrants. It is also urged that the missing links in the boundary fencing of the Indo-Bangladesh border be completed expeditiously.
B. FINANCIAL ISSUES
1. Reversion to the pre-1988-89 pattern of ACA for bridging the non-plan revenue gap
Keeping in view the prevailing economic condition of our States, we urge you to restore the practice of bridging the non-plan revenue gap through Additional Central Assistance as per pattern prevailing prior to 1988-89, for the Special Category North-Eastern States for a period of ten years, to enable them to stabilize their State finances.
2. Debt Relief
We wish to bring to your kind notice the crippling financial position of most of the North-Eastern States resulting in the State Treasuries remaining open for a few days only each month. These States are no longer able to discharge their debt-service burden. As such, we urge you Sir, to grant us a one-time debt relief by writing-off all outstanding Central Government loans including arrear interest thereon. Pending decision, we urge that we be granted an immediate moratorium on the repayment of Central Government loans including interest thereon.
3. Grant of special ways and means advance
With a view to provide immediate relief to the North-Eastern States facing severe resource crunch, we urge that Special Ways and Means Advance be granted to liquidate our immediate Overdraft and to enable us to manage our State finances.
4. Grants to offset the additional expenditure incurred by the States as a corollary to the Fifth Pay Commission recommendations.
You are aware Sir, that the finances of all States, more particularly the Special Category States have been adversely affected by the effect of the implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission recommendations. As such, we urge you Sir, to grant relief to the Special Category North-Eastern States through, a special dispensation to meet the effect of implementation of FPC recommendations.
5. Adequate Central funding for implementation of PMís packages and Shukla Commission recommendations
With a view to ensure that the laudable objectives of the package announced by the PM and the recommendations of the Shukla Commission are translated into reality, we suggest that a Cell in the PMO closely monitors the timely and proportionate devolution of funds from the Central pool to the North-Eastern States for ongoing as well as new development programmes. We also urge that 100% of funds from this pool be provided as grant.
6. Rural infrastructure development fund
While we are grateful to your assurance for making Rs. 500 crore available each year through RIDF, we submit Sir that the conditionalities attached to RIDF loans are not conducive to development investment. We, therefore, urge you to cause RIDF conditionalities to be harmonised with ground realities by way of increasing the moratorium on commencement of repayment of principal two to five years, decreasing the rate of interest to ten per cent and increasing the period of repayment to fifteen years.
7. State share for Centrally sponsored schemes
Keeping in view the fiscal constraints of the economically underdeveloped North-Eastern States, we urge that the State share in respect of all Centrally Sponsored Schemes be reduced to uniform level of 10% to enable our State to make adequate provision for availing the maximum benefit from Centrally sponsored development.
8. Revision of criteria for allocation of rural development funds under EAS
The recent decision of the Centre to allocate funds under Employment Assurance Schemes to the States based on population puts the States of the North-East which are sparsely populated at a distinct advantage. As a result, our share of such funds has been significantly reduced. We urge the Centre to review this criterion for the North-Eastern States and to revert to status quo ante.
C. ECONOMIC POLICIES AND ISSUES
1. Removal of locational restrictions on eligibility for industrial incentives
Most of the incentives granted to Industries in the North-Eastern Region are applicable to industries set up in specified locations such as Industrial Estates, Growth Centres, Industrial Parks etc.
Since the States do not have many industrial locations as required, the benefits of most of the existing incentives do not accrue to entrepreneurs who establish their industrial units outside notified locations. Keeping in view the need for accelerated industrialization of the North-Eastern region for generating sustainable growth and development, we urge you Sir, to remove locational restrictions for availing existing incentives for setting up industries in the North-Eastern States and to make the incentives for setting up industries in the North-Eastern States and to make the incentives available irrespective of the location of an industrial unit.
2. Re-opening of Indo-Bangla and Indo-Myanmar export routes
Considering the large volumes of marketable agriculture surplus and other marketable commodities including minerals available in the border areas of North Eastern States vis-à-vis readily available markets for such goods in neighbouring areas of Bangladesh, we urge the Central Government to reactivate the Border hats which were closed down immediately after the 1965 Indo-Pak War, with a view to accelerate sustainable economic development of such Border areas. Similarly, we urge that the steps be taken to activate the Indo-Myanmar Stilwell Road on the North-Eastern frontier of India with a view to encourage and facilitate Indo-Myanmar trade.
3. Improvement of Credit: Deposit of ratio of North-Eastern States
The accelerated and sustainable development of the North-Eastern States depends to a good extent upon the level of flow of institutional finance for such purpose. In spite of continuing requests of the North-Eastern States for better deployment of institutional funds, the Credit: Deposit ratio of most North-Eastern States is very low. We, therefore, urge you Sir, to cause the Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank of India to find out ways and means to harmonize the operational and lending norms of Banks in the North-Eastern region with ground realities, with a view to accelerate the flow of Bank Credit for development of the region.
4. Re-Constitution of the North-Eastern Council
As you are all aware, the proposed reconstitution of the North-Eastern Council with the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission as Chairman has been pending for far too long. We, therefore, urge you Sir, to consider causing the Ministry of Home Affairs to give effect to the proposed reconstitution of the Council without further delay, with a view to ensure greater efficacy of the NEC.
5. Measures to redeem the adverse effect of the apex court order on forest-based livelihood of the rural poor and their rehabilitation
While we whole-heartedly support the regulatory controls on the operations of forests, movement of logs and disposal of timber and timer-products as directed by the Honíble Supreme Court, keeping in view the continuing concessions and relaxation which the Constitution and the Central Government have been extending to all indigenous communities, we urge you Sir to cause the Ministry of Environment and Forest to consider harmonising the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 with the concept of private land ownership as prevalent and recognised by time honoured tradition and customs of the people of the States in the region.
Very large tracts of land are recorded as protected/reserved forest in the North-East region. These lands are not available for any development programme including land-cum-forest based rehabilitation schemes for Jhumias of the States. Therefore, the present policy in this regard needs to be reviewed. Land recorded as forest but having insignificant forest cover should be available for rehabilitation schemes and development projects. This is very important particularly in the context of limited availability of useable land in the region.
D. OTHER DEVELOPMENT ISSUES
1. Establishment of a Regional Centre for Research, Promotion & Marketing of organic agricultural products as a part of the Centrally funded jhum control programme
Extremely low consumption of inorganic fertilizers is a major weakness of the agriculture sector of the North-Eastern States. This weakness can easily be capitalized upon, since the bulk of agriculture produce of the hilly areas of the North-Eastern States are essentially organic produce, which have a very favourable international market provided such surpluses carry phyto-sanitation clearance and bear certification of a globally accredited authority, guaranteeing the organic nature of such produce. For such reasons, we urge you Sir, to supplement the existing jhum control programme by providing for the establishment of a Centrally-funded Regional Centre for Research Promotion and Marketing of Organic Agriculture Produces.
2. Inclusion of Rural-Electrification under basic minimum service programme
Most of the villages in North-East have a small population. Almost all such villages are located in difficult terrain and are located at considerable distances from one another rendering the per village cost of rural electrification to be high. The revenue generated by electricity consumed in such villages is low and wholly inadequate for servicing the cost of REC loans raised for funding rural electrification. In the circumstances the States are no longer able to electrify many villages which are yet to be covered by the Rural Electrification Programme. We, therefore, urge the Central Government to consider funding of the Rural Electrification Programme in uncovered villages of the States of the North-Eastern region under the recently recast Basic Minimum Services Programme, now known as Prime Ministerís Gramodaya Yojana, or to alternatively fund the cost of electrifying all remaining villages under the Non-lapsable Centre Pool of Resources for North-Eastern States.
3. Roll back of recently revised issue rate of BPL/APL rice through PDS
The economy of the people of the North-Eastern States have been most adversely affected by the effect of implementation of the Supreme Court Order dated 15th January, 1998 in the matter of operation forests. Thousands of rural families have been reduced to poverty and penury. In the circumstances, the recent substantial increase in issue rates of BPL and APL rice and wheat through the Public Distributions System has hit them very hard, we, therefore, urge you Sir to cause the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies to grant the aforesaid category of the poor of the North-Eastern States relief in the above regard by rolling back the issue rates of BPL and APL rice and wheat to per-revised levels. Also keeping in view ground realities in respect of North-Eastern States, we urge that the PDS be rolled back to the old pattern dispensing with the differential between BPL and APL categories.
4. Special employment package including increased quota for recruitment to the Army, Navy and Air Force, etc. for North Eastern unemployed youth
With a view to pre-empt large numbers of educated unemployed youth of the North-Eastern States from being drawn into joining extremist and militant organisations, we urge you Sir, to draw up a Centrally funded special employment packages and to provide an increased quota for recruitment of educated unemployed North-Eastern youth into the Army, Navy, Air Force, Para-military Organisations and Central Public Sector Undertakings.
5. Upgradation of road, rail and air services
The socio-economic development of our remote and landlocked region entirely depends on the strengthening and upgradation of the road, rail and air services which are presently woefully inadequate. We urge you Sir, to cause urgent strengthening and upgradation of road, rail and air services under a Centrally-funded scheme. With a view to provide the much required access of the remote landlocked North-Eastern States with the flourishing South-East Asian and other international markets, we urge for the introduction of international flights to and from the Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi Airport at Guwahati. We also urge for introduction of air-services to all North-Eastern State headquarters, preferably by using 50-seater aircraft.
6. Transit and Communication
Partition of the country disrupted the natural land and river access of the North-Eastern States to the mainland. The present communication link with the rest of the country is not only long and circuitous but also prone to frequent disruption due to a number of factors. Provision of transit facility through Bangladesh is, therefore, of paramount importance. Availability of transit facility would not only substantially reduce the distance but also pave the way for growth of trade and commerce in the region. We urge the Central Government to take up this vital matter with the Government of Bangladesh expeditiously.
In conclusion, we place on record our profound gratitude for your concern for the North-Eastern region and look forward to our aforesaid submissions receiving your urgent and most sympathetic consideration.