North-East conference, 2000, on Regional Development and Security Issues
Speech by the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee
I am happy to be with you at this conference to discuss development and security issues related to the North Eastern States and Sikkim.
It gives me great pleasure to be in Shillong, all the more so because today happens to be 'Meghalaya Day'. I convey my warm greetings to the people of Meghalaya on the occasion of the 27th anniversary of their State's formation.
Friends, before I proceed with substantive issues, I wish to reiterate my Government's deep and abiding commitment to the rapid economic and meaningful social development of the North Eastern States and Sikkim. The presence of my senior colleagues and officials at this meeting reflects this commitment.
I may also add that this is the first meeting of its kind in the New Year and the new century. That we chose to start our national development initiatives for the year 2000 with this conference, once again shows the importance and urgency we attach to the overall development of the North Eastern States and Sikkim. Our effort is to ensure that these States are soon at par, if not ahead, of the other States of our Union.
One of the reasons why these States are seen to be lagging behind --and, therefore, need a helping hand -- is that many of them became a part of the planning process much after the other States. Bearing this in mind, the outlay for these States under the Ninth Plan has been increased to Rs 25,283.52 crore. This is nearly Rs 10,000 crore more than the Eighth Plan outlay of Rs.15, 439 crore.
My Government has also created a pool of non-lapsable funds for the North East and Sikkim. This pool, meant for funding development projects in these States, will fill the resource gap in creation of new infrastructure which is a top priority concern of the Union Government. A committee, headed by the Secretary to the Planning Commission, has been set up to identify the projects.
But increased funding alone cannot solve the economic and social problems of the North Eastern States and Sikkim. We need to address other issues that have sapped these States of resources and diverted the attention of the administration.
One such issue is that large sums of money do not find their way to the projects for which they are intended. This is a matter of concern. The other issue is non-involvement of the people in development efforts and lack of community participation. I shall revert to this point later.
Last, but not the least, is the issue of insurgency and extortion. The Union Government has been assisting insurgency-affected States with paramilitary forces and by reimbursing security-related expenditure. But this cannot compensate for the terrible price extracted by insurgents and extortionists at the expense of the region's development or the fear psychosis created by them among the people.
During the conference, I look forward to a purposeful discussion on the issue of insurgency and its socio-economic impact, apart from the manner in which it has affected law and order in these States.
If we were to take broad overview of the areas in which the North Eastern States are lacking insofar as development is concerned, we would find that they are absence of physical infrastructure, inadequate skilled manpower and insufficient enterprise.
We need to collectively focus our attention on these areas so that today's weakness can be converted into tomorrow's strength. Given the high literacy base of the North Eastern States - I congratulate the people for investing in education - these challenges can be easily overcome.
Human and physical infrastructure development apart, the State Governments of the North Eastern region and Sikkim need to further improve their management of finances so that they can reduce the gap between their non-Plan revenue expenditure and revenue resources. I would, however, like to commend some State Governments of this region for their prudent fiscal discipline.
Friends, I would like to stress that effective governance is essential for economic development. In order to be effective, the State Governments represented here have to ensure time-bound implementation of projects and transparency in their functioning. This is necessary for people to repose trust in their elected representatives.
India's North East is a kaleidoscope of ethnic and linguistic diversities harmonising themselves into a larger national identity. Each identity aspires for political, social and economic empowerment and we need to fulfil these aspirations within the existing administrative framework. This can be best done by devolution of powers to local bodies and villages communities through Panchayati Raj and other local self-governing institutions like district councils, thus ensuring people's participation in socio-economic development initiatives.
Regrettably, in some North-Eastern States, as elsewhere, elections to local bodies have not been held for quite some time. This is contrary to the tradition of community-driven initiatives that was once the mainstay of North-Eastern society. I look forward to the revival of that tradition.
The need to involve the people becomes all the more necessary when we see that the growth sectors for the North East in the coming years will be agriculture, horticulture, fish-farming and tourism. These are areas that have the tremendous potential to generate employment opportunities outside the Government.
The Union Government's attention is seriously engaged in harnessing hydro-energy potential of the North East. Not only will this help meet the power requirements of other regions but also create jobs.
The power generating potential of this region is more than 31,000 MW, of which only 600 MW has been tapped. Projects to tap another 650 MW will be completed in couple of years.
The Union Government is fully aware of the need to improve road and rail communications in this region. In the last two years, 12 new National Highways have been declared in the North East with a total length of 1,962 km. This will involve a substantial public investment. In addition to these new highways, work has also been taken up for widening the existing critical National Highways.
There is a growing perception that widespread unemployment and lack of employment opportunities are the main factors behind insurgency and criminal activities that have retarded the economic progress of this region. Together, we need to pursue development policies and programmes that generate employment opportunities, though not necessarily in Government sectors.
Friends, we have entered a new era where the success of nations will be measured by their economic and social development. For India to succeed as a nation, each of its regions should be able to boast of rapid social and economic progress. If any region lags behind, not only will India's progress suffer, but existing regional disparities will further increase. Neither is desirable -- not for India, not for its North-Eastern region.
One of the factors that have impeded economic development in some States of the North East is violence unleashed by insurgents and externally aided separatists and criminals. It is now well established that Pakistan is backing some of these groups as part of its larger gameplan to try and destabilise India. There is also the problem of extortion by groups that have been exploiting the fear psychosis among the people.
It is heartening to note that some State Governments have shown laudable determination in confronting these anti-national and anti-social forces. Emboldened by this, the people of these States have begun to come out against insurgency and related crime. However, a lot more remains to be done to create the proper environment for investment and implementation of development programmes.
For instance, the path-breaking New Industrial Policy for the North East seeks to create favourable conditions for capital inflow into this region. I wish to recall attention to the Union Government's notification of July 9, 1999, exempting specific industries in specific areas from paying Central excise and taxes for the first 10 years. Our Government stands firmly committed to this exemption and we shall ensure its implementation.
A last point in this regard is to do with the North-Eastern Council. The NEC was set up with great hopes and expectations. I am aware of the fact that the NEC has not lived up to these expectations. We are now determined to ensure that the Council is not only revitalised but also meets at least twice a year. This will definitely expedite the development process in the region. Friends, I look forward to purposeful discussions at this conference over the next two days.
I thank you for providing me with this opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you.