Hon’ble Minister of DoNER, my esteemed colleagues from other sister States and friends.
I am indeed happy to participate in the 61st Plenary meeting of the North Eastern Council. Today’s meeting assumes more than usual importance because NECs Twelfth Five Year Plan as well as the Annual Plan for 2012 – 2013 are slated to be discussed and approved. A new milestone has been reached in the region’s march towards progress. It is time, therefore, to take stock of achievements made during the preceding Five Year Plan period and consider new and bolder initiatives for the next Plan.
I am quite sure the Council Secretariat would have undertaken such a review exercise before preparing the draft Plans. However, we have noticed a major departure from the old practice of formulating NEC Plan. The draft, Plans seem to have been prepared without detailed consultation with high level State representatives. I understand that draft plans were discussed only in sectoral meetings in which the level of representation of the constituent States was not high. The overall plan frame, strategies, priorities etc. should have been discussed with the State Government representatives at highest official level. I am, therefore, sorry about the way the Council Secretariat has formulated the draft. One does not know whether the States’ proposals were appropriately considered and included in the Plan document. For instance, Mizoram Government submitted 54 schemes/projects indicating our priorities. We do not know whether these have found place in the NEC Plan. I would like to reiterate that as a matter of principal, the NEC Plan, its priorities, strategies etc. should be decided through a process of detailed discussions with senior officials of the States with full authority to take decisions in regard to priorities and strategies. This is necessary not only to generate a sense of involvement among the States but also in the interest of better NEC-States’ coordination. Unless the Council plays a more proactive role taking the States fully into confidence, it may gradually lose its relevance as a development catalyst for the North East.
The NEC’s 11th Plan Outlay was finally fixed by Planning Commission at Rs. 3248 crore as against a recommended outlay of Rs. 7394 crore. It is not known as to why the Planning Commission slashed down the actual outlay by half of what was recommended by the Council. Planning Commission’s assessed resource requirement to meet development needs and resources requirement to meet development needs and resources actually made available. I beg to submit that the recommendations of the NEC, which represents the combined political wisdom of the region and the socio-economic aspirations of the people of the region, certainly deserve better appreciation at the Centre.
The draft 12th Five Year Plan formulated by the Council Secretariat provides for an outlay of Rs. 13027.38 crore - a step up of about 43 % over the originally projected outlay for the 11th Plan. Such a step up is really justified and we hope that the Planning Commission would not water it down again. The 2012-2013 Annual Plan size of Rs. 770 crore, as against Rs. 700 crore for the previous year, seems to be small, because the total fund requirement both for carried over as well as new schemes during the first year of the 12th Plan would be substantially high.
I have a few remarks of general nature to make: Is it not possible for the Council Secretariat to send copies of Secretary’s report and action taken report on the decisions of the previous meeting to the States well in advance so that more informed discussions on these two agenda items can be ensured? This may be considered by the Secretary, NEC. Secondly, an impression has gained ground that there has been fewer interaction between the NEC officials and those of the constituent States on issues of regional interest as also issues of considerable consequence for a particular State. Besides, visits by sectoral Advisers and other concerned officials of NEC to the States for review of on-going projects as well as to deliberate upon fresh initiatives have not been frequent. This may require looking into by the Secretary, NEC. Thirdly, I would like to refer to an interesting fact that emerges out of the statement (in Chapter IV of Plan documents) showing fund release under NEC Plan schemes during the last nearly 38 years. As per the statement, total fund released to the States during this period is slightly less than what was released to ‘Other Agencies’ - Rs. 5356.17 crore to the States and Rs. 5390.61 crore to ‘Other Agencies’. Although these agencies have not been identified, we suppose, that these are, by and large, central agencies. This fact may imply two things: (a) the other agencies are better fund utilisers than the State Governments or (b) bigger projects with larger outlays have been given to these agencies for execution. It will be interesting to know the actual position in this regard.
In the matter of plan development for the North East, there are a few grey areas impacting growth which needs priority attention. These areas in my view are :
(1) The core objective of planning for an underdeveloped and predominantly rural area like North East with a poor pastoral economy, has to be inclusive growth. It would call for greater thrust on the primary and rural sector in the development plan.
(2) A comprehensive programme for revamping, both in terms of quality and standard of the education system, development of relevant skill, setting up of Centres of Excellence, implementation of the important recommendations of the North Eastern Regional Education Council is of crucial importance. The Council Secretariat had a proposal to set up specially designed institutions for skill development in relevant trades. Sadly, we have heard nothing about it so far.
(3) A large programme for rain water harvesting with appropriate technology integration has to be an important part of agriculture sector plan. Similarly, an integrated bigger plan with a conveyor-belt system for commercial utilization of the States’ natural resources should also receive priority attention.
(4) North East is prone to various types of natural disaster, namely, earthquake, flood, erosion, cyclonic storm and landslide. Besides their normal destructive effects, these natural events create big hurdle in our developmental efforts. It is, essential, therefore, to manage such natural disasters properly to reduce their negative effects. The 12th Plan may include a comprehensive scheme covering all preventive and protective measures and also managing the aftermath of disaster.
(5) The region needs dependable financial services that would match management of such services with development initiatives. The 645 RRB branches in the region must be strengthened, dedicated bank branches to help entrepreneurs eager to invest in agro-horti based industries and a solid institutional arrangement for micro-credit should be set up. Either SIDBI and NEDFI should create a Micro-credit Fund exclusively for the North East or a separate Regional Venture Fund be set up under NEDFI. NEC must take the initiative in all these areas and ensure co-ordinated action by all concerned agencies. It should particularly follow up the recommendations of Thorat Committee on improvement of banking services in theNorth East.
These are some of the general observations I have to make. We shall comment on specific agenda items as and when these come us for discussion.
Thank you, Sir, for giving this opportunity to address this august gathering.