Act East Policy of India and a new economic policy of Manipur
A challenge to save the baby in the womb of the mother

Mohendro Nandeibam *

 Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Moreh on India-Myanmar border :: second week of January 2019
Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Moreh on India-Myanmar border in January 2019 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

We are in an age which respects "Strength" only. It may be political strength. It may be scientific and technological strength. It may be economic strength. It may be financial strength. It is really glorious to be rich. This is the spirit of modern era. Although the sun rises in the east, development rises on the west. Fully aware of the new spirit of modern era, the western and southern regions of India embarked upon a comprehensive plan of development.

To-day, as a result, the regions are proud of being endowed with resounding success of Industrial Cities, Science Cities, Commercial Hubs, Agricultural achievements; and above all, political strength, while the North East particularly Manipur, the last in the queue, has been largely insensitive and has remained arrested with the disabilities of old world of shared poverty, seer submission to fate without strong reaction of renewed spirit to face the challenge. Obviously one experiences a curious predicament of burden of history and hurdle of politics.

This backlog of underdevelopment can be traced to the "21 years" from 1951 to 1972 when Manipur did not have the power to prepare its own plan and pass the budget. It is not a surprise that the tottering economy of Manipur becomes a land of family farms, micro-enterprises and household businesses with all sorts of disabilities, rendering the small state an easy prey to big companies.

It has become a nice state to sell in and not to buy from. The one-way traffic of economic activities has been largely responsible for the low level of equilibrium of poverty, practically non-development, increasing social conflict and loss of faith in elected representatives.

The heavy backlog of unattended grievances, overlooked concerns and neglected tensions remains a breeding ground of policy paralysis. To-day, Manipur is threatened with the imminent Water Crisis although the average annual rainfall is1467.5 mm.

The semi-stagnant character of small open economy of Manipur largely as a consequence of prolonged lopsided dependence upon agriculture; the factor-driven sector right from the 1st Five Year Plan (1951-56) till to-day, raises the critical eyebrows of right thinking citizens in the state while western and southern regions in the country have gone far ahead with visible advantages of economies of scale, industrial dynamism and agricultural breakthrough.

Let us see only two indicators: (1) Per Capita Income and (2) Fiscal Self-reliance/Discipline. The Per Capita Income of Manipur was Rs 52, 436 at current price in 2015-16 as against Rs. 2,10,394 of Sikkim and Rs. 2,42,745 of Goa. In the same fashion, the Fiscal Self-Reliance of Manipur is only 12 % as against 95% of Haryana, 82% of Tamil Nadu and 87% of Gujarat. Higher intensity of poverty means high deprivation and welfare loss. The tax-base is bound to be low and limited.

Only 12% of the revenue expenditure can be met out of the own-tax-revenue collected by Manipur; while 95% of the revenue expenditure can be met out of the own revenue collected by Haryana. Manipur is too weak to maintain its own basic requirement. We are going to New Delhi with begging bowl. Economic freedom which is at the centre stage of politics is a far cry.

Meanwhile, the Act East Policy (erstwhile Look East Policy) with multiple objectives has started operating with added force. God knows, after a few disturbing year, it may turn out to be an uneasy option for development of Manipur in the absence of a strong safeguard and pro-active intervention. Where do we stand now? Where to go? How to go? How soon? The picture is not clear and decidedly blurred. The economy is thoroughly haphazard.

How long can we act without a blue print of Vision, Mission and Action? How far the fight among unequals will ensure distributive justice? We are not born as traders in the modern sense.

The multinational and multilateral transactions of business demand a chain of connectivity. Only investment of money is not enough. Investment of friendship, investment of goodwill, investment of credibility and investment of co-operation are equally important.

We are too busy with our day-to-day concerns. To whom we look up for advice when we are in difficult times? Do we have Think-Tank; an institution whose primary task is to sit tight to prepare the path, the milestones and the threats in this highly troubled age of cut throat competition?

For India NITI Aayog is the Think Tank decorated with men of established image, sound knowledge and vast experience. Act East Policy without Good Governance of Manipur may invite a tantalizing future. It is unwise, perhaps, suicidal for a ship to sail without radar.

Yes, the last few years have witnessed a beginning of infrastructures such as National Highways and Trilateral Highways in an attempt to turn the Connectivity Corridor to Economic Corridor. One cannot contest the contention that better infrastructures can lead to increased productivity, technical change and larger market linkages mainly for the organised rich groups.

What about the assetless poor people. We fail to understand that the benefits of their highways cannot be reaped by the poor. Because, they do not have skill. They also do not have enough capital. Besides, to organise the unorganised is typically difficult.

How can they face the challenge of fight among unequals under the powerful force of liberalisation and globalisation? Remember, equipped with "exceptional knowledge", "superior technology" and "huge capital", the big business houses would start launching their commercial aggression.

Well, we do not at the moment have effective economic policy which speaks of 4 'S's: Strength, Skill, Strategy and Spirit. Remember, huge market imperfections seen at all levels, create a rosy atmosphere of exploitation of the poor.

The net outcome is the crushing burden of distributive injustice. The poor become poorer and subsequently deprived. Many studies have highlighted the increase of inequality after globalisation. The apprehension of the poor being bypassed by the so-called Trade Dynamism may prove true.

The Go-to-Village Mission of Manipur speaks of the conspicuous lack of minimum-basics of life even after 67 years of economic planning in the state. Grants and relief cannot eradicate poverty.

The poor need skill. They need knowledge. They need jobs. It could be highly meaningful if the Mission is preceded by a Vision accompanied by Action.

In fact, Vision, Mission and Action should go together. What Manipur needs right now is a massive intervention in physical connectivity, knowledge connectivity, technological connectivity and market connectivity. We can think of a built-in-mechanism to get connectivities institutionalised for sustainable progress.

Poverty is a running phenomenon in Manipur with dismal future.

We have to accept the hard facts of poverty in income, poverty in employment, poverty in knowledge, poverty in discipline and poverty in work culture. We have to see and analyse; where do they live? What do they eat? What do they do for their survival? What they own and purchase? What risks they face? How do they fit into the society around them?

Right now, the people in peripheral areas, particularly in isolated villages and hill areas are not free from the havoc of fundamental backwardness. As such, the abject ground realities demand a strong policy intervention to save the baby in the womb of mother.

* Mohendro Nandeibam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a former Member of Steering Committee, NER Vision, 2020, DoNER, Govt. of India
This article was webcasted on May 30, 2019.

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