Manipur as an actor on India's eastern neighbourhood stage
- Part 2 -

Puyam Rakesh Singh *

ASEAN-INDIA Car Rally 2012  passing through Moreh Area, Manipur :: 15 December, 2012
ASEAN-INDIA Car Rally 2012 passing through Moreh Area, Manipur :: 15 December, 2012 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The Manipuri Diasporas living in the advanced countries may join hands with entrepreneurs in Manipur. Their investment in profitable sectors with introduction of world-class managerial skills, consultancy services, business information to find opportunities and procuring new technologies should be welcomed. In this regard, Hijam Ibeyaima Innovation Award sponsored by Manipuri Association of Canada for individual efforts to cause socio-economic development through scientific innovations is worth mentioning.

Loan defaulters must amend their attitudes in view of the changes sweeping across the Asia-Pacific region. The global forces acting upon Manipur should not be ignored while closing their doors to banking and micro-finance institutions. Banking and micro-finance services available in the state should be properly used to generate income and enhance purchasing power.

Enhancing purchasing power will continuously advance the economic structure and technological innovation. Giving opportunity to those who want to close down the Manipur Industrial Development Corporation (MANIDCO) will only worsen our economic situation as we have little capital accumulation to start business. There is every need for our wannabe entrepreneurs to start business with financial assistance and loans. This should be our grass-root investment for building a strong economic foundation.

Recently, New Delhi has expressed willingness to invest in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. These economically weaker countries of the ASEAN will become destinations of India's investment; and many manufacturing centres would also be established. These are aimed at strengthening India's economic relations with ASEAN countries and also to compete with China for economic and strategic influence. At present, China and Japan are two major trade partners of ASEAN and are also the major investors.

New Delhi should not leave the NE as an economic blank space while focussing on ASEAN. Manipur has not seen any successful industry even after nearly about 70 years of India's independence. The small private enterprises are producing fruit juices, food products, plastic water storage tank, and bottled water, oxygen cylinder for medical and industrial use. Likewise, sericulture must be developed to make Manipuri brand of silk products. There are changes in this direction too in the last few years as many weavers are producing silk clothing from the cocoons. 'Machal' is a good symbol of Manipur spices industry in New Delhi.

The Business Session of the Delhi Dialogue VII was for the business captains and industrialists. How many businessmen from Manipur or NE attended the session? The answer will be quite unsatisfactory. The need for engaging corporations and private enterprises based in Mainland India to expand manufacturing plants to meet the requirements of the state and Northeast should be taken up. Such steps can also benefit the neighbouring countries.

After the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in goods in 2009, the agreements in services and investment will come into force in 2015. These are the changes that should be reaped for improving the livelihood of the people in NE states. One must ask the percentage share of MA-NE in the over $70 billion India-ASEAN trade. The beginning of the negotiations on an India-Myanmar-Thailand Transit Transport Agreement is another important factor for pushing the India-ASEAN economic relations.

Taking these into account, improving road conditions in Manipur and Northeast is very necessary at this stage of economic planning. It should be supported by availability of energy resources like the natural gas and petroleum products to run the economy. The power transmission line to supply electricity from Tripura is a good development. The state's education system should provide employable graduates who can run the manufacturing plants and take up managerial system with global competitiveness.

The engineer graduates employed in the different departments of the state should start thinking of innovation, creativity, and technological advancement. The corruption in the system should not be taken as the better alternative to innovation and productivity of the system. Every department should stop functioning like gang units. Authority without responsibility and accountability are leading to corruption and death of creativity and innovation in the whole system. This has penetrated the social value system causing decadence as progressive values have been substituted by regressive values.

Manipur should not lose everything to the long eastern coast facing the Southeast Asia. The industrially advanced and the economically vibrant states in Mainland India should make room for Northeast to have its share of economic development. If the coastal region of China can do something for the hinterland for balanced regional growth, Northeast should dare to ask for its own share of "Make in India". Manipur should not have only the highway connecting India with the Southeast Asian countries as the share of New Delhi's "Act East" policy. The state should agitate and strive for a better share of the huge India-ASEAN trade and investment. (To be contd)

If Manipur's role is only to guard the Trans-Asian highway, every policy will have little meaning for the state. There must be an industrial corridor to produce goods for the MA-NE+3 and the Glo-Keithel. Starting from Jiribam, the railway and highway should be exploited to establish as many manufacturing plants along the route to Moreh. The NE states need economic growth centres where the skilled and qualified locals can find decent jobs. They should join hands with skilled workmen coming from Mainland India. Later on, the NE states can rely on their own skilled work force to run the economy.

If not China, countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, the USA and Germany could be invited to invest in the NE. They can introduce advanced technologies and help to train the local workers. In a place like Manipur, there will be less difficulty in learning and adapting to advanced technologies and machineries with right efforts. By lessening corruption in the system, innovation and efficiency can provide Manipur the breathing space for survival.

One can see high-ranking officials of the state acting like monarchs and counting the public money as family inheritance. Many engineers and technicians have sacrificed their skills to corruption and manipulation of files. Compared to them, the illiterate section of the people has scored more marks by getting national-level innovation awards. Many have forgotten inventiveness and innovation while mastering the art of pocketing public money.

Hard working entrepreneurs who can introduce new technologies and create jobs for the locals are more useful than those who are sitting idle in the offices. Or, we can dream of the corrupt but rich people to come out for investment in such productive sectors to change the face and name of Manipur for posterity. Technology and skilled work force supported by capital accumulation and good investment environment only can equip Manipur to face the threats of globalisation. Recollect that Manipur had to acquire modern fire arms from the British to defend its independence in the past.

Truly speaking, anything like "Make in Northeast" cannot make progress without a Jalpaiguri-Moreh Industrial Corridor project. It is the right time for New Delhi to think of an industrial corridor project to change the NE into a growth centre in Asia. Instead of an economic corridor, an industrial corridor like the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project is needed. Is there any difference between the two corridors?

The present economic situation in NE calls for using the strength of Mainland India to change the economic structure of the NE states. For Manipur, producing more employees who do not want to work efficiently but eat into the system for extra income will not help. Likewise, teachers who wait for monthly salary without doing much teaching at the school cannot shape a better future. The same is true for other departments too. For New Delhi, calling the NE to facilitate economic boom only in the states west of Kokrajhar in 2015 will be too rude.


* Puyam Rakesh Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on March 29, 2015.

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