Can we ever dream of achieving what the Vision-2020 promised ?

SK Singh *

The last week, in fact last Friday, Feb 7, our PM Narendra Modi while addressing the third Bodo peace accord celebrations in Kokrajhar, lamented that the NER was regarded as a region which could not be touched upon before the NDA government in the Centre came to power in 2014.

He went to the extent of observing that previous governments kept North East issues hanging adding that there was no serious effort to change the cultural obstructions, movements, blockades and violence. Admittedly the PM’s Bhasan, was on the occasion of the celebration of Bodo peace agreement, the PM surely attempted to strike a wedge between the previous governments and the people of the NER while projecting the BJP government as the absolute savior.

This can be read as too much of patriotism where the NDA complements itself despite knowing full well that the UPA regime and governments before that certainly took serious steps to quicken the pace of development of the region. What lies in between can be best explained by economists.

Contrary to this charge, there were quite a few step-ups to revive the progress and development in the region during the eighties thereafter.

One can recall the setting up of the NEC in the seventies followed by setting up of a separate ministry for the development of the region, the Department of Northeastern region (DoNER), earmarking of 10% of budget in each Ministry of the GOI for investments in the region. One can still recall the High Level Commission Report to the PM, popularly called ‘Transforming the North East’, followed by the Vision 2020 document in particular.

The Vision 2020 Document is certainly a giant step towards framing design and implementation strategy for ensuring progress towards prosperity. The document ambitiously codenamed ‘Peace, Progress and Prosperity in the Northeastern Region: Vision 2020’, prepared by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi, declared in 2007, rather triumphantly, “By 2020, people of the NER should have living standards comparable to the people in the rest of the country”.

This national level institute was however adequately cautious, perhaps more guarded, in projecting the standard of living. Their choice of term, ‘should have’, and not, ‘would have’, couldn’t be more diplomatic. It was coined in such a way that, the projections of higher level of development, based on the then existing level of development in 2007 when the study was initiated, were forecasted on the basis of the quantum of investment proposed in between.

The absorbing capacity of the governments to act or to execute the several schemes and projects under the multifarious sectors of development, in any unit of the NER should vary. While some units function in a more integrated and unified manner, some states have their own limitations.

It is under such considerations that the VISION document had to write wisely, rather diplomatically in coining more appropriate terms. The document’s usage of term like ‘should have living standards comparable to…’, is perhaps more of expectation or desire rather than of all probable achievement or performance resulting to progress comparable to the rest of the country by 2020.

Can the NER and in particular Manipur ever dream of catching up mainland India in a matter of 10 years or so, however heavy the investments could be, is now available in our front; the 2020 Vision is already in its final lap. After all, overall progress should not depend on the quantum of investments or of variance of reforms or of tightening the ropes of control and administration.

These projections were made considering the massive investments projected in all conceivable sectors, vis-à-vis, the available capability or capacity of the state machinery to perform added to the several impossible disproportions hanging around during the period 2007-20.

The framers of the VISION- 2020 understandably could sense the apparent gap then visible in the state and therefore was quick to stress on a number of riders like, ‘law and order’ or visibly weak ‘capacity building’ of the state machinery. These riders, the authors didn’t lose sight of turned out to be handy in the likely event of failure to achieve the targeted parameters, be they, the Growth Rate or food production or social sector targets etc.

The VISION document tried to lay a development path wherein the units of the NER should achieve a level of growth rate obtaining in the country by 2020.

To be more specific, the document lays down,
“In order to catch up with the rest of the country, to reach the level of per capita income, the country is expected to reach, estimated at Rs. 78,000/- (at 2006-07 prices), by 2020, the NER will have to grow at 11.8% per year on an average, or at 10.5% in per capita terms, during the 11th Plan (2007-12), 12.65% in the 12th Plan (2012-17) and 14.50% during the 13th Plan (2017-22).”

To present it simpler, it says, “the NER has to achieve on an average, a growth rate (GSDP) of 9.25% during 2007-12; 12.65% during 2012-17 and 14.50% during 2017-22.” Given the situations obtaining in the units, say, in Manipur, achieving 13 to 14 % GSDP growth rate in any of these years needs further justification.

Let us confine to the scenario in our ‘Sana Leibak’, to be more educative and to be able to appreciate the assumptions made in the study vis-à-vis the prevailing economic performance. In the NER, Sikkim is doing well near-comparable to the all-India performance, so too Tripura and any discussion with these performing units could shield some of the areas of importance.

Manipur’s per capita Growth Rate should have a projected rate at 9.45% during 2007-12 and 14.57% during 2017-22 to ultimately catch up with mainland India. Available estimates of GSDP growth rate appear to be much less hovering around4 to 8 % during these years, of course at 2011-12 prices. Even at current prices, the PC growth rate hardly reaches 12 which compares poorly with what the Vision 2020 talks about.

These projections are definitely very ambitious to the extent of bordering with impossibility recalling the capacity built up over the decades. The case for the NER would turn out to be an uphill task on the face of the prevailing ground realities.

The authors of the VISION document, as referred to above, conveniently recapped the inherent gaps in the economic and social sector and they termed these latent howling gaps as ‘fundamental deficits’ and easily name them as,
i) basic needs,
ii) infrastructure,
iii) resources,
iv) understanding with mainland and,
v) governance.

The NER that includes Manipur would remain laggard despite the growth perspective drawn by national institutes. The promises of ‘Transforming the NER’, ‘Peace, Progress and Prosperity in the NER’ would remain elusive, unless some miraculous transformation emerges from somewhere. The only vision though blurred is to wait for the ambitious ‘VISION 2020’ to come to an end in another year from now.

* SK Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on February 12, 2020.

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