Across cultures, the Number 8 is held as a symbol of victory, prosperity and overcoming. It also represents infinite perfection, balance and harmony. Ashta, in Sanskrit, is the number of wealth and abundance, and one can draw a fascinating correlation between the eight years of governance led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the magical transformation of the eight northeastern states. It is an inspiring lesson in the governance of a region neglected over a protracted period of time, shooting to prominence as the Ashtalakshmi of the nation.
After the huge mandate in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his conviction to usher in a new dawn of progress in the region. He called the Northeast region ‘India’s Natural Economic Zone’ and made it a priority to tap into it. Today, firmly on the agenda, he calls it the ‘New Growth engine of India’.
In spite of being endowed with extraordinary natural wealth, strategic advantage as the gateway to Southeast Asia and unrivalled economic potential, the eight states of the North-East never got the attention that they deserved. Unwilling to expend serious political capital, successive governments harped on insurgency, difficult terrain, and cultural distinctiveness as excuses for their political apathy. However, after winning the public mandate in 2014, the Prime Minister started articulating solutions ingrained in the governance philosophy of Sewa, Sushasan and Gareeb Kalyaan.
Eight years hence, we see visible differences in every aspect, and the numbers speak for themselves. Since 2014, militancy incidents have reduced by 74%, deaths of civilians have come down by 84%, and with more than an 800% increase in surrenders by extremists, AFSPA has been lifted from some districts for the first time in decades. With sheer political will and leadership, decades-old standoffs are nearing resolution – the Naga Framework Agreement and the tripartite agreement on the rehabilitation of the Bru-Reangs, to name a few. The intent of this Government to resolve such long-standing issues is clearly visible in the case of the resettlement of Bru-Reangs.
In May 2012, the Government at that time planned for the repatriation of about 669 Reang families but was able to repatriate only 7 Bru families. The UPA Government blamed resistance and misinformation campaign by a section of Bru leaders for this. On the other hand, in the recently finalised agreement, the Government will provide an assistance of close to Rs.600 crores for the rehabilitation of Reangs and ensure all-round development of Reangs, including providing a plot of land, assisting in the construction of a house, provide rations and access to public welfare schemes of the state and central governments. It is this 360-degree thinking that has allowed the Government to provide compelling solutions.
While ushering in peace, foundations for prosperity were simultaneously laid with massive financial outlays: The North East has seen a huge jump from Rs 36,108 crores in 2014 to Rs. 76,040 crores in 2022 (110%) in the budgetary support by the Government of India. Cumulatively, since 2014, over 3 lakh crores have been spent in the region.
The pinnacle of Sewa to the people of the North East has been to impart to them the power of mobility and connectivity. In 2014, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya were put up on the railway map for the first time. Before 2014, only Assam’s capital Guwahati was connected. Today, Arunachal’s Itanagar, Tripura’s Agartala and Manipur have already been connected, and the remaining five capital connectivity projects worth Rs. 45,016 crores are nearing completion. The government of India has also spent over Rs 41,000 crores on road connectivity, with over 38,000 km of rural roads have been completed since 2014, while projects worth 75,000 crores are currently ongoing in the North East. Today there are 15 new airports in North East, from just 6 in 2014. Making sure that, like the rest of India, aam naagrik of North East also receives help from improved air connectivity, the region is a priority area under the UDAN scheme with 46 operational routes.
The teledensity (number of phones per 100 people), especially in rural teledensity in the Northeast, has significantly improved. In April 2014, rural teledensity at 42.68% was below the national average (43.96%). Today, at 61.36%, rural teledensity is above the national average (58.50%). The recent commissioning of 20 Gbps international bandwidth for Northeast through Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh by BSNL is a quantum leap in internet connectivity.
This would not only address the issues of latency and network congestion but will open doors to North East’s potential to become leaders in the BPO and IT industry with the establishment of software parks and high-speed Datacenters for business purposes in North Eastern States.
To ensure that Sewa of the North East continues unrelentingly, Sushasan has been adopted as the key enabler: Working hand-in-hand with the dynamic and committed State Governments of the North East, we are moving ahead with a concrete plan of action working to leverage the inherent strengths of the region in sectors like agriculture, tourism, textiles, handicrafts. Recent cabinet initiatives such as the revival of the Northeast Agricultural Marketing Corporation (NERAMAC) and the National Mission for Edible Oil for palm Oil aim to leverage the Northeast region’s potential. The Edible Oil Mission aims to increase cultivation from 40 thousand hectares to 3.4 lakh hectares (700%) in the Northeast, and more than 50% of the Mission’s 9,000 crore outlay will accrue to the Northeast region. The formation of a joint Agri-Task force to provide strategic direction to these initiatives will ensure speedy resolution and implementation of the various Agri and Agri sector allied schemes. Today, we are working more closely than ever and building consensus on the development of the North East like never before. An upcoming workshop of Chief Ministers and Chief Secretaries of North Eastern States, along with Union Ministers and Secretaries on developmental issues of the North East, is likely to break the ground for a tradition of cooperative federalism and collective responsibility for the development of the North East. The ultimate object of Sushasan with the spirit of Sewa is the welfare of our citizens across economic backgrounds, which makes Gareeb Kalyan the fountainhead of it all.
The Government is determined to ensure that welfare schemes reach every corner of the region. Towards this goal, in the past eight years, under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY), amount more than Rs 10,000 crores, and more than Rs 64,000 crores under National Food Security Act (NFSA) have been spent. More than four crore accounts are opened under Jandhan and over Rs. 39,000 crores were spent under MGNREGA, and the coverage of these central flagship schemes for Gareeb Kalyan is being improved every passing day.
This comprehensive approach to good governance is instilling hope and aspirations in the people of the region like never before. Today there is an ambition to make North East the hub of sports in the world, a leading exporter of exotic horticultural products and a hotbed of Startups while fast becoming the most attractive tourist destination in India. Wrapping up the eight years of transformation, it is now time to brace for the Amrit Kaal and herald a glorious chapter of growth for the North East Region.