Challenges of North East India
A) Insurgencies and ethnic conflicts leading to unstable eco-political scenario
Absence of endorsement of ethnic plurality in certain classes of the society
Economic marginalization of the northeast leading to discontent among the people
Counter-productive machismo of counter-insurgency measures
B) Geographical isolation from mainland India
Connected to mainland India by a narrow stretch of Silliguri Corridor
Geopolitical complexities arising from large stretches of international
C) Ill-planned impetus to economy
Snail-pace development of agrarian sector
Potential in secondary and tertiary sector
D)Human Development Indices
Focus on skill set development
Striving for a healthy populace
InsurgenciesandEthnicConflicts Absence of endorsement of ethnic plurality in certain classes of the society
Private sector investment is indispensible for the long term economic development of North East. Insurgencies have acted as an
impediment to it.
It is imperative to expand the scope of talks by including all major and minor concerned groups keeping in mind the past failure of
talks due to non-inclusion of all representative groups. ( eg. Failure of agreements between Bodo Liberation Tigers and Govt. of India
due to non inclusion of Bodo Liberation Front.
Cultural centers along the lines of Indian Council for Cultural Relations(ICCR) need to be established across the North East for
promoting hinterland Indian culture, the diverse North-Eastern cultures and shared common heritage across the region.
Promotional programs such as cultural festivals and awareness campaigns could be organized under the ambit of such councils.
Economic marginalization of the northeast leading to discontent among the people
The volume of unemployment in the North-East in absolute terms has risen in the post globalization period. Such unemployed
section of the society become an easy prey to insurgent propaganda.
There needs to be a concerted focus on developing the vocational skill-sets for the youths.
The languishing secondary sector needs to be given a boost to absorb workforce.
Impetus needs to given to PPP model for increasing productivity and economies of scale.
Modern best practices need to be induced in agricultural sector(This sector employs about 60% of total workforce in the North-East)
to increase general prosperity in order to keep the youth from falling prey to insurgencies, drug abuse etc.
17.1 21.1 20.9 13.1 17.4
% of Population BPL (2009-10)
InsurgenciesandEthnicConflicts Counter-productive machismo of counter-insurgency measures
The powers granted to the military under AFSPA has been misused and been a major cause of sustained discontent in the North
East. (eg; Irom Sharmila in Manipur) leading to a feeling of surrogate treatment at the hands of the central government among the
people there. AFSPA should either be completely repealed or at minimum the controversial articles(2 out of 6) should be removed in
order to win confidence among the people. Policemen and soldiers guilty of human rights violation should be punished.
The innocent general masses have been a collateral damage in the cross fire between army and the insurgent groups.
The centre has followed a strategy of dealing with one issue at a time giving concession to one ethnic group or the other at a time
leading to distrust among communities of the region (eg; An example is the 2001 extension of the ceasefire with NSCNIM to all the
Naga inhabited areas in the neighbouring states. It resulted immediately in a conflict in Manipur where over half of the territory is
inhabited by Naga tribes
The centre has to take a long term unified approach of dealing with the insurgency problems in the North-East with focus on finding
a political solution to the problem rather than dealing with it with an iron fist.
Stress should be put on fostering a sense of compromise amongst all concerned parties and finding a peaceful solution to the
problem(eg. Naga insurgents have a better chance of negotiating a deal with the central government in T Muivah lifetime. It is quite
likely that a post-Muivah NSCN will be far less influential and credible than it is now.Thus it is imperative for them to strike a deal
while the leader is still alive )
Constant interference by the central government with the functioning of democratically elected state governments must end.
History is rife with illustrations of pain, anguish and brutality that accompanies the process of nation building( eg. American civil war,
China’s troubles in Tibet and Xinjiang etc.) but India as a modern democracy should set higher standards for dealing with these
issues than those set before)
North East connected to mainland India by a narrow stretch of Silliguri Corridor (22-44 km)
Traditional transportation routes rail, road and river linking Chittagong ports and Kolkata became inaccessible post-independence
(Current distance btw Agartala and Kolkata port is 1700 km whereas earlier it was 325 km trough territory of Bangladesh.)
Density of railway routes in North-East India (5.558 km/1000 sq.km.) is much less than Indian average of 19.47 km/1000 sq.km.
Focus should be on transforming North East from “Landlocked to Land-linked” by development of alternate trade routes linking
North East with potential markets
o Special impetus needed to be given to multilateral projects like Asian Highway, Asian railway link projects, Lumding-Agartala railway
o Alternate routes by bilateral agreements on the lines of Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport facility should be envisaged and
o Strategically framed treaties with neighbouring countries to abet growth in the North East. Recent increase in agricultural produce
have meant better opportunities for agriculturists and industrialists in North East e.g. ASEAN, BIMSTEC,SAARC
o Enhancing digital connectivity of North-East with Mainland India and other countries eg Optical fiber cable Link b/w Morey in
Manipur and Mandalay in Myanmar
o Encouraging local editions of national dailies to increase participation of North East in mainstream discourse of the nation.
o Need to increase cost-effective air connectivity btw North East and mainland India (currently only10 commercial airports)
o The ATF(Aviation Turbine Fuel) could be made available at a cheaper rate to airlines in the North East which would provide
incentive to airlines to increase their north east operations
Urgent need to settle international border disputes with neighbouring countries for a stable secure ground condition to boost
investor confidence. Traditional transportation routes such as rail, road and river linking Chittagong ports and Kolkata became
inaccessible post-independence (Current distance btw Agartala and Kolkata port is 1700 km whereas earlier it was 325 km trough
territory of Bangladesh.)
Geopolitical complexities arising from large stretches of international border
An impressionistic assessment reveals that there is a rise in negative activities like cross-border insurgency, gunrunning, smuggling
drugs, narcotics and AIDS, money laundering, trafficking women, illegal immigration etc. which further add to the existing
multifarious problems in the region.
India Myanmar Issues: Both nations sought to cooperate to counteract drug trafficking and insurgent groups operating in the border
areas. The persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar has forced them to take refuge in Indian North East which has aggravated the
problems of terrorism and cultural conflicts.
The under fencing of Assam-Bangladesh border has infiltrated many immigrants, mostly Muslims over the yearsAs it is difficult to
differentiate between Bangladeshis and Indian Muslim Bengalis many genuine Indians have been discriminated against. In 2005, a
Supreme Court bench ruled Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act (IMDT) as unconstitutional while, with reference to the
Sinha Report, maintaining that the impact of the "aggression" represented by large-scale illegal migrants from Bangladesh had made
the life of the people of Assam "wholly insecure and the panic generated thereby had created fear psychosis" and other north-
Even though both sides to the dispute India and China are able to marshal voluminous legal evidence in support of their claims ,
making the issue appear as one of extreme complexity, this complexity is entirely fictitious and specious. It is imperative to find a
political solution to this issue via diplomatic means in order to allay cross-border tensions.
In order to solve all the above mentioned issues it is essential that the government takes proactive measures on the diplomatic front
while at the same time ensuring successful fencing of porous borders of North-East India.
Snail-pace development of agrarian sector
Lopsided investment in transport, communication and social sectors while agriculture which was the productive base of NE economy
Dedicated council for agricultural development with focus on food self sufficiency for north east required (a number of states like
Manipur don’t even have a draft agricultural policy)
Need to encourage best agrarian practices . IT can be used to provide frequent tips and advice to the farmers through information
kiosks or cell phones
Promotion of high yielding variety of seeds and fertilisers.(Currentfertiliser consumption is 67Kg/Ha in the NE which is less than 50% of
the national average which is 144Kg/Ha)
There is an urgent need for developing professional base to carry out research and development and train the local populace in modern
best practices in the agrarian sector(there are very insufficient number of agricultural universities in the North-Eastern region)
72% of NE India is hilly. Sheet floods in these areas leave little water for profitable cultivation of tea and horticulture in absence of
Sandy tracts on plain need to be constantly supplied with water
Urgent need for a robust irrigation system to facilitate large scale production of ravi crops during the dry season from October to may
Average cost of traditional drip irrigation techniques are estimated at Rs. 50000/Ha. Currently 50% of this sum is contributed by the
state and central govt. With indigenous techniques like bamboo and pitcher drip irrigation, this sum can be further brought down
enabling the govt. to bear the entire burden of the project
There needs to be a special focus on development heterodox cash crops and fruits like organic crops that have been in high demand in
developed markets. North east is specially well positioned to capitalise on the organic crop market given the high gestation period of
the organic crops and virgin cultivable land availability in the North east coupled with historical pattern of low chemical fertiliser usage.
The government could also create a provision of minimum support price (MSP) for fruit and vegetable planters in the North East. This
will have the double impact of growing per capita income in the north east (given that about 60% of work force in the North East is
involved in agrarian activities) and will also help in securing confidence of the masses in the central government of the Union of India.
The fact that North east is rich in production of medicinal plant needs to be leveraged by providing focused connectivity to markets for
Untapped Potential in secondary and tertiary sector
There is scope for large strides to be made in the secondary sector in North-East in order to absorb large swathes of workforce
The state has a crowded and unproductive labour force in the primary sector. On the other hand the secondary sector’s contribution to the
workforce has declined consistently.
Another aspect has been the growth of unregistered manufacturing sector whose contribution increased to 5.36% as compared to below 1%
contribution of registered manufacturing.
Most of the PSUs established during pre-liberalization period has been shut down.
Peripheral economies like those of North-Eastern states has been serving as capital markets for the countries indigenous capitalist class
The approach to development has been largely ad hoc and unsustainable in nature
There is a need for fresh approach to development with focus on PPP model to tap the huge potential of the region.
North East is favourably positioned for making huge gains in the following sectors:-
Ayurvedic medicine and cosmetics industry(800 crores),Perfume Industry(600 crores),Furniture Industry (Bamboo)(10000 crores),Sports
goods Industry, Fishing, poultry, meat processing (goat, rabbit, pig),Dairy industry (goat milk products) ,Plastic based industry ,Agro based
industry (fruit processing, ginger processing, coffee, spices),Textile and Sericulture, Rubber and paper, Rice beer (lao-pani: an ethnic North-
A co-operative model along the lines of Anand Co-operative Society in Gujarat can be promoted for greater productivity and
Tax incentives can be given to private firms for setting up manufacturing units in the region as well as for hiring high skilled people from
north east for their operations in other parts of the nation
For growth there is a need for a strong financial sector to manage and provide capital.NE is highly under-banked with only one bank per
21000 people which leads to high economic disadvantage and creates a saving deficit for many working class, minority and young citizens
Some solutions to improve banking sector
Setting up of Very small aperture terminal (VSAT) and other modes of terrestrial or fiber communication, wherever available like mobile
Giving incentives to private banks to opening rural branches and VSATs in the region
Tourism Industry has the high potential to absorb skilled and unskilled workforce
WWF has identified the entire Eastern Himalayas as a priority Global 200 Eco-region
Alternate medical tourism, Eco-tourism, Hotels and Spa, Adventure Sports, Nature and wild-life photography should be priority areas of focus
The region has over 160 Scheduled Tribes and over 400 other sub-tribal communities and groups. It is important that the road map to
economic upliftment of the North East does not marginalize the indigenous people.
It is important that Schedule V and VI of the constitution which provide for substantial degree of self-governance in districts where
indigenous people are a majority and also a share in the royalties from minerals found on tribal land to local councils be enforced in
North-East has a very high potential for development of hydro-electric power. According to certain estimates North East accounts for
about 43% of the hydro-electric potential in the country.
According to reports memoranda of understanding has been signed with developers for 148 hydroelectric projects by the Government
of Arunachal Pradesh
Most of these dams are planned to be exclusively hydropower and not multi-purpose which will lead to great unevenness in potential
gains and losses
Project impact assessments have not paid due attention to the adverse impacts of such projects on downstream livelihoods of hundreds
of thousands of people who depend on fisheries and subsistence agriculture.
The influential 2000 World Commissionon Dams(WCD) report had concluded that the record of the building has been one of “pervasive
and systematic failure to assess the range of potential negative impacts” including the impact on “downstream livelihood”.
It is necessary to adopt a participatory approach treating the affected people as active negotiating partners and not as passive victims or
The liberalisation of economy has opened new financing avenues for such projects bypassing the world bank focused financing
North East has seen rising protests against mega dam projects (Lower Subansiri project is a case in point) leading to a danger of new
red-corridor in the north east along Arunachal-Assam border.
Stress needs to be put on projects for the development of river basin region as a whole which would boost irrigation, fisheries
development, riverine transportation, biodiversity preservation.
Per capita power consumption in the North-Eastern states(413 kWh/year) is less than 50% of the national average(851 kWh/year)
Special privileges could be given to the North-East states in terms of the percentage of the power generated committed free of cost to
the state govt as royalty. The current norm is 12% committed by the NHPC. This figure could be renegotiated and pushed higher
specially considering the high proportion of private players.
Focus on skill set development
Although North east india accounts for a fair share of central universities in the country, in absolute terms these numbers need to be pushed up
None of the 13 universities of the region received 5 star grade , the highest possible grade form NAAC, an accreditation body under the UGC
Vacant faculty positions also need to be addressed. According to certain reports 25% of the total faculty positions in the University of Guwahati are
The financial conditions of the universities are very weak
Nepotistic appointments to university positions have been common which need to be checked immediately
The lack of highly skilled labour force in the north east is also adversely affecting the progress of government projects like the Pradhan Mantri Gram
Sadak Yojna(PMGSY). Due to lack of requisite workforce the central funds remain unutilised and have to be sent back
Private sector could be given incentives to establish quality educational institutions in terms of performance based tax exemptions.
There is an urgent need to establish affordable market oriented vocational training institutes to equip people with skill sets for joining the blue collar
Further India must leverage its strength in affordable Information & Communication Technology to provide quality distance education and certification
to the people of Northeast. Tele-education in extension campuses of established universities from rest of India can be used for tailored certification
Striving for a healthy populace
The Vaccination coverage in a number of North Eastern states(Nagaland(21%),Arunachal Pradesh(28%),Assam(32%),Meghalaya(33%)) is much less
than the Indian average of 44%
Life expectancy at birth(61.9) ,Infant mortality rate(55/1000) and fertility rate (2.7) as compared to 66.1, 44/1000 and 2.4 respectively for national
A concerted effort is required to revamp the heath system
Private hospital chains should be given capacity based incentives in the form of tax exemptions for starting their operations in the north east
More stress needs to be given to family planning
Govt. subsidised generic medicine could be made available in private nursing homes and hospitals other than in govt hospitals
The fast growing concept of tele-medicine should be implemented with utmost urgency in the north east . Physicians from other parts of India and
abroad could provide preliminary consultancy through tele-conferencing
Home-ownership in the North east is 25.75% which is less than the Indian average of 55%. A scheme for providing govt. sponsored homes to the
people of NE would go a long way in helping the people there achieve their full potential
In the course of our research about North-East India for Manthan our views regarding the
complexities of the problem as well as the potential of the region underwent a paradigm
change. Although it is true that our peripheral sisters have now long been mired in veritable
problems but it is high time that the soul of the region found utterance and renewed its tryst with
destiny. For our nation’s tryst with destiny is incomplete unless the North-East plays its due part in
To quote Barack Obama “We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still
strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity.
Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that
for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of
challenge, that must be our work here on Earth”.
Thank You !
1. Economic and Political Weekly
2. Reserve Bank of India
3. Patriots and Partisans by Ramchandra Guha
4. Economic Times
5. Pax Indica by Shashi Tharoor
7. Planning Commission database
8. Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region
9. FAO Corporate document repository
10. NEDFi Databank