Chief Minister's Speech

Speech of Hon'ble Chief Minister, Assam at the 65th Plenary of North Eastern Council which was held on May 26th and 27th at Shillong

65th Plenary of North Eastern Council which was held on May 26th and 27th at Shillong

65th Plenary of North Eastern Council which was held on May 26th and 27th at Shillong


Honorable Prime Minister of India; the Chairman, North Eastern Council (NEC) and Union Minister of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER); Your Excellencies, the Governors of North Eastern States, my colleague Chief Ministers, distinguished Members of the NEC, Officials of the Govt. of India and North Eastern States, esteemed ladies and gentlemen.

1. I am privileged to take part in this august gathering on the occasion of the 65th Plenary of North Eastern Council. As you are aware, my Government has taken the oath of office just two days back in Guwahati and we were honored by the presence of our Prime Minister and many of the esteemed dignitaries who are present here today. As we start our term of governance, I seek your kind cooperation as well as your good wishes. Let me assure you that Assam as the largest state in the North East and as the gateway to all the other states will be at the forefront of all regional initiatives which will help in the overall development of our vibrant region

2. The importance given by Hon'ble PM to the region needs no mention. It is for the first time that the Prime Minister of this country has asked all his Council of Ministers to visit North East atleast once every fortnight. This reflects the Hon'ble PM's commitment to the development of North East. He has also called the region as " Ashtha Lakshmi" and an important in terms of VAASTU stating that the development of the country is linked to the development of this strategically located region. We all have to work to make this a reality.

3. I , in last three days of assuming office as CM of Assam have observed that we have not taken full benefits of the schemes announced by Hon'ble PM. I would like to touch upon a few of those schemes and I feel NEC should help the states of this region to draw the benefits of these.

4. The remoteness of the NER is considered a big hindrance for development. But this can be addressed by making Digital India programme of the Hon'ble PM as the main plank for development in the NER.

We are also considered laggard in use of technology. Hon'ble PM has been emphasizing on use of technology in addressing development challenges. NEC has contributed by way of establishing of institutes like NESAC(North Eastern Space Application Centre) in this direction. We must emphasize on creating more such institutes in the region.

Assam Vision Document 2016-2025

5. As I mentioned in my Foreword to the Assam Vision Document 2016-2025 released by my Party prior to the recent elections, Assam has so far been projected before the outer world as a state overridden with problems. Contrary to this, my Government identifies Assam as a state full of potential and abundance. My Government will apply the world's latest technologies and management techniques to ensure full utilization of such elements. The development of human resources is also equally important as the development of natural resources and there has to be good coordination between them to bring about the desired level of development.

6. As you are all aware, the geographical structure of Assam is very diverse. The two valleys and the intermediate mountain range have added a rare natural splendour to Assam. My Government will remain ever committed for simultaneous development of Brahmaputra Valley, Barak Valley and the two Hill Districts of the state.

7. At the same time, Assam has become a frontline state of the Indian Union after independence and people of Assam feel proud to be the citizens of the largest democracy of the world. Today, the residents of the Brahmaputra valley, the Barak valley and the hill districts have a brand of patriotism and a proud identity as Indian citizens residing in Assam. The patriotism of the people of Assam derives inspiration from historical icons like Saint Sankaradeva, Swami Vivekananda, Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore and many others who contributed a lot towards building the Indian nationalism and the

Indian nation state.

8. In our Vision document, we have identified the sector wise goals to be achieved. In this journey, the support of the North Eastern Council (NEC) is vital. I am aware that since its inception in 1972, the Council has focused on the development of this region taking into account its uniqueness and its special needs. This meeting assumes significance, as this is an opportunity for all of us to decide our development strategies as well as the role of the NEC in this journey for the years to come. At the same time, we must avail this opportunity to express our difficulties and aspirations and identify appropriate solutions for the same.

Mandate of NEC

9. The North East Council was contemplated as an advisory body to discuss any matter in which the North Eastern States have a common interest and advise the Central Government as to the action to be taken on any such matter. This has been done so as to take care of the economic and social planning of these states, as well as to provide mediation in the event of inter-State disputes. The people of the North East Region (NER) want faster economic development as well as social and cultural progress. They want to be ready to engage with global economy. However, the gap between the NER and the rest of the country in terms of various development indices, productivity & the capacity of people and institutions remains large and in some ways seems to be growing. NEC's main mandate was to bridge this gap and help the people to meet their aspirations. The Niti Aayog has been emphasizing the need for developing and strengthening regional bodies for having focused development of the regions of the country. The North East region has been fortunate in having an existing mechanism for regional development in the form of North Eastern Council. We need to strengthen the administrative arrangements and institutional structures of NEC so that this mandate of bridging the development gaps in the region can be achieved.

10. I would like to suggest that a body of experts be tasked with looking into the issues such as the structure, mandate, financing and role of NEC in these changed times and report to the Honorable Prime Minister through the Minister of DoNER about the fundamental reforms that are required.

Sectoral Priorities and Funding of the NEC

11. I feel that the role of public investment is important to accelerate growth of the NER as scope of private investment in huge infrastructure projects in a backward region may be limited. The successful transformation of public investment into positive development outcomes requires variety of strategies. The North Eastern Council has focused its attention in sectors such as Transport and Communication, Health, Energy and Power, Agriculture and Allied sectors, Industries, Tourism, Irrigation and Flood Control, Science and Technology and Human Resource Development. These sectors are critical in nature and the emphasis on the identified thrust areas of development should be continued in future as well.

12. However, what is of great concern is the gradual decline of the NEC's role and importance in the process of development over the period of its existence. The approved outlay for NEC of Rs.6108 crore during 12th Five Year Plan was lower than the approved outlay of 11th Plan of Rs.7394.00 crore. Even against the approved outlay of Rs.6108 crore of 12th Five Year Plan, the total of annual allocations to NEC for the four financial years (2012-13 to 2015-16) has been Rs.2822 crore leaving a balance of Rs.3286 crore for the final year (2016-17) of the 12th FYP.

13. The low annual plan allocation has resulted in declining availability of fund for new projects and thus a loss of interest especially in states like Assam which have alternative sources of funding from Centrally Sponsored Schemes as well as Externally Aided Projects. Assam however supports enhancement of the allocation for NEC and a rational distribution of funds among the states of the region on a clearly laid out criteria. It should be the collective endeavor of all NER States to secure additional fund for development of the region and I am happy that Honorable Prime Minister is here when I am making this point. I believe that a decision for higher funding is essential, if we have to move rapidly and grow at the same rate as the rest of the nation. At the same time I will agree that the pace of project implementation has to be picked up. The fact that there are a number of incomplete projects in Assam has been briefed to me and I will take measures to speed up implementation.

Assam and the NEC

14. We are all aware that partition sealed the NER by closing land and sea routes essential for trade and commerce. In addition, in Assam, the inability to control flood and river bank erosion has caused unmitigated damage to the nascent infrastructure. The difficult terrain and inadequacy of state resources (though Assam was 5th most prosperous state pre-independence) resulted in Special Category Status being given to the NER. The categorization of the states of this Region for the continuance of central assistance for all development activities at a higher proportion is necessary. Further, the funding for NEC/NLCPR projects should be on a 100 percent basis.

15. Assam is the largest state in the NE Region having 30 percent of land area and 68 percent of total population of the Region. Assam being geo-strategically located within the North East and Guwahati being the gateway of the NER has certain implications for the projects being taken up in the state. The point is that all the North Eastern states will receive the benefits, directly or indirectly from the existing infrastructure and other facilities in most places of Assam and especially in Guwahati. Thus any development project taken up in Assam would as a natural corollary ensure that the benefits accrue to other states as well. Such projects which have interstate implications should be given higher priority for funding through NEC.

16. A major issue with many projects is the precondition that land should be made available by the State Government. With increasing pressure on land, it is becoming difficult for the state to fulfill this criterion by making available government land. Further, government land may not be available at suitable locations. NEC should allow incorporating the land cost in the DPR for acquiring project land in case of certain categories of projects.

17. A large number of assets have been created in the states through NEC funding but there is a problem regarding their maintenance. It is extremely difficult for a revenue-poor state like Assam to maintain these assets. At present the practice is to immediately transfer the project to the state governments who find it difficult to make immediate provisions for maintaining the infrastructure created. NEC should provide the provision of five year maintenance fund to each member state. This provision for maintenance will provide necessary cushion to the state governments to take over the project gradually.

The Grant and Loan Sharing ratio between the Centre and Assam in Externally Aided Projects

18. The existing pattern of releasing assistance to Assam and other States in NE Region and Sikkim under Externally Aided Projects (EAP) is in the grant: loan ratio of 90:10. This was done in view of serious deficit in physical and social infrastructure sectors in these States and the stream of funding from EAPs was identified as an import source to reduce the deficit and also strengthen the capacities of the implementing institutes in the Government.

19. It is now given to understand that this provision is being reviewed by the Ministry of Finance to change the pattern in such a way that the States need to share more proportion of loan compared to the existing 90:10 pattern. In such case, this would put enormous burden on Assam. Secondly, the State Government is now planning to take series of projects under EAP covering critical sectors like power, inland waterways, roads, river bank management and agribusiness. It is, therefore, earnestly requested that the existing ratio of Grant and Loan of 90:10 may be continued.

Act East Policy (AEP)

20. Prior to India's independence, the NER had access to markets spanning the countries of South East Asia, China and Bhutan. With the dawn of independence, all these traditional markets were lost. There is renewed hope in the regional cooperation initiatives with our neighboring fast growing economies. The AEP has created an enabling environment to break the landlocked logjam of the NER by opening it to the markets of neighboring countries. There is scope to establish joint venture enterprises and bring cross border investments for encouraging commerce and tourism. Closer links with South East Asia and Bangladesh seems to have substantially benefited the states in other parts of India but not the NER.

21. Significant and fast initiatives will be required to unplug the natural transportation networks through the sea, inland water ways and land routes. The border check posts and land customs stations should be upgraded on priority to provide alternative routes for trade. The Asian Highway links, Asian Railway Network and Natural Gas Pipeline Grid Projects will play significant role to make AEP a reality. There is urgent need to promote interaction with neighboring countries through Sports, Music, Tourism and other cultural activities to make AEP beneficial/meaningful to the Region.

22. I would now to flag certain important issues in different sectors of the economy of the State.

Agriculture and Allied Sector:

23. Agriculture & Allied Sector growth in Assam has shown progress. Mechanization, assured irrigation, rise in fertilizer consumption, use of HYV(High Yielding Variety) seeds and soil treatment are the priority areas being given focus in the state. As in many other parts of the country, agriculture continues to be the major employer of the state. However, we need to lay even greater emphasis on Agricultural growth and acceleration in Horticulture, Floriculture, Spices and Organic Farming along with creation of adequate nonfarm activities .The Agricultural policy of the state needs a complete overhaul right from changes in the traditional cropping pattern to extension services and marketing. We suggest that Govt. of India may frame a special Agricultural Policy for NER in the line of the NEIIP so that private parties can play a bigger role in this sector.

24. Of late Governments across the globe have been expressing concerns on the climate change front. North East is a biologically diverse and sensitive area and we shall have to consciously lay focus on environment friendly mechanisms in agriculture. These can include covering cultivable land by green crops throughout the year to arrest global warming caused by carbon-dioxide, sustainable management of natural water resources, emphasis on waste management to produce organic compost for application in the Agriculture sector and emphasis on organic cultivation. We are also committed to Govt. of India's Vision for making North East an organic hub of Asia.

25. NEC can play a vital role in development of environmentally sustainable agricultural practises in the region. It may further assist in creation of rural infrastructure including roads, warehouses, cold storages and markets. Assam is hit by floods annually leading to siltation of precious farm land and NEC may assist in desiltation of such agricultural land.

Transport & Communication:

26. Due to non availability of transit facility in terms of road and railways, the time and cost for movement of passengers and goods from N.E region to other parts of the country is extremely high. Therefore NEC has to lay due emphasis in improving the infrastructure in terms of road, railway and air connectivity both within the N.E region and with other parts of the country. In view of low annual plan allocation during 12th Five Year Plan no new road projects have been taken up by NEC though the working group has recommended 3659 Km of road at an estimated cost of Rs.7282 crore to be funded during 12th FYP. It is welcome that NEC has taken up initiative for rehabilitation of all earlier road projects instead of taking up new road projects. The Govt. of Assam has submitted 11 proposals covering 124.46 Km of roads for rehabilitation under North East Road Sector Development Schemes (Orphan Roads) with a total estimated cost of Rs.143.23 crore. NEC is requested to consider these positively at the earliest.

Health:

27. The North East Region has a constraint in medical infrastructure especially in area of super-specialty services and cancer treatment. A large number of people of the region are forced to go outside the state for advance treatment of Cardiac, Neurosurgery and other such ailments. NEC may play a pivotal role in development of these services which would help the entire population of this region. It may be considered that investments in the Health sector in Assam has the potential to serve all the patients of the North Eastern States. Perhaps, it is also time that we make AYUSH as a major vehicle for wellbeing and preventive cure. 21st June which is the Yoga Day should be widely celebrated and we must create a healthy and wealthy North East through Yoga.

Flood & Erosion:

28. We request that the flood and erosion problems of Assam have to be treated as a national issue. I may mention that flood and erosion problems faced by Assam need to be tackled in coordination with all the N.E. States as the water catchment area covers the entire Brahmaputra and Barak basins. This requires much more Inter State cooperation. NEC may assist the Government of Assam on mitigation of flood by facilitating dialogues on this vital issue and by approving projects for dredging of the river bed of Brahmaputra and Barak.

Power:

29. Assam faces an acute shortage of Power supply particularly in the evening peak hours. In order to meet the power shortage and to reduce the loss in transmission and distribution by replacing ageing transmission system in the state, MDoNER/NEC may like to approve the power projects of 12th plan. The potential of small Hydroelectric Projects as a renewable source of energy has not been fully exploited and NEC should take the lead to fund such projects.

Tourism:

30. The North East Region with its multicultural identity and pristine and scenic beauty has immense potential in terms of Tourism. It can offer a wide range of experiences ranging from wildlife tourism, Religious and cultural tourism to Adventure Tourism. This sector is also naturally employment-intensive, but given the deficiency of modern infrastructure and due publicity, we have not been able to capitalise on this strength. The NEC could assist in creation of modern infrastructure and training of young people to gainfully engage themselves in this sector.

Skill Development

31. I believe that by augmenting human capabilities and skills we can provide gainful employment to the huge youth population of the region. However, the region has certain constraints due to low level of industrial activity and lack of adequate numbers of professional and vocational training Institutes. I endorse the initiatives proposed by NEC for support to Skill development of educated unemployed youth in the field of Computer Hardware /Software, training in BPO/Call Centre, management, teachers' training in Science and Mathematics, setting up of Pilot Training Centre at Lilabari, in North Lakhimpur, Assam, Regional Fashion Technology institute in collaboration with the NIFT/Ministry of Textiles, Mountaineering and Adventure Sports Institute in collaboration with the HMI, Darjeeling under Manpower Development Sector. The NEC may also provide assistance for reorganizing the ITIs to cater to the demands of Industry and service sector.

Handlooms and Handicrafts:

32. The handicrafts, handloom and micro sector in Assam has great potential for employment with low investment in plant and machinery. Assam's Silk is world renowned with varieties such as eri and muga being unique to the state and some other parts of the North Eastern region. Though some assistance has been received through the Central Silk Board and other sources, the entire process of production of silk, starting from sericulture activities such as cocoon rearing and farming, reeling, spinning of yarn, weaving and marketing of finished products needs to be supported for development and modernization. We call upon the Government of India to assist in developing the sericulture and silk weaving sector in Assam and North East by way of a special package.

Conclusion

33. I would like to conclude by once again thanking the Honourable Prime Minister, the Minister of DONER, the NEC and the host state Government of Meghalaya for this meeting. It is a fact that Assam has ample natural resources with immense potential for development. We require only willpower and proper assistance/guidance from NEC along with a harmonious atmosphere and relations with the states of the Region. From this platform, I would like to call upon all the States of the North East for your full support to make this the most vibrant region of the country. I am confident that under the dynamic leadership of the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, and Minister DONER and Chairman of NEC along with the active support of Government of India and people of the region, we shall usher a new era of growth and development in the North Eastern Region.

JAI HIND