Opportunities abound in various sectors in the State as the government's stress on development begins to pay off.in Guwahati
ON March 9, the country's leading industry captains, attending the first meeting of the Assam Investment Advisory Board in Guwahati, said they were impressed by the emergence of a new Assam. They also pledged their commitment to the State's industrial and overall development.
Addressing a press conference with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi after the two-hour meeting, Tata Sons Chairman Ratan Tata said: All of us run successful businesses in other parts of India. But I must say that there are tremendous opportunities in Assam, too, and that the potential of the State has not received attention for a long time. A new Assam is here. We are drawn by the opportunities and challenges here. We are here by choice.
Among the others present at the meeting and the press conference were Unilever president M.S. Banga, Videocon chairman V.N. Dhoot, Eveready Industries chairman B.M. Khaitan, Tata Sons Director R.K. Krishna Kumar, HSBC CEO Naina Lal Kidwai, State Bank of India Chairman O.P. Bhatt, and former Ambassador to the United States Ronen Sen. The industry captains' remarks highlighted the new image of Assam that has emerged in recent years, the development that has taken place in different sectors in the past decade, and the improvement in the security environment.
When Tarun Gogoi's Congress government assumed office in 2001, it decided that development was the precondition for peace, rather than the other way around. When Gogoi came back for another term in 2006, he continued this approach. With development gaining momentum, public pressure grew on insurgent groups to shun violence and come for negotiation. Support for insurgent groups eroded fast as counter-insurgency measures were undertaken along with development work. Most of the insurgent groups responded to repeated appeals by the government and the public: they signed ceasefire agreements, deposited arms and ammunition with the police, and their cadre moved out of jungles to designated camps to pave the way for dialogue.
The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was set up following the second Bodo Accord, which the Centre and the State government signed with the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) in 2003. Former militant leaders of the disbanded BLT now controlled the BTC, an administrative set-up under amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, and later shared power in Dispur. This marked the beginning of a gradual return to peace.
The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) did not come back to the mainstream. However, the NDFB split, and one of the two factions signed a truce agreement. The other, led by NDFB founder-chairman Ranjan Daimary, suffered a severe jolt when Daimary was arrested in Bangladesh and handed over to the Indian authorities.
Several top ULFA leaders, including its chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa, were arrested in Bangladesh and handed over to the Indian authorities. Rajkhowa and other jailed leaders have expressed their willingness to talk to the government and have held several rounds of discussion with the Centre's interlocutor, P.C. Haldar. The outfit's self-styled commander-in-chief, Paresh Barua, is however still dithering.
In his speech at the 55th meeting of the National Development Council, the Chief Minister spoke of the State's growth: The economy of our State is gradually showing an upward trend. During the Tenth Plan Period from 2002-2007, the annual average growth rate of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) at constant (1999-2000) prices has shown a growth of 5.33 per cent. This is a significant improvement over the 1.97 per cent GSDP growth rate of Assam during the Ninth Plan period. As per advanced estimates, the growth rate of Assam's GSDP in real terms at constant prices is 6.35 per cent during the year 2009-10 as per quick estimate. This was 6.16 per cent during 2008-09 and 5.73 per cent in 2007-08. The GSDP of Assam during 2008-09 has been worked out at Rs.53,319 crore at constant (1999-2000) prices and at Rs.79,277 crore at current prices as against Rs.50,222 crore and Rs.71,625 crore respectively during 2007-08. The industry sector has grown by 3.28 per cent in 2009-10 as compared with the previous year. The service sector grew by 9.24 per cent during 2009-10, which has helped to maintain the growth momentum in the State economy. The Net State Domestic Product (NSDP), also known as State income, at 1999-2000 prices, has increased by 6.30 per cent during 2009-10 in comparison to the growth rate of 6.16 per cent in 2008-09. The Net State Domestic Product (NSDP) of Assam in 2008-09 was Rs.71,164 crore at current prices and Rs.48,262 crore at constant (1999-2000) prices. As per advance estimates, the NSDP growth rate in real terms is estimated at 6.30 per cent during 2009-10.
The per capita NSDP of Assam at constant prices and current prices stood at Rs.16,272 and Rs.23,993 respectively during 2008-09. The Assam Economy [GSDP at constant (1999-2000) prices] has been growing with the average growth rate of 5.08 per cent per annum during the last 10 years. Except agriculture and allied sector, industry and service sectors witnessed notable growth during the period. While the industry sector grew at the rate of 7.74 per cent, the service sector also showed impressive growth of 7.13 per cent during the period.
The total tax collection during Gogoi's two consecutive terms is Rs.23,666.29 crore. The 11th Finance Commission award for the period 2001-2005 was Rs.13,280.86 crore. This increased to Rs.24,329.30 crore during 2005-10, while the 13th Finance Commission award for 2010-15 shot up to Rs.57,832.70 crore. Similarly, the total amount spent by the Panchayat and Rural Development Department during 1996-2001 was Rs.1,400 crore, against Rs.10,000 crore spent from 2001 to 2010.Improved connectivity
Connectivity is one of the priority areas. In the past 10 years, several projects to build roads and bridges were taken up with funds from the Centre, the World Bank, NABARD, the North Eastern Council (NEC), and the State's own coffers. Official figures show that from 1996 to 2001 only 545 kilometres of roads and 177 concrete bridges were constructed. Over the past 10 years, 13,710 km of roads were blacktopped and work on an additional 9,000 km was in progress. During this period, 1,396 timber bridges were converted into concrete bridges. The construction of 65,000 km of rural roads and 14,915 bridges has improved surface connectivity in rural and tea garden areas. This enables farmers to access markets in towns, suburbs and faraway places to sell agricultural and horticultural produce.
Work on the 670.65-km East West Corridor started in September 2004. It was targeted for completion in September 2010, but work has been completed on only 175.60 km; the revised deadline is April 2012. Gogoi drew the NDC's attention to the poor maintenance of the existing road by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). This, along with the sluggish pace of work, has affected transportation and logistics and inconvenienced people travelling between Upper and Lower Assam. In 2000-01, the Assam State Transport Corporation had only 70 buses of its own. Now, it has 340 buses in addition to 1,297 private buses that ply under the corporation. The Inter State Bus Terminus, with a capacity to handle 140 buses at a time, has eased traffic congestion in Guwahati and helped streamline the operation of long-distance buses.Industries
Investment proposals to the tune of Rs.34,000 crore have been received over the past 10 years. Construction work on the Rs.5,460-crore Assam Gas Cracker project at Lepetkata in Upper Assam's Dibrugarh district started in 2007 after a long delay and is now scheduled for commissioning in 2012. Although the mega project will directly employ only 800 people, about 500 downstream industries are expected to come up and generate more than 1.5 lakh employment avenues.Power sector
For nearly 35 years, beginning from the 1970s, no significant investment was made in the power sector in Assam, resulting in a deterioration in the distribution and transmission of power. The State's transmission and distribution capacity was only 550 megawatts during 1996-2001, and the total requirement was 480 MW. Over the past 10 years, the transmission and distribution capacity increased to 1,800 MW and power demand went up to 950 MW. The State government says this happened because of reforms in the power sector. The Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB) has been unbundled into three companies for generation, transmission and distribution. The State government provided the ASEB Rs.2,050 crore, in addition to budgetary support to clear its huge outstanding dues, and explored various sources of funding to support the reforms.
The resources pooled since 2001 include Rs.167 crore from Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR), Rs.650 crore under the Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (APDRP) and Rs.1,050 crore from Asian Development Bank. The Chief Minister's Power Distribution Scheme got Rs.56 crore from the State government, while Rs.237 crore went to the power sector under the Assam Bikash Yojana.
The ASEB's own generation, which was only 120 MW in 1996-2001, has now gone up to 274 MW and the number of consumers has increased to 28 lakh from nine lakh in 1996-2001. Official figures also showed that the number of below poverty line (BPL) families that have been provided free connection has increased to 10 lakh from 4,300 families in 1996-2001. The revenue collection of the ASEB, which was only Rs.597 crore in 1996-2001, is now Rs.1,797 crore.
The 100-MW Karbi Langpi Hydroelectric project became operational on April 7, 2007, after a long delay. Work on several new power projects, including the 750-MW Salakati thermal power project of NTPC, is in progress. The Salakati project is the country's first thermal power project that will use de-sulphurisation technology. The new power plant has come up at the site of the erstwhile 240-MW Bongaigaon Thermal Power Station of the ASEB. It was inoperative from 2002 and was eventually shut down owing to, among other things, irregular coal supplies. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation of the new project in January 2006. The plant will acquire an additional 500 MW capacity in the second phase.Rural development
The Assam Human Development Report-2003, the first human development report of the State, listed various indicators of human development, analysed the poverty situation and identified the challenges ahead so that a correct human development strategy could be formulated. On the basis of the HDR data analysis and recommendations, the State government decided to accord top priority to agriculture, health and education and make rural development the main thrust of its growth strategy.
In the past 10 years, elections to panchayati raj institutions were held in 2001 and in 2007, in keeping with the government's commitment to decentralisation. Massive funds flowed to villages, opening up huge opportunities for improving rural infrastructure and creating avenues for income-generation. Over the past 10 years, 2,09,122 self-help groups created self-employment opportunities for more than 20 lakh people, more than 64 per cent of them women. Against only 1.77 lakh houses provided under the Indira Awas Yojana during the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) regime, about 11 lakh houses were provided under the scheme over the past 10 years. About 21 lakh households having job-card holders were provided jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. More than 35 lakh households were issued job cards.Agricultural activities
About 75 per cent of the State's population depends directly on agriculture and allied activities. Special emphasis was laid on a diversified cropping system through the use of improved seeds and the adoption of farm mechanisation. The budgetary allocation increased from Rs.131.11 crore in 2000-01 to Rs.703.98 crore in 2010-11. Between 1996 and 2001, 175 power tillers and 221 tractors had been distributed. Over the past 10 years, 6,075 tractors, 22,322 power tillers, and 26,886 hand sprayer machines were distributed to farmers. As much as 3,97,151 litres of pesticides were distributed from 2001-02 to 2009-10, against 35,048 litres between 1996 and 2001. Also, in the past 10 years 5,73,840 Kisan Credit Cards were issued to farmers.
These measures resulted in increased agricultural productivity. The Food Corporation of India procured 12,150 million tonnes of paddy in 2009-10, against 210 MT procured from farmers by the Assam State Agricultural Marketing Board in 2001. To meet the requirement for quality seeds, 1.05 lakh registered growers of 2,100 seed villages' have been engaged, resulting in the production of 3.78 lakh quintals of quality seeds.
Fish production in the State has increased and now meets around 87 per cent of the total requirement of 2.36 lakh tonnes of fish a year. Productivity has gone up from an average of 1,500 kilograms a hectare a year to 2,200 kg a hectare.Health
The 11th Plan recognised good health as a factor contributing to economic growth and laid emphasis on a comprehensive and sustained approach to meet the health needs of the population. It included strengthening the protective, curative, palliative and rehabilitative aspects of the health care system. Under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Assam has 28,798 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs).
All the ASHAs have been provided with radio sets to listen to current information on the NRHM programme aired by All India Radio in collaboration with the NRHM, Assam, and carry forward health-related discussions to the people. The ASHAs have also been provided with a bicycle and an umbrella each.
In order to extend health-care facilities to about 24,90,097 people, mostly immigrant Muslim settlers residing in the chars and chaporis (sand isles of the Brahmaputra), the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES), in partnership with the NRHM, Assam, run an innovative health care service using boat clinics for marginalised people. The services delivered include immunisation for children, antenatal and post-natal check-up, referrals for complicated pregnancies, general check-ups for preventive and curative care, emergency preparedness and responses in case of flood situations. Fifteen boat clinics are in operation in 13 districts.
There are mobile medical units in all districts. Each unit has three vehicles: the first vehicle transports a doctor and paramedics; the second is equipped with a portable X-ray machine and an ultrasound machine; and the third is equipped with facilities to carry patients.
Until May 2010, about 11 lakh people received medical care though 6,861 mobile health camps. Institutional deliveries have gone up, with 12,48,406 pregnant women benefiting from the Janani Suraksha Yojana implemented with the help of the ASHAs. One ambulance and Rs.15 lakh have been provided to each of the 199 tea gardens with which the State government has signed an MoU for providing better health care to tea garden workers and their families.
The State's fourth medical college has become functional at Jorhat, while two more are coming up in Barpeta and Tezpur. The State government has decided to set up two more medical colleges at Diphu, the headquarters of Karbi Anglong Hill district, and at Nagaon. The last medical college to be set up in Assam, the third in the State, was in Silchar in 1960.
The government plans to set up 50 model hospitals in 50 Assembly constituencies. The introduction of 108-Mritunjoy, an emergency medical service, is a great help in case of emergencies and road accidents. As many as 280 ambulances under the service are operating in all the 27 districts.Education
In a move to boost primary education, one lakh girl students have been provided with a bicycle each, while umbrellas have been provided to 76,923 BPL students. The number of children staying out of school has been brought down from 13,40,185 to 59,448. The Congress government resumed the distribution of free textbooks, which the AGP government had stopped. In 2009-10, it provided textbooks to 71,31,102 students. Kitchens and storage facilities have been constructed in 24,672 primary schools to support the midday meal scheme.
Incentives for secondary education include the distribution of free computers to students securing the first division in the high school-leaving certificate examination. As many as 73,646 students have received free computers under this scheme since 2005. There has been a 400 per cent increase in the number of students securing the first division.
The Rajiv Gandhi Computer Literacy Programme implemented in 969 schools benefits seven lakh students every year. Fifty higher secondary schools have been provided a grant of Rs.50 lakh each to set up modern laboratories. One model school is being set up in each development block. A National Institute of Design is coming up in Jorhat.Tourism
Improved tourism infrastructure and the development of new tourist destinations backed by better road, rail and air connectivity have attracted a huge inflow of tourists, both domestic and foreign. The number of domestic tourists has gone up substantially from 10,01,577 in 2000 to 36,98,706 while the number of foreign tourists has gone up from 5,959 to 14,533. This has created lucrative employment avenues.
With shopping malls, better hotels and restaurants and improved connectivity, Guwahati has emerged as an important tourist hub. Successful efforts to protect rhinos and other wildlife species in Kaziranga have also drawn tourists, and so has the improved infrastructure improvement of other national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Kaziranga has attained the status of having the highest density of tiger population in the world.Gender dimension
Removing gender inequality and empowering women has been one of the focus areas of the State's development initiatives. Of the 2,09,122 self-help groups formed in the past 10 years, 64.58 per cent, that is, 1,35,628 groups, were all-women groups that created self-employment opportunities for more than 13 lakh women.
The State government has undertaken a number of welfare schemes targeting women and made budgetary provisions for them. These schemes envisage assistance to 50,000 single, unemployed women; each woman will get Rs.10,000. Girls from BPL families get Rs.10,000 as marriage assistance, while cash assistance of Rs.5,000 is provided to one lakh women's SHGs. There is a 2 per cent exemption of registration fees for women if land documents are registered in their names, provided the land value does not exceed Rs.2 lakh.
The government has proposed to reserve 50 per cent seats for women in panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies and reserve 20 per cent of government supplies and contracts not exceeding Rs.10 lakh for women. Twenty-six residential girls' schools have been set up in 13 districts to provide education to 1,450 poor girl students belonging to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the minority communities.
It is not possible to wipe out the development deficit of past decades overnight. It requires persistent and steady efforts. Our dream is to see a fully developed Assam which will be as prosperous as any other State, Gogoi told Frontline.