Planned growth

Published : Jan 12, 2007 00:00 IST

Interview with Chief Minister Manik Sarkar.

THE Left Front government of Tripura is committed to bringing the backward State on a par with the rest of the country. "Our first priority is to improve the living standards of the people, especially those living below the poverty line," Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said in an interview to Frontline. Manik Sarkar left a blazing trail in his career in politics, which culminated in his assuming the office of Chief Minister and his induction into the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1998. He became a member of the CPI(M) in 1968 and was inducted into the CPI(M) State Committee in 1972 and into the State Secretariat in 1978. In 1985 he became a member of the Central Committee and in 1993 secretary of the party's State unit and the convener of the State Left Front. Excerpts:

In the 2003 election manifesto, the Left Front in the State had said that its emphasis would be on a vibrant and self-sufficient agriculture. How far have you been successful in achieving this?

In order to attain self-sufficiency in foodgrains, the fourth Left Front government [which assumed power in 1998], chalked out a 10-year Perspective Plan in 2000. Under this plan, apart from foodgrains, vegetables, fish, meat, eggs and milk were also identified as areas of development. We hope to be self-sufficient in foodgrains by 2010-11. The other plans will come to fruition subsequently. We are monitoring the results on an annual basis and are well on target.

The area under irrigation has increased from around 15 per cent to 65 per cent; use of fertilizers has increased from 25-28 kg a hectare to 42-46 kg a hectare. As a result, our paddy production has increased significantly. We no longer have to import high-yielding seeds from other States; we produce a surplus of them. In fact, certain States in the region have shown interest in obtaining these seeds.

We have always had to import vegetables from other States but we expect to attain self-sufficiency in vegetable production before the plan period ends. We have surplus production in crops such as cabbage and cauliflower, which are exported to other States. We import fish, but it won't be long before we are self-sufficient in this too. We have restored a number of water bodies and also created new ones. We are pursuing pisciculture in a scientific way and that is paying dividends. We were largely dependent on other States for the supply of eggs, but that dependence is gradually reducing with our stress on poultry farming and duck-rearing. We have not had to import meat but that does not mean we have been able to meet the demand for meat. Meat production, particularly pork, has increased. In fact, a variety of piglet available here is in high demand in other States.

Our State was backward in milk supply, but we have covered a lot of ground in this area. Dr. V. Kurien [the architect of Operation Flood] sent some of his experts, who prepared a scheme for us. Our main emphasis is on the health of cows. We have launched a new experiment in one district under which a team of trained youth moves from village to village, examining cows and calves and conducting artificial insemination. The youth engaged in this work earn Rs.8,000-Rs 10,000 a month.

Another pilot project we have started is one introducing mobile vets. Since it is not feasible to bring ailing cows from remote areas to the veterinary clinic in Agartala, we have arranged for some veterinary doctors to attend calls in different villages. This is also Dr. Kurien's suggestion, and we have started this in one block. So our thrust areas are not just agriculture but its allied activities.

What about industries?

Our first priority is to improve the living standards of the people, especially those living below the poverty line. And for that our main thrust has to be on agriculture. Our stress is on improving infrastructure, which is imperative for any sustained industrial development. For example, Tripura has plenty of natural gas. The ONGC's [Oil and Natural Gas Corporation] output is limited by the lack of demand on account of the absence of downstream industries, which again cannot come about in the absence of adequate infrastructure. There is even the prospect of striking petroleum in the State, but this will be of no use without rail, road, power and telecommunication networks. We look forward to the Prime Minister's promise of providing a railway link to Agartala by the end of March 2007. But that is not enough. The rail link should extend up to Sabrum, located just 74 km from the international port of Chittagong in Bangladesh. If this link can be established, Tripura can well become the golden gateway of commerce not just to the northeastern region but even to South-East Asia. Although the National Highway has been extended from Agartala to Sabrum, it is yet to be upgraded into a four-lane one. Air connectivity has improved from what it was two years ago.

For industrial development, it is important to have power. During the period of the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government, NEEPCO [North Eastern Electric Power Corporation] started a 560-mega watt power project in two phases. Subsequently, the ONGC proposed a 750-MW project. Now the Central government maintains that with the ONGC project coming up, there is no need for the NEEPCO project. We disagree. The power generated by NEEPCO will not be wholly consumed by Tripura; other States in the region can also benefit from the surplus generated.

Only assured availability of power and infrastructure will make investors enthusiastic about Tripura. It will not be long before the State starts attracting investments for industry. In fact, investors are already showing interest. Besides, the trade route with Bangladesh is a flourishing one.

What is the State's position on the education and health care fronts?

Education and health care are high on our priority list, and we are doing very well on these fronts. The literacy rate in Tripura is well above the national average, at around 80 per cent.

Our engineering college has been upgraded to an NIT [National Institute of Technology]. We set up a medical college last year. We want the university in the State to be given Central university status. Permission has been granted to the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India [ICFAI] to set up a technical university. Colleges all over the State are trying to include new subjects so that our students do not fall behind in competition and can get gainful employment. It is our effort to bring everyone into the fold of education and ensure that there are no dropouts. With improvement in the enrolment rate, the dropout rate is showing a downward trend. The midday meal scheme for children up to Class V has been a great success with cent per cent attendance. We have laid special emphasis on the education of tribal children and of women.

As for health facilities, the people have to depend almost exclusively on government infrastructure because there are only 10-12 private hospitals, and that too only in Agartala. We are aware of our shortcomings, but no qualified doctor is unemployed in Tripura. There is a dearth of nurses; we propose to set up a nursing college. An institution for training paramedical staff in 20 disciplines is expected to be operational in two years. We send students, especially from the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe categories, on scholarship to other States for training. We are even prepared to recruit doctors and nurses from other States.

Malaria continues to be a scourge in Tripura, disproving the claims of the Government of India about its eradication. We have been distributing medicated mosquito nets in the affected areas. Another problem is water-borne diseases. In order to combat them, we are trying to make available potable drinking water by laying fresh pipelines. That means increasing the number of sources of water and removing the content of iron and bacteria, among other things. Work has started in this respect. The next important element of public health is sanitation; we are providing facilities for sanitary latrines. We have been largely successful in southern and western Tripura and we hope to achieve 100 per cent sanitation.

Tripura has a history of insurgency movements. What is the situation now? Do you think it will have an impact on the socio-economic development of the State?

Insurgency is a national problem affecting the entire northeastern region. Unfortunately, many of the groups have bases in neighbouring areas, notably in Bangladesh. We have not allowed them to set up base in our State; the bases that were there have been demolished. The two major groups operating in Tripura are the National Liberation Front of Tripura and the Tiger Force, with bases in Bangladesh. But with the strengthening of our security forces, these groups do not have the strength they had gathered around four years ago. Their goal of an independent Tripura has proved to be a mirage. After all, these movements grew out of economic backwardness and the frustration, anger, resentment and alienation caused by poverty and unemployment.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment