`People know what is best for them'

Print edition : February 25, 2005

Interview with Dr. Kamal Taori, Secretary, NEC.

Born, brought up and educated in Wardha, Maharashtra, Kamal Taori, Secretary, North Eastern Council (NEC), is an idealist, non-conformist and a powerhouse of energy all rolled into one. The holder of a doctorate in Economics, Taori is blessed with a capacity to macro-analyse any situation and then probe its micro linkages. Every issue he confronts is immediately subjected to a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis that helps him learn lessons from the past.

RITU RAJ KONWAR

After a brief five-year stint as an emergency commissioned officer in the Indian Army, he opted for the civil services and has served as a bureaucrat for 37 years. Taori held diverse posts covering areas such as administration, project-making, finance, training and the non-governmental organisation sector, evaluation and monitoring. He has worked in the departments/Ministries of Transport, Food and Civil Supplies, Khadi and Village Industries, Sericulture, Rural Development, District Planning and Administration and Rural Empowerment and the Inter-State Council. He is from the U.P. cadre of the 1968 batch of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

Taori has authored 26 books on subjects such as rural industrialisation, marketing the unorganised sector, entrepreneurship in the decentralised sector and Panchayati Raj. Committed to bringing about a qualitative change in the work ethic and stemming systemic rot, Taori underlined the need for "ruthlessly implementing the policy of public-private partnership as the mainstay of regional planning" during an interview with Sushanta Talukdar. Excerpts:

What are the Council's contributions to the overall development of the region during its 32 years of existence?

When the NEC was established, it had a mandate of an advisory body. By an amendment to the NEC Act of 1971 in December 2002, it was made a regional planning body in addition to its advisory role. In the over three decades since it was established, the NEC has made considerable progress. Whether that progress has been balanced is something that we perhaps need to examine. For example, [problems in] certain pockets of backwardness have not been addressed. Of a total of Rs.6,151.62 crores invested by the Council ever since its inception, as much as Rs.2,806.40 crores or roughly 45 per cent has been spent for water and power development, and Rs.2,517.5 crores, or roughly 41 per cent, on transport and communications. By contrast, agriculture and allied programmes got just 2.05 per cent of investment, manpower development 5.40 per cent and social and community services 3.13 per cent. It is true that connectivity is an issue of paramount importance, but surely that cannot override the fact that other issues primary to the all-round socio-economic development need to be addressed.

I think the time has now come for us to involve the masses - the beneficiaries in the planning process. This is the only way we can have sustainable development. It is ultimately the people who know what they need and what is best for them. We need to go down to the grassroots level and factor the hopes and aspirations of the people into the planning process; address their fears and apprehensions - a bottom-up approach.

In its 48th meeting held at Gangtok, the NEC had resolved to prepare a time-bound master plan for implementation of the Council's road map for development of the northeastern region. What progress has been made in that direction?

P.P. Srivastava, a much-respected and now retired bureaucrat who has served in the region for decades, was entrusted with the task of preparing a road map for the development of the northeastern region and a revitalisation plan for the NEC. He has since submitted his report and the government has accepted most of his suggestions.

The NEC-funded Jogighopa bridge over the Brahmaputra in Assam.-COURTESY: NEC

One of the primary issues that the road map addresses is the optimal utilisation of all resources, proper evaluation and monitoring of projects - both completed and ongoing, through impact assessment studies and the involvement of stakeholders, which brings me to my next point.

Ever since the NEC was given the larger mandate of a regional planning body, people's expectations from the Council have risen manifold. Unfortunately, because of existing recruitment policies and UPSC [Union Public Service Commission] norms, we were unable to attract additional professionals or fill up vacancies caused by transfers and the conclusion of tenures. One of the recommendations made in the Srivastava Report is to review and revise the recruitment norms for the NEC and to create a special dispensation under the UPSC.

We have taken a conscious decision to adopt a "mission mode" for sectors such as village enterprises, manpower development, tourism, cluster development, promotion of bamboo and Information Technology in line with the National Common Minimum Programme (CMP).

A dialysis machine sponsored by the NEC at the Regional Institute of Medical Science in Imphal, Manipur.-COURTESY: NEC

We are also seeking to make Governors and Chief Ministers of our eight member-States patrons of these missions. It is only with their active support and participation that the NEC can succeed in its endeavours.

Apart from revenue-earning, tourism is considered the highest employment generating industry. For a region grappling with the problem of growing unemployment, does the Council have any plan to promote tourism in a big way to create more jobs?

The NEC has requested all its member-States to depute a "link officer" to liaise with the Council. Senior officers and sectoral heads of the Council too have been allocated specific States with the responsibility of mentoring them. One of the focus areas is tourism and we are actively working on a "Draft Regional Tourism Policy" to promote this lucrative sector in the northeastern region.

We are looking at this sector in a holistic manner and are calling upon all States to adopt a unified and coordinated approach for the mutual benefit of all concerned.

There is so much this region has to offer, in terms of its rich bio-diversity, and its vibrant races and cultures, ethnic milieu, arts and crafts. I don't see why we need to offer tourists five-star comfort. We can always offer them a taste of this unique region by asking people in remote areas to set aside a room in their houses to accommodate tourists, who would be only too happy to pay to get a taste of the local ways of life, customs, practices and cuisine. This way, while augmenting the income of the village people, it will also serve the purpose of building bridges and breaking down the walls of misunderstanding between this region and what is popularly called "mainstream India".

The NEC's road map for development sees an advantage in the geographical proximity of the region to the dynamic South-East Asian economies. What are the steps initiated by the Council to make use of this advantage?

We are actively working towards promoting the northeastern region as a corridor to South-East Asia. If you look at our international boundary, over 90 per cent of the northeastern border is international. These have been traditional trade routes for centuries. Some of this trade continues even today, but with the setting up of international boundaries it has been considered clandestine. Thanks to our new policy of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, the government is now adopting a "Look East" policy. We now need to ensure that the climate is favourable for the promotion of trade and commerce by bringing about peace and a conducive atmosphere. This will need a great deal of policy support but, above all, it will need a paradigm shift in the mindset of the people of the region. Energies must be harnessed in a positive direction and people must become "self-employed change agents".

It would be extremely expedient to our objective to have South-East Asian countries set up some kind of diplomatic missions in the northeastern region - especially our immediate neighbours - so that there is better coordination and a more cohesive and seamless approach to bilateral trade.

How does the NEC plan to ensure public-private partnership for the development of the region?

We have written to all the State governments to identify and list the unutilised infrastructure in their respective States. There is plenty of under-utilised infrastructure that is either abandoned or poorly maintained. We are looking at roping in private entrepreneurs and making them partners for its utilisation. The public-private partnership will reduce the cost and at the same time enhance the turnover.

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