Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Nagaland- a few thoughts on the way forward

As we observe from various statements made in the print media, social media and the opinions expressed by various organizations, civil societies, NGOs and even individuals, we see a society that is hopelessly divided and drifting along in utter confusion with no clear direction or vision. Development and progress has taken a back seat with the elected Government not providing any credible Governance and the writ of parallel Governments having tremendous impact particularly on the economy of the State and the people at large. The tag of the “worst performing state“ in SDG( Sustainable Development Goals) as classified by Niti Ayog of Government of India is a matter of shame and disgrace. In the recently held CWG (Commonwealth Games), the performance of India is not something to be really proud of though many of the sports persons from India have done well. We are proud of our neighbors, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam and also those from other states but Nagaland has drawn a blank- What a shame for all of us belonging to the sixteenth state of the Union of India- Is it not time for us to get our act together? Whether it is on political, economic, social, intellectual front, we are not able to make any worthwhile progress- Why ?- The reasons are not far to seek. An example that we all can acknowledge- As you cross Nagaland gate on Golaghat road in Dimapur or Doboka road clearly indicates that as you touch Nagaland, the roads are not smooth (or rather full of pot holes) whereas other states including the immediate neighbors appear to be from a different planet. Travel through Assam to Dirhang/Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh , to Shillong/ Cherrapunji in Meghalaya or even the roads in Diphu in Karbi Anglong not to talk of other highways

  1. Political : Nagas have been yearning for peace for decades but it seems to be elusive and today it seems to be further away as things are moving. Election to the State assembly is just six months away as per the normal term. There have been many pronouncements about solution to the vexed Naga political problem, which is the oldest in Asia. Slogans have been raised “Election for Solution” in 2018 before the Hustings and even before that in 2013 and even in 2008 and 2003. In fact since 1997, after ceasefire agreement between IM and GOI, talks have been going on, supposedly in the right direction. One wonders what is the right direction? In 2001 another ceasefire agreement with K group (now NNPGs) by GOI. It is already time for silver jubilee of the ceasefire and talks. Nagas are indeed patient but how long should our people suffer? What is the way forward? There must be sincerity and commitment from the leaders in the Underground set up, the leaders in the state and most importantly leaders in the Centre. Solution must be accorded top most Priority instead of having election.
  2. Finance and economy: Nagaland appears to be saddled with a huge debt burden of over Rs 16500 crores and the accumulated annual deficit has crossed Rs 2200 crores as per the current budget whereas the State’s own revenue has remained at Rs 650 crores. As things stand now, even the salaries of the Government employees are not being paid on time not to talk of maintenance of assets already created and new projects that can take the state and its people to a higher levels at par with other states and in tune the changing times. For example, Nagaland is the only state without a Medical college in the entire country. Wherever we look in the state, there is nothing happening that we can look forward or up to. The common man is absolutely frustrated and feel helpless. Surely the State Government can do better than this? A few thoughts in the form of constructive suggestion can be offered.
  3. Widen the base for State’s own revenue:
    a) Start the process of production of Oil and Natural gas: Oil or gas is perishable and at the rate it is being extracted by our immediate neighbor Assam, especially in the disputed areas bordering Assam where atleast 8 locations are identified as brought out by our Hon’ble MP, Shri Tokheho Yepthomi in the Parliament during this monsoon session. The reply given by the Union Minister was that the revenue earned by Assam over a period of five years is a whopping Rs 9500 crores. Has our Government even protested about the extraction in the disputed area and claimed for our share of revenue even though the case is pending in the Supreme court since 1988. The question is- When the matter is sub-judice how is one of the contending parties extracting in the disputed area utterly excluding the other contending party. I hope the Government of the day in the state is taking up the matter. This could be one of the main ways to increase our own revenue base. Nagaland must start production of oil and natural gas immediately at least in the districts where there are no disputes.
    b) Review the NLTP 1989 Act immediately: Drinking liquor is one of the oldest habits known to mankind and cannot be forcibly stopped though it can be regulated by the Government. Prohibition has not been successful in almost all parts of the World. In the 1920s it failed in America and gave rise to Mafia. It failed in Bombay Province, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and in any other state in the country, even in the Northeast, all states are free of prohibition of liquor because many have tried to impose prohibition and failed. In fact our neighbor Manipur has decided to lift prohibition. In Nagaland on the pretext of prohibition, almost every shop is clandestinely retailing spurious liquor in every district and the trading is controlled by syndicates operating under various Godfathers, both Underground as well as overground. The NLTP ACT 1989 and its implementation in the state has been a complete failure. It is up to the Government of the day to decide and not for the NBCC or other NGOs to take the decision. Once total prohibition is lifted, it can be regulated by the Government and in turn this lead to creation of more employment and also increase the base of State’s own revenue which will be substantial and in turn the revenue so earned can be ploughed back to vital areas such as healthcare, education, power and maintenance of roads etc..
    c) Levy property tax in urban areas: The old system of levying household tax in rural areas is not at all logical. In fact the poor people in the rural areas are taxed whereas the rich in urban areas constructing palatial buildings both commercial and residential are not paying any tax.
    d) There must be equitable distribution of funds received by the state Government for development and conscious effort must be made to stop dividing Nagas on tribal lines. Employment in the Government sector has crossed the saturation point and all out efforts must be made to promote the private sector. The recent effort of the CSR conclave though late, is perhaps a step in the right direction. Banking coverage must improve and the State must ensure to legislate laws that can enable the entrepreneurs and start ups to avail loans. And make the private sector more dynamic and contribute to the economy of the state
    e) Act on Act east policy: The State Government must consciously work and ensure that the Act East policy of GOI is really implemented on ground. Assam has taken a good initiative by having a department of Act east policy. It used to be Look East policy during the UPA Government, and the present Government has christened it as “Act East policy” to give it more impetus and perhaps priority. Our state needs to gear up and access all possible benefits. Perhaps the future of our economy lies in the east especially because of the proximity to the ASEAN market.
    H. Khekuto Khulu, IAS (Rtd), Akukau, Naghutomi & Former Addl Chief Secretary