Swapnanil Barua

Opening up the national and international markets for products of the State or even gaining a foothold will be a Herculean task, much beyond the capacity of the local bureaucracy. How the Government proposes to deal with the issue will require advance and creative planning.

To a common voter the coming elections are becoming a very confusing arithmetic. While all this while BJP was claiming it would get 100+ of the 126 seats in the Assembly, leaving the rest 20 odd to the Opposition parties, it is now the Congress and its ‘Mahajot’ which is claiming 100+ seats, probably leaving the rest 20 odd to the BJP. The BJP has given its calculation as to how the claimed figure would be reached. On the contrary, the Congress Plus is silent on how it would reach its claimed figure. So the common voter is dismissing both the claims as election rhetoric and getting on to do his own calculations and waiting for the final outcome after a good dose of merriment and feasting in the Rongali Bihu. The electoral pundits and media are also not very sure what would be the final results as yet, the lone election forecast which predicted a victory for the BJP now well forgotten.

What is interesting is that the latest Union Budget which come clean on the entire approach to governance in the coming years by going on a free enterprise path and ending the behemoth called the public sector, has been lost in Assam in the midst of this 100 plus calculations of both the major political groups contesting the elections. In the next four years, other than the oil companies and the telecommunications sector, there will be no central public sector undertakings and following from this it can be expected that the non-profit making State PSUs will also have to wind up. Not that it will make much of a difference to the people of Assam, the closure of most State PSUs will mean a loss of jobs for a few thousand employees and a parking place for non-ministerial MLAs. But the noise will be much bigger in the media and will give the Opposition parties of the day a handle to rent the air with agitation and prove their existence.

The performance of the Sonowal Government has been comparatively good. It has followed the path shown by the Prime Minister as the then Chief Minister of Gujarat years ago of improving bijli, sadak, paani, swasthya, siksha. It has built new bridges and 20,000 km of roads have been repaired and improved. The education sector has been given a new impetus with the appointment of new teachers in thousands, building new schools and colleges and improving the old, waiving school and college fees, free books, free uniforms, midday meals, book grants for college students, grants subsidizing mess dues, scooties to girl students, computers and many more. On the electricity front, the power situation has improved and more homes have been reached. Drinking water supply has been a weak point. Corruption has come down and the performance of government servants have marginally improved. On the health front, the Atal Amrit Yojana for providing cashless treatment has made a welcome development and needs to be made universal covering the middle-class. The best news in the medical front has been in the setting up of new medical colleges which will double the annual availability of doctors in the State in another five years. The new cancer hospitals and the upcoming AIIMS are a much-needed addition. The growth of paramedical and nursing institutions will have a long-term impact. Granting of pattas to the indigenous people has been a good step and taken in a mission mode will help the poor and marginalized. Containing the corona epidemic would be a feather in the cap of the outgoing Government. It contained the outbreak medically and ensured the supply lines. Migrants and daily labour were helped to tide over the darkest of days.

The weak spots of the Government have been in managing the environment by increasing the green cover to 33% of the landmass and controlling floods and erosion. Steps taken have been woefully insufficient.

The Union Government has set its economic agenda clearly in the last budget. India will go on an atmanirbhar path, where the economy will be driven by individual enterprise aided in infrastructure by the Government. The public sector will be phased out in non-strategic areas. It will be less of government and more of governance. So all jobs will be primarily created in the private sector. This will mean that Assam too in the coming years has to go for the self-dependent mode with job creation happening mostly in the private sector. This is something that the Assamese mind has to adjust to. However difficult it may not be, it will be a harsh reality which the Government has to cope with and inculcate a cultural change in the mindset of the locals. How to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit in the youth will be a big challenge, as there are no teachers and very few self-made success stories to emulate.

Again the country has pegged its annual growth rate to 11%, which in Assam’s case has to be in the region of 20% if it has to keep pace with the developed States and 25% if it has to come up from its 28th position in per capita income, among the States. This has to be done in organic and variety products in tea, organic farming, horticulture and tourism. None of these sectors are in robust health today nor are they widespread. Newer avenues have to be also added to the thrust areas. All this will call for a detailed plan to coordinate individual enterprise with government infrastructure support. Assistance will have to be provided in marketing and finance also. Startups will have more failures than success in the initial days. How will the Government assist in cushioning the failures and put the entrepreneurs back on track will mean the placing of a mechanism to deal with the pitfalls. With the cushion effect, the first generation entrepreneurs will back out from repeated attempts, thereby killing dreams before they are made into a reality. Assam does not have enough of quality mentors to create a climate of entrepreneurship. Hence, the State Government will have to reach out to other States and corporates for support.

Opening up the national and international markets for products of the State or even gaining a foothold will be a Herculean task, much beyond the capacity of the local bureaucracy. How the Government proposes to deal with the issue will require advance and creative planning.

In the organic farming sector, for prices to be remunerative, the selling has to be done mostly in the export market. This will call for adherence to international food safety requirements, quality packing and transport, cold chain support, timely supply of inputs, easy access to finance, ease of doing business, regularity in international cargo flights, keeping to delivery schedule, etc. The Assamese farmer has to be inculcated with the business sense and expertise to meet the demands of the international market. Unfortunately, there are no such institutions to train the farmers of Assam in national and international marketing. The role of intermediaries has to be kept to the minimum. The whole production, storage, packaging and selling process has to be tuned into a seamless flow, to fructify the Prime Minister’s dream of an Organic Northeast. Sikkim has taken a lead. It’s now to be seen how Assam comes to the forefront and how the government makes it a policy in the party’s manifesto for the coming assembly elections.

Will the Assam Mala have a plan for bridges across the Brahmaputra at every 60 km gap or a second Trunk Road on both the banks of the mighty river connecting the bridges will have to be seen in future.