The demand in some states of the northeast India for imposition of the inner line permit regime is a means to extend the period for freeloading, which the region has done enough of, writes Patricia Mukhim
Manipur is once again on the boil even as the demand for the Inner Line Permit gets more strident. Babloo Loitongbam, the noted Human Rights activist has in a fit of anger made disparaging remarks against the 60 MLAs of the Manipur Assembly for not doing enough to push this Bill. He and the local television channel now face the prospect of being served with a breach of privilege notice by the Manipur Assembly. The disconnect between the elected and the electors is out in the open. Election promises are in the habit of being forgotten as quickly as they were made, once legislators enter the Assembly.
Increasingly, we see that the agenda of the MLAs and the ruling government is at odds with what the public want. However, the point here is whether the Eastern Bengal Frontier Regulation (EBFR) 1873 from which flows the contentious Inner Line Permit applied in the states of Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh is the instrument to stop unabated influx from other parts of the country and from neighbouring Bangladesh and to an extent Nepal.
The three states where the ILP is applied (strictly in some states and quite loosely in others) have shown very slow economic growth. Nagaland is facing a deficit in its budget and is now hoping that the Union government under Narendra Modi would bail it out. Mizoram Government is facing a similar revenue crunch and is contemplating lifting the ban on prohibition of liquor. Mizoram has been a dry state for 17 years but it is not as if people don't drink. There are watering holes galore where the local brew is sold. The Mizoram government says it could generate a revenue of roughly 30 crore from taxes on alcohol. While the church and other civil society groups are resisting this move of the government, the choices seem limited. A land-locked state with no mineral resources and very little cultivable land must be innovative in its approach. Yet Mizoram is economically stagnated. So too is Nagaland. Whatever resources come to these two states from the Central government are spent with very little accountability. Hence the roads of Nagaland, including the important ones such as the Dimapur-Kohima highway, are in a shabby condition.
There are very few public sector undertakings in all the three ILP-bound states. If at all Arunachal Pradesh has any hopes of revenue generation it is from executing hydropower projects. The state, we are told, is capable of generating of 50,000 MW of hydro electricity. It's a different matter that nothing has taken off thus far although a slew of MOUs were signed with private companies several years ago during Dorjee Khandu's chief ministership. Whether the generation of hydro electricity in an ecologically sensitive region would have disastrous impacts on downstream inhabitants has not been adequately assessed. And until such time as hydel power becomes Arunachal Pradesh's mainstay, this state too depends heavily on Central funding. Of course the Centre might look at things a bit differently now that Chinese claims over this state are getting further traction ~ what with railways being built close to the Indo-China border just kilometres away from Arunachal Pradesh.
The crux of the matter here is our own dilemma in understanding the kind of development we want and whether we are ready to pay the price for that development. Globalisation has its discontents as Joseph Stiglitz so cogently argued in his book, Globalisation and its discontents. He looks at the market fundamentals and how they operate and analyses why the market can never substitute governments as the distributors of social and public goods. But the point to ask here is whether people are happy to distance themselves from what is happening in other parts of the world. Are people content with the slow pace of development in their respective states and are therefore happy to lead sheltered lives away from other marauding influences from the rest of India? People from the three abovementioned states are moving out to the rest of India to look for better livelihood opportunities. No one is stopping them. So how can this be a one-way traffic? But this argument is likely to be trashed by those who believe that the ILP is non pareil. They believe in checking the movement of individuals into their states while rebuffing similar attempts by others to stop them from entering another state. We cannot have different laws governing different states without creating schisms. The north-eastern region of India finds itself unable to catch up with the pace of development in the rest of India not just because of its remoteness from the Centre but also because it consciously chooses to remain aloof and untouched. There are enough people around who make a living by creating a fear psychosis among the hoi-polloi and who make the masses believe that they must be protected from a host of so-called adverse influences. But those who peddle these arguments about the need for protectionist policies are themselves very socially and physically mobile and enjoy the best of both worlds.
These double standards are what irritate. If people want the best educational systems and look for that in other states of India, what does it say about the development indices in those states? The best educational facilities offered by the private sector in the best locales of India have a huge population of North-eastern students. How their parents can afford to pay the exorbitant fees is another matter. But think how much revenue can be generated by these states if they had similar educational institutions within the region. Now that would mean allowing the private sector not only to come in but also to sustain themselves through easy mobility and secure in the knowledge that their investment will pay off. Can any of the seven states guarantee that private initiative will not be crushed by extortion and intimidation? So how will they generate their revenues? It is doubtful if the state would be able to depend on the Centre for all times. A tightening of belts is the need of the hour. And instruments like the ILP will only push the states into a situation where they will implode under the weight of their debt burden.
Proposing all sorts of protectionist Acts goes counter to the principles of growth and development. In Meghalaya too, the ILP protagonists have raked up the issue yet again. We will be seeing a series of agitations on this issue now that the Khasi Students Union has split and a more virulent group has been formed recently to take on the government on the ILP. With constant agitations stalling economic activities in the region, can we blame anyone for our own skewed growth and the burgeoning unemployment in the region? These are issues that the people of the North-east usually love to push under the carpet for they don't make good populist rhetoric. However, the time for a reality
check is now here. The Modi government is unlikely to continue to pour in funds unlimited into meeting the revenue requirements in the region. Enterprise is what the government is talking about all the time. The North-east must brace itself for such enterprise. We have done enough freeloading! And ILP is only a means to extend the period for freeloading.
The writer is editor, The Shillong Times, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org