- GS-2: Federalism and Challenges
“India will be successful when the North East develops at par with the other developed states of India” – Narendra Modi.
India’s North Eastern region includes 8 states covering 8% of the country’s landmass and 4% of the national population representing one of the diverse cultures in the country.
The integration of Northeast India into mainstream Indian life has been on the national agenda from the very start of India’s journey as an independent nation. The region has always been seen to be somewhat alien and needing assimilation.
Picture Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_India
- The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution introduced in 1949: Applies to the administration of tribal areas in the North-eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram (three Councils each), and Tripura (one Council) in accordance with Article 244 of the Indian Constitution.
- The draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), promulgated in 1958
- A colonial era legislation that was enacted to quell the protests during the Quit India movement
- The ordinances were replaced by an Act in 1948 and the present law effective in the Northeast was introduced in Parliament in 1958
- The AFSPA gives unfettered powers to the armed forces and the Central armed police forces deployed in “disturbed areas”
- It allows them to open fire, even causing death, against any person in contravention to the law or carrying arms and ammunition.
- Also, it gives them powers to arrest individuals without warrants, on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”, and search premises without warrants.
- Demand for Revocation of AFSPA in the past: BP Jeevan Reddy committee examining it in relation to the Northeast in 2005, and the Veerappa Moily report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007, recommended that the Act be repealed.
“Mongolian Fringe” — a term British India Foreign Secretary Olaf Caroe coined in a paper in 1940 — as a Crown Colony.
The British had considered leaving this as a combination of hill regions of the Northeast and Upper Burma.
- According to them they were neither racially, historically, culturally, nor linguistically had any affinity with the rest of India.
- These “Excluded” and “Partially Excluded” areas were constituted largely of the unadministered hills of Assam separated from its revenue plains by an “Inner Line” created by the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873, and this was a year before Assam was separated from Bengal and made a Chief Commissioner’s Province.
- Earlier, Assam was annexed into British Bengal after the First Anglo-Burmese War 1824-26 and the signing of the Treaty of Yandabo.
British Assam was virtually the entire Northeast of today, excluding two kingdoms, Tripura and Manipur. In these kingdoms too, though no Inner Line was introduced, the British brought in similar administrative mechanisms separating “excluded” hills from the revenue plains.
- In Tripura, the plains of Chakla Roshanabad were annexed to British Bengal and the Tripura kings were allowed to be landowners there but not claim sovereignty over them.
- In Manipur, the hills and the central revenue plains of the Imphal valley came to be treated as separate administrative regions in 1907.
The Crown Colony plan was ultimately dropped on grounds of administrative feasibility.
The Sixth Schedule was independent India’s first administrative instrument for undivided Assam’s tribal belt.
- The works of Verrier Elwin, British-born Indian anthropologist, who advocated for tribals to be encouraged to live by their own geniuses, were its inspiration.
- The Schedules mandated the formation of Autonomous District Councils in which, among others, tribal customary laws were given legitimacy.
- The Naga Hills refused the Sixth Schedule and would have nothing less than sovereignty. A powerful insurgency resulted, and in its wake, AFSPA, with sweeping powers given to the armed forces.
- As an overture of pacification, the Naga Hills district was merged with the adjacent Mon and Tuensang subdivision of the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), or today’s Arunachal Pradesh, to form a separate Nagaland State in 1963. Naga insurgency, however, raged on in different avatars. A peace negotiation has been in progress for the last 25 years, and the hope is that this would culminate in a lasting settlement.
Other States in the region:
- In 1972, most of these autonomous regions were bifurcated from Assam.
- Meghalaya became a State, while Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were made Union Territories.
- The latter two were upgraded to States in 1987. Tripura and Manipur, which were made Part-C States after merger with India in 1949, were also upgraded to States in 1972.
Amidst these, the national identity question remained incompletely resolved and insurgencies spawned and spread even in States such as Assam and Manipur.
As India gained confidence and shed its insecurities of further balkanization after its traumatic Partition experience, the outlook towards national identity and nationalism underwent moderations, inclining towards a constitutional definition of these understandings rather than it being cultural. National integration also came to be more about the mainstream broadening to accommodate all other streams within the national territory.
North Eastern Council (NEC)
- Founded in 1971 as an advisory body.
- Initially, its members were Governors of the Northeast States, thereby remaining as the ears and eyes of the Centre.
- Its original pledge too made security the primary concern.
- In 2002, the act that brought NEC to life was amended. From an advisory role, it became an infrastructure planning body for the region.
- Sikkim was also brought into its fold.
- Significantly, its executive structure expanded to include Chief Ministers of these States, linking it to the aspirations of local electorates.
- Created in the Union Government in 2001, and in 2004 it was upgraded to a full-fledged Ministry.
- In 1991, India’s Look East Policy was born with the stated objective of linking the Northeast with the vibrant economies of South East Asia.
- In 2010, a protected area regime that had restricted visits to Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram by foreigners was relaxed.
Repeal of AFSPA
- There was even a judicial commission constituted in 2004 to recommend a way to repeal or else “humanise” AFSPA.
The northeast has several constraints which are acting as a hindrance to the regional development and mainstreaming of the society. They are:
- Historical reason:
- British policy of northeastern states virtually disconnecting them from the mainland.
- Partition blow to the northeast: the creation of East Pakistan resulted in
- Virtual disconnection of the Northeastern region from the rest of India connected through a narrow Siliguri corridor.
- Loss of natural sea route through the port of Chittagong restricting economic activities.
- Geographical challenges:
- About 99% of the region has international border along Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Bhutan which create complications in international diplomacy.
- Over 70% of the region is forest area which makes the economic development difficult. Further, the region is host to an overwhelming tribal population ranging from 19% in Assam to 94% in Mizoram.
- The region is predominantly hilly in all the states except Assam. This creates difficulty in utilization of natural resources.
- Cultural/societal challenges:
- The region has over 160 scheduled tribes and over other tribal and sub-tribal communities and groups. The varied culture creates alienation from the mainland and hinder development.
- The region is predominantly rural with around 84% of the population living in the rural areas.
- The presence of different ethnicities has made it difficult to cater the demands clamoring for recognition of their distinctive identity.
- Though the literacy rate is high, the employability is low. High dependency on agriculture has also resulted in low per capita income.
- Different ethnic groups have caused conflicts and insurgency due to tribal rivalry, migration, control over local resources and so on. E.g. inter-tribal conflict between Kukis and Nagas, insurgent groups like NSCN etc.,
- Resentment to the central government: The economy depends on the patronage of the central government resulting in a lack of economic activities. Also, the deployment of the armed forces had caused phycological resentment in society.
‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’
- A deal with Bangladesh was also signed to develop a rail link between Tripura and Chittagong, which would speed up the flow of products, especially grains, to the region.
Repeal of AFSPA
- The recent decision to withdraw AFSPA from major areas of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur is revolutionary.
- When AFSPA is withdrawn, it means that peace has returned to that area.
- The protection of the culture and unique identity of the tribal group has been given Constitutional as well statutory recognition.
Connectivity with rest of India:
For decades, poor infrastructure and limited connectivity have acted as roadblocks hindering the socio-economic development of these states.
- In Tripura, the Government launched a Rajdhani Express and the Tripura Sundari Express between Agartala and Delhi.
- Laid the foundation of 22 developmental projects worth more than Rs 4,800 crore in Imphal.
- Inaugurated the New Integrated Terminal Building at Maharaja Bir Bikram Airport in Agartala
- Intra-regional connectivity has been given an impetus by mandating its responsibility to a newly-formed centrally-monitored organisation for road development and physical connectivity in NE states.
- An internet gateway is being established via Bangladesh from Tripura for the digital integration of the region.
- Prime Minister’s Development Initiative for North-East, PM-DevINE
- An initial allocation of Rs. 1,500 crore will be made for the new scheme.
- It will fund infrastructure, in the spirit of PM GatiShakti, and social development projects based on felt needs of the North-East.
- Enable livelihood activities for youth and women, filling the gaps in various sectors.
- Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Project: A collaboration between India and Myanmar to develop transport infrastructure in southwestern Myanmar and north-eastern India.
The plan is to build robust transportation infrastructure in the Northeast and to connect the region with the rest of the country in a seamless manner. This is in line with boosting the tourism economy of the region and ensuring that the Northeast is no longer treated as an isolated region.
- North Eastern Space Applications Centre: Focused on the practical applications of space technology in agriculture, and allied fields like silk farming where it can help in early detection of diseases
- Digital North East Vision 2022: Under this vision, the government is expected to roll out 400 programmes in the next four years; 8,621 unconnected villages in the region to get special attention. The idea is to leverage digital technologies to transform the lives of the people of the north-eastern region and ensure inclusive and sustainable growth.
- National Bamboo Mission: To promote bamboo plantation on non-forest government as well as private land and emphasis on value addition, product development and markets.
- Northeast consists 60% of India’s reserve of Bamboo.
- India has the world’s largest fields of bamboo. It grows on nearly 13% of the country’s forest land.
- The eight North-eastern States – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura – grow 67% of India’s bamboo and have 45% of global bamboo reserves.
- Nearly 35 species of superior quality bamboos are found in the region.
The Political Landscape: The BJP, today has a strong presence in the Northeast. But what needs to be remembered is that electoral politics in the region has been less about ideology and more about aligning with the party in power at the Centre.
- Grass-root sentiments do not always reflect in this, and due to this disconnect between the grassroots and electoral politics being what it is, there is no guarantee that the ruling party’s ideology has harnessed or sublimated the undercurrents of gut politics in the region.
- If unmindful, the potential for trouble in the CAA, AFSPA or other counter-cultures the region is known for, can flare up again regardless of the party in power.
The Security Landscape: Political will and dynamism for propelling India’s “Act East” policy needs to be complemented with urgent measures to address two key issues — lack of “security” and “connectivity”. Addressing them is necessary to make the Northeast (NE) the launchpad for India’s interface with South East Asia.
- Connectivity needs to be addressed at three levels — physical connectivity, digital connectivity and above all the emotional integration of the region with the rest of the country. Many schemes have been introduced but more efforts are required for full integration.
- For Security, there is a need to carry out disruptive policy changes, combined with a time-bound action plan to create a conducive environment for growth and prosperity.
- Implementation of projects has been dogged by procedural issues
- Police effectiveness needs to be optimised. This requires “federalisng” the region’s police force in order to ensure coordination, sharing intelligence and joint operations. This force would not be under a state authority and would thus be insulated from extraneous pressures, including tribal affiliations.
- The official machinery should counter militant excesses and not abrogate their authority to the security forces under the excuse that the state has been designated a “disturbed area”.
A secure environment is a pre-requisite for giving confidence to investors to operate in the region.
Mains Practice Question –With all the efforts put in, analyze how successful the integration of north-east states has been with the rest of India.
Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.