(3) Suggested development agenda for the new government in Assam
Category: FIELD NOTES
written by Miftahul Islam Barbaruah (MDM Class of 2010), India
The new government will soon take the realm of power in Assam and the state will witness the beginning of a new phase of development. Mandated to serve the people for a third term given by an absolute majority, the first task for this government should be to send a strong message to everyone that complacency at any level will not be tolerated. People of the state want visible change in governance. An immediate step towards fulfilling this expectation can be the appointment of new and clean faces in leadership positions across the administration. Each department should be asked to work out a participatory and benefit-driven plan of action within the first few months to instill a work-culture amongst its employees. Ongoing investment in e-governance, the publication of the Citizen Charter, and a result chain for each department should be looked into in its totality and in the true spirit of empowering citizens.
Momentum generated in the last few years amongst political and insurgent groups, civil society organizations for Samrachna (constructive work), alongside their conventional work of Sangathan (Organization) and Sangharsh (Agitation) must be sustained. Political inclusion of minorities, tribes, and other backward sections of the society, as well as innovative efforts aimed at reducing economic and other qualitative disparities amongst the different classes of people will be the pre-requisite for maintaining peace and development.
The new government will face a number of challenges, including: the use of natural resources for the generation of power, detection and deportation of illegal migrants, resolution of inter-state disputes, flood and erosion, among others. These challenges can best be addressed by involving all stakeholders in investing in the scientific exploration of alternatives, risk mitigating technologies, and other documented best practices.
Momentum generated by ongoing administrative, tax, and financial reform programs (including devolving of power to Panchayats and other councils), must be sustained for enhanced accountability and the financial health of the State. Measures that are under the control of the State for reducing inflation must be attempted with utmost urgency. Simultaneous attempts such as improvement in the public distribution system, mass transport, etc., must be made to mitigate the suffering of the poorer sections of society because of the rising prices of essential commodities and services.
The agricultural and non-farm sectors that showed some improvements during the last few years need multidisciplinary and integrated support. The focus should be on the building capacity of people and the institutions active in the entire value chain from producer to consumers. Steps initiated under the World Bank program for market-lead agricultural intensification and the creation of related infrastructure thereof must be sustained through enhanced people’s participation. All attempts should be made to facilitate private sector investment for cluster development and efficient supply chain integration. The mainstreaming of the unorganized sector, the modernization of markets, and the creation of awareness about quality and standards should be some of the other important parts of the agenda. Government should constitute a coordinating task force with necessary wherewithal to achieve the much needed coordination between various line departments that are mandated to support farmers and artisans. Such a task force should also look into future challenges and prepare the ground strategies at periodic intervals in consultation with farmers, artisans, and their representatives.
For sustaining the momentum generated in the field of human development, special emphasis must be given to address the issues related to nutrition, safe water, and related health problems. State agriculture, veterinary and health departments must join hands in ensuring good agricultural practices and food safety standards. Given the last few years and the increased private investments in the field of education, government should now focus on setting up a benchmark to ensure quality education and employability of graduates. Ongoing investments in the field of primary education must be streamlined to address local infrastructure and the capacity building need of teachers.
A major challenge for the new government also means augmenting the great assimilation of Assamese society, celebrating the unity in diversity of various ethnic groups. The proposed upper house of the State assembly should endeavor to address this. All attempts should also be made in augmenting the cultural and economic integration between states of the North Eastern region and between the North Eastern region and mainland India.
To summarize, this proposed seven-point development plan for the new government could be divided as follows:
- Participatory Planning and Institutional Capacity Building
- Communication and Infrastructure Investment
- Agricultural Productivity, Market reform and Non-Farm Employment Generation
- Human Development
- Peace and Political Inclusion e.g. Discussions with Insurgents and Accelerating the Set-Up of the Upper House of the Assembly
- Entrepreneurship and Regional Trade e.g. Agro-Processing and Tourism
- Sustainable Natural Resource Management with Emphasis on Livelihood and Energy
Lastly, as the new government embarks on a journey to set up a new benchmark for governance in the next five years, it will be a prerequisite to improve the existing intelligence system alongside government communication channels to maintain a continuous link with the masses. A strong relationship with print and electronic media will help the government in its endeavor to communicate with the masses and lead the state with collective wisdom.
Dr. Miftahul Islam Barbaruah (MDM Class of 2010) is Chief Development Strategist of Fellowship for Agri-Resource Management and Entrepreneurship Research (FARMER), a non-government agriculture development organization based in the State of Assam. Mr. Barbaruah was recently selected as one of the 25 Senior Consultants to the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India to monitor one of the biggest Agricultural Development Assistance Programs, the Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana (RKVY). This article was originally published in the newspaper The Sentinel on 29 May 2011.