Dialogue January-March, 2012, Volume 13 No. 3


The North Eastern Council (NEC) : A Unique Experiment in Regional Planning


P.P. Shrivastav

Creation of the North Eastern Council (NEC) was indeed a unique experiment in addressing the special needs of the North Eastern Region (NER) of the country – a region that got virtually disconnected from the rest of the country in 1947. The only link that remained was the narrow Siliguri corridor: the remaining (98%) of the boundary having become the international border shared with Bhutan and Tibet in the north, Myanmar in the east and Bangladesh then East Pakistan in the south and west. With disruption of hitherto of free access to the natural sea route through the port city of Chittagong and transportation routes to its markets severed, NER got severely land-locked. The geo-political distancing of NER from its main port of Kolkata combined with economic insulation caused immense structural damage to the NER economy.

Two decades after Independence the political map of the North Eastern Region was becoming reasonably clear with the formation of new administrative units, in pursuance of the spirit of the special Constitutional provisions for Tribal Areas under Article 244, read with the Sixth Schedule and Autonomous States under Article 244A. In place of the erstwhile Province of Assam including its centrally administered Agency (NEFA), and the two Princely States of Manipur and Tripura of the Colonial times, there are now seven States. (Sikkim was added-on later as the eighth constituent to NER with the 2002-Amendment of the North Eastern Council Act, 1971.)

One of the major problems that the new States/UTs faced related to basic infrastructure (like communications and power), essential preconditions for any development in the rugged terrain. This task was beyond the capacity of the small units in terms of their financial and techno-administrative capabilities. On the other hand, the concerned Union Ministries could not render much help for two reasons. Firstly, this task lay largely within the ambit of State sector. Secondly, the Union Ministries had severe limitations in reaching out with necessary expertise and understanding of these small and remote units.

Thus even after a quarter of century since Independence, little dent could be made in the primary agriculture sector as also in the secondary industrial sector under the successive 5-year Plans of the States/UTs. In the absence of the Regional perspective, the exercise of developmental planning had led to a situation of a weak primary sector, non-existent secondary sector and selectively over-emphasised tertiary sector in NER.

Creation of NEC as Advisory Body

It was the statesmanship of Smt Indira Gandhi and her deep concern for the welfare and development of the people of NER and her understanding of the historic need and the geographical compulsions, besides the essential prerequisite of inter-State coordination, that the North Eastern Council (NEC) was created in 1972 through an Act of Parliament, The North Eastern Council Act, 1971. Establishment of NEC was widely acclaimed and aroused great expectations.

With the Constitutional and politico-administrative heads of the then units in the NER as Members, NEC was envisaged as the apex level Advisory Body of the NER. Its advisory role was aimed at covering three main areas, namely:

i) As the Regional Advisory Body for development of regional infra-structure mainly ‘in the field of economic and social planning’ (e.g. inter-State transport & communications, power, flood-control and other matters of common interest);securing the balanced development of the north eastern area’, ‘formulating …… a unified and coordinated Regional Plan (which will be in addition to the State Plan) in regard to matters of common importance’, prioritization of the Projects and Schemes in the Regional Plan and ‘reviewing their implementation from time to time.

ii) As the Regional Forum: to "….review from time to time the measures taken by the States represented in the Council for the maintenance of security and public order therein and recommend to the Governments of the States concerned further necessary measures in this regard."

iii) As the Inter-State co-coordinating forum for the NER: on the lines of Zonal Councils that had been established in other regions of the country under the States Reorganisation Act 1956;

Before proceeding further with the Regional Planning Process adopted by NEC, let us look briefly at the fascinating NER and the unique features of this region, which need shift of priorities in the planning strategy.

The Fascinating North-East

With waves of high hills (<50 m to >5000 m above MSL) spread over 70% of the 2.62 lakh sq km of its geographical area (<8% of the country’s area) rising from the ever green plains of the mighty Brahmaputra and reaching out to the crimson sky of the rising sun, the North-Eastern Region (NER) is the most delightful and enticing part of our country. Rich in natural resources, fertile valley lands, luxuriant forests and substantial mineral wealth, NER has been the meeting point of great civilizations, inhabited by 4.56 crores of people (3.76% of the country’s population as in 2011) with unmatched cultural vivacity. The social and economic structure is largely egalitarian. The community is generally strong and a functioning entity especially in the hill areas, virtually in the mould of village-republics unequivocally answerable to the community. There are some exceptions no doubt, but they are mostly in response to the relevant historical reasons. The traditional economy is simple: in a few pockets deep in the interior it is still non-monetised. It is pre-agricultural in the hills with shifting cultivation being practiced extensively as a part of their life-style. Over 68.37% of the population of NER lives in the State of Assam alone. The density of population in NER varies from 17 per sq. km. in Arunachal Pradesh to 397 per sq. km. in Assam. The predominantly hilly terrain in all the States except Assam is host to an overwhelming proportion of tribal population. The region has over 160 scheduled tribes and over 400 other tribal and sub-tribal communities and groups. It is predominantly rural with over 84 per cent of the population living in the countryside. According to the 2011 Census, the total literacy rate of the population in NER stood at 64.69% {ranging between 66.95% in Arunachal Pradesh to 91.58% in Mizoram and with Assam (73.18%), Meghalaya (75.48%), Manipur (79.85%), Nagaland (80.11%), Sikkim (82.20%) and Tripura (87.75%) in between} as against the country’s average of 74.04%. While the average literacy rate in the region has been going up, there are serious concerns about the quality of education. More importantly, the literacy rate has not translated into higher employability or productivity.

Driven by expanding global trade and investment, the region was in the forefront of development almost 150 years ago. The vast river systems and small rivulets were a means of livelihood for a majority of the population in the valleys and plains. Global trade was conducted through the sea-route, a network of inland waterways, and land transportation through road and railways. In fact, the railway network between Dibrugarh and Chittagong was one of the earliest projects in India implemented by the British in the late-nineteenth century. The natural transportation route through East Bengal (later East Pakistan-Bangladesh) not only reduced the physical distance but also provided emotional closeness. The rapid spread of tea gardens followed the establishment of the first tea garden in 1835 and the export of the first consignment of tea to London in 1838. The discovery of oil in Makum and establishment of a refinery in Digboi in 1890 laid the foundation for the development of an undivided Assam.

The colonial regime had allowed the tribal communities in the remote hilly regions largely to fend for themselves, the loose contact being limited to annual expeditions to make friends with local chieftains with exchange of traditional gifts and punishing the recalcitrant ones. Protecting the rich tea plantations and business centres in the plains and in hill areas under normal administration from depredations by them was the main objective. After Independence in 1947, the regulatory approach (to facilitate exploitation of the ruled for profit of the Colonial Ruler) was transformed into Welfare and Developmental approach of the National Government aimed at eliminating regional imbalances and the Master-subject relationship of the Colonial era into that of brother-hood among all our countrymen.

Ever since independence all the Governments at the Centre, irrespective of the party in power, have shown concern for the developmental needs of the people of NER and extreme sympathy for their welfare and well-being. In fact, socio-economic development of NER has been taken up as a national task and accorded the highest priority by the Union Government. Devolution of Central funds has indeed been far more liberal to NER (getting almost doubled in successive 5-yr Plans) compared to other regions of India.


i. The Physical factors, viz. the geo-climatic factors – Difficult terrain, heavy rainfall and short working season in the field.

ii. The Psychological factors, viz., Inter-community and inter-State relations influenced by age-old history of struggle for control over the only means of subsistence – land, waters and forests, which led to clashes and inter-tribal feuds carried over generations. The cause exists no longer but the age-old feelings and prejudices still persist resulting in lack of inter-community and inter-State coordination and cooperation. Development suffers as a consequence.

iii. Erosion of the traditional system of self-governance and of the village-structure in Tribal Areas has been the undesirable consequence of the virtual adoption (by the small predominantly tribal States in NER) of the administrative and institutional structure of the far-more populous States of the country. The distance between the common man and the centres of power in terms of hierarchical stages has increased as a result. The ‘common man’ gets largely left out of the planning process, which is influenced and dominated by the rich and the elite. The Development Plans are, therefore, perceived by the people as Plans of the Government implemented by the Governmental machinery in which they have no role and participation.

iv. Erosion of indigenous value-system: resulting largely from the materialistic influences from abroad and even the prevailing atmosphere at home as publicized by the media. The message of present education is also dissonant with NER’s precious heritage of cultural ethos of Equity, Equality, Honesty, Truthfulness, Transparency, Trust, Dignity of labour, Community above individual; Collective unanimous decision-making based on consensus. These traditional values are still alive among the common man in the villages but confined to dealings within one’s own clan/tribe/community. Those with others are quite different depending with historical relations of enmity, rivalry or friendship.

v. The Capacity factor: Technical, financial and administrative capacity to plan, design, execute and supervise infrastructural projects and to optimally utilise public funds on large projects in a proper manner without time/cost overruns, is generally lacking both in the public and the private sectors.

The first of these five factors is not difficult to overcome. The people are used to the terrain and the climate. Modern Science and Technology can overcome almost all physical hurdles posed by the geo-climatic factors.

The second one – the psychological factor – will gradually fade out in course of time partly with better intra-regional communications, education, social interaction and economic interdependence, but mainly through proper tuning of education with emphasis on nationalism and basic human value-system starting from elementary level in Schools, in Colleges and Universities.

The third factor, that of virtual exclusion of the ‘common man’ with governance and development resulting from concentration of power among the rich and the elite has dangerous portents. The common man has to be consciously incorporated to become an active partner in the developmental effort of the Government right from the stage of planning through implementation to monitoring and evaluation. That alone can expose and discourage corruption, inefficiency, subjectivity, leakage and diversion of public funds, poor quality and time/cost over-runs in infrastructure works. An informed public opinion is essential for a healthy democracy.

The fourth factor – Erosion of the best in the traditional value system is the most serious malady. Remedy lies only in a reformed education system that integrates values in education right from the elementary stage onwards.

The fifth factor – Capacity development is also a function of education and the example set by the leadership, especially the framers of law and the decision makers who are seen by the youth as role models.

NEC as the Regional Planning Advisory Body

Shri B K Nehru, Governor of Assam (the only full-fledged State in NER at that time) as the first Chairman of NEC, laid a sound foundation of this newly created apex-level Regional Advisory set-up functioning through a compact officer-oriented Secretariat (headed by Secretary). Right from the beginning, and perhaps rightly so, NEC has been concentrating, in its advisory capacity, on financing of inter-State linkages and facilities from regional viewpoint (and inter-State coordination function, to an extent) and on development of regional infrastructure that was and still continues to be the acute need of NER. NEC was allocated an annual budget. Significantly, this funding was outside the 30% share meant for Special Category States, and was thus in addition to the Central allocations for the State Plans in the Region. NEC was warmly welcomed in NER and took momentous decisions in assisting the States basically in inter-State issues and setting up Region-level institutions (e.g., Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) at Imphal, North East Police Academy (NEPA) and North Eastern Space Application Centre (NESAC) in partnership with ISRO, at Barapani near Shillong, similar State Space Application Centres in each State, Regional Dental College (RDC) at Guwahati, North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) at Shillong, etc) aimed at strengthening the basic infrastructure. The graph of its achievements and popularity climbed up sharply and maintained a steady rise over the first decade. Later, creation of new States out of Assam, with their own Governors, led to complications and the graph started flattening out. Then it took a dip with loosening of supervisory control over the Secretariat bureaucracy by non-resident Chairmen (Governors of other NE-States, not residing in Shillong where NEC Secretariat was located) which resulted in the image of NEC suffering a decline.

The dipping graph of NEC led to serious thinking in the mid-nineties and several momentous decisions were taken, Special strategies have been formulated for provision of basic minimum services and creating a development-friendly environment. These included:

l Setting up of the Shukla Commission to assess the developmental needs of the NER, especially for provision of basic minimum services to the people.

l Treatment as Special Category States outside the Gadgil Formula. 90% of their Plan allocations are treated as grant and 10% as loan.

l Permission to use up to 20% of the Central Assistance for non-Plan expenditure.

l The unique dispensation by way of directive to the relevant Central Ministries to earmark and spend at least 10% of their respective annual budgets for the development of the NE States.

l The unspent balance (of the above earmarked allocation of 10% for NER was to be pooled into the newly created Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) to be utilised to finance infra-structural development Projects in NE States.

l Creation of a new Department DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) in 2001 and its elevation to a full-fledged Ministry entrusted with the responsibility of dispensing NLCPR.

l Upgrading the NEC from an Advisory body to the Statutory Planning Body for NER (and including Sikkim as the 8th State in NER) through the 2002-Amendment of the NEC Act, 1971, implemented w.e.f. March 2005.

Amendment of the NEC Act 1971:

The North Eastern Council (Amendment) Act, 2002 (No. 68 or 2002) was brought into force with effect from 26 June 2003. The Government of India (in the Ministry of DoNER) set up the Committee for Revitalisation of North Eastern Council under the Chairmanship of Shri P P Shrivastav to work out the modalities of operationalisation of the amended Act. The Committee studied the entire issue in depth and gave its recommendations to the Ministry of DoNER and as a result the restructured NEC came into being on 12 Mar 05.The significant changes brought about by the NEC (Amendment) Act, 2002 were as follows:

l NEC to function as Regional Planning Body for NER (instead of advisory body earlier);

l Sikkim included in NER;

l Chairman and 3 Members to be nominated to NEC by the President;

l Governors and CMs of the 8 NE States continue as Members of NEC;

l NEC to give priority to schemes/projects benefiting 2 or more States, except in case of Sikkim.

l NEC to meet at least twice in an year

l Sec 4 (4) (NEC to review measures taken by States for maintenance of security and public order) was retained despite the knowledge that this had been largely overlooked by NEC so far and that the Shukla Commission had recommended de-linking of this function from NEC (thus reiterating the need for its proper follow-up by NEC)

President nominated the Minister of DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) ex officio as Chairman and Shri P P Shrivastav, Dr (Mrs) I K Barthakur and the Member Planning Commission dealing with the NE Region, ex officio (earlier Shri B N Yugandhar, now Shri B K Chaturvedi) as Members of the NEC. Posts of full-time Members of NEC have been equated with Members of Planning Commission with rank and status of Ministers of State in the Central Government.

While the Planning Strategy appropriate for NER had broadly been indicated by the Shrivastav Committee itself, the main inspiration for formulation of detailed strategy was provided by our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in his Inaugural Address at the first meeting (12 Apr 05) of the restructured NEC, where he indicated all the main pillars on which the edifice of the Planning should rest, in the following words:

On Regional approach to Planning

"Given the economic and geographical size of the States of this region, a regional approach to development has great merit" ….

"As a mini-Planning Commission for the North East, it was meant to capture the externalities that are there in a regional approach to development, particularly of physical and human infrastructure"

"However, the NEC has not fully lived up to these expectations. Rather, it has become a fund disbursing body, mechanically allocating whatever little resources it has among states"

On People’s Participation in the People’s Plan

"The first requirement is to have a holistic Road-map covering the various sectors, for all to see. I am happy that the Chairman is getting an Action Plan made out for formulating a Vision Document with a 15-year perspective – the NER-2020"

"I am also pleased that this Vision Document will be drafted with the involvement of different section of the People. It should be perceived as a People’s Plan. This approach would also be in tune with the strong traditions of self-governance in the NE Region. Intelligent involvement of youth, especially University students and faculty for various items of the Planning exercise, would give them a glimpse of the future being planned for them. They should develop faith in the Vision and see constructive avenues being made available to them."

"One problem that I visualize may be lack of in-house Planning expertise in NEC. The answer may lie in extending the philosophy of people’s involvement to outsourcing of talent for the purpose. All the necessary talent and expertise in is now available largely in the Region itself, ready to be harnessed by NEC. Formulations presented by them may be more acceptable to the people."

"Also involvement of outsourced experts, academics, civil society groups, Panchayats, urban bodies and community organization in concurrent monitoring and evaluation functions to improve accountability."


"Development of Human Resource available in NER needs to be taken up on the highest priority."

"Upgrading of skills of the work-force, as are relevant to the area, may be taken up in the vicinity."

"I should point out that teaching of science and mathematics in many North Eastern States happens to be a very weak point and the result is we are producing students, graduates who do not posses employable skill. Therefore, redesigning of the educational map of the North Eastern Region should assume a priority concern of this Council as well."

On Skill Development and use of S&T for employment & entrepreneurship

"A holistic planning of education and vocational skills is essential if we have to provide to the youth of the North Eastern Region enough opportunities for gainful employment."

"Science & Technology inputs at the grass-root level would be needed to improve quality, cut costs and add to the variety of products. Simultaneously the marketing chain has to be developed. Value addition at the primary local level will enhance income at the family level and provide financial security and a sense of psychological satisfaction. That would also give them the confidence to borrow from Banks for upgrading their enterprise and make timely repayments from profits."

"That would lead to sustainability of the enterprise. Credit-deposit ratio would also go up this way. Of course, avenues of marketing would have to be developed to complete the chain."

"NEC may like to visualize and plan Growth Centres with easy connectivity to market Centres, catalyse imparting of marketing skills, streamlining procedures, and easing of local problems that discourage raw entrepreneurs."

"For advantage may be taken of the Look East policy of the Government, ASEAN markets provide big opportunities for NER. Affinity in the cultural background will make our products acceptable and saleable once the land connectivity is improved. Air connectivity could also be considered when the need arises. Potential Sectors in this regard are IT, Tourism, Mine & Minerals, Gas, Oil, Downstream industries, Education and Health Services etc."

On need for Development & Security to go hand-in-hand

"The security dimension has been almost completely ignored in its activities."

"Development and Security should go hand in hand. Given the collective wisdom of the Region, the NEC is in a good position to synergise Developmental efforts with Security needs. The suggestion made in the Revitalisation Report with the consent of the Home Ministry should be studied."

Renewed National Resolve

Accordingly, the very first task that the restructured NEC took upon itself was to define the objectives of Planning, refining the policy and Plan frameworks, realigning strategies, reframing cumbersome procedures, restoring the rightful status of the community in development, creating congenial conditions for the march to a brighter future and to draw up a Vision Document NER-2020 (over 15-year perspective) not only for the people but also by the people.

The grievance is that the people and their representatives are left largely untouched in the official developmental planning process. The Plans, in public perception, are Government’s Plans and not theirs. Hence the common man remains largely ignorant, disinterested and unconcerned about their success or otherwise. He has little stake in them. Such a situation is paradoxical in NER where the local communities have age-old traditions of participative democracy and self-governance that are still practiced (though confined largely to the close community-group). Thus the sterling elements of the traditional values (viz., truthfulness, honesty, transparency, decision by consensus, community above individual, etc) remain confined to personal dealings within the community: norms that are followed in dealings with the Government and its agencies are vastly different.

Planning for the People by the People through Vision Exercise

The process of bringing about a paradigm-shift in the Planning process from the concrete portals of Secretariats of NEC and States to the people, was initiated by mid-2005 itself. The process of inviting the ‘common man’ to become an active stakeholder in development and governance was initiated by a widely distributed Open Letter to the citizens urging them to dream about how they would like to shape their future over a 15-year perspective. Over 2.5 lakh people were contacted by volunteers specially oriented for the task and their replies, remarkably intelligent, mature, practical and constructive, were compiled, consolidated, summarised and given a shape. The first Draft Vision Document was prepared well within time. Contrary to apprehensions of some experts that the people will ask for the moon, the wish-list of the common man was remarkably sound, far-sighted, feasible and within reach. These were compiled as the People’s Vision in 2006 itself. The next step was to put this draft into public domain and seek further suggestions from the people and incorporate them in the final Vision, so that the people recognise it as their Vision. Thereafter the Annual Plans and sanctioned schemes and projects were also to be publicised especially among the beneficiary-communities to create mass-awareness, achieve transparency and involving the common man to become active partners in the developmental process. That would have raised the satisfaction-level of the people and restored the quality of governance that our communities in NER have been used to for ages. That would also have exposed and thus discouraged poor quality of works, time and cost over-runs, leakage and diversion of funds and the prevailing intolerable extent of non-utilisation of Central funds in the States.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. The process of transparency and active partnership of the people in development was not favoured by some powerful interests and they got the entire direction of the consultation process hijacked. The first people-friendly Draft Vision Document based on people’s wishes, dreams and suggestions, was passed on to a specialist Institute in Delhi and it was seen that the people involved in the first exercise and drafting were kept out. The final Vision Document that emerged is no doubt a scholarly document, but the main objective (active partnership of the people (the essence of democracy) was totally lost in the process. Some last-minute attempts were made to appear that the people have been consulted, but given the time constraints the exercise remained illusory. The fact remains that it has not been possible to revive the consultation process so far and achieve mass-awareness and transparency, as had been envisaged. Let us hope it will be possible to resume it someday.

Planning for Socio-economic Development:

The other foundational work completed by the revamped NEC within a very short time after its setting up was to define the Objectives of planning in NER, the Strategies and the Thrust areas for achieving the objectives in the background of the Nature’s bounties to NER. With over 1/3rd of country’s bio-diversity assets concentrated in the sparsely populated 7.9% of the country’s geographical area, NER has all types of terrains and climates, from snow-bound mountains of the Himalayas in the north, to the smaller hills below towards Myanmar and Bangladesh, and the warm wide plains of the two major River systems - the Brahmaputra and the Barak. Forest cover extends over 52% of its geographical area (ranging from 82.29% in Sikkim to 34.45% in Assam as in 2003). These geo-climatic factors coupled with heavy rainfall have made NER very rich in water resources (37% of country’s river water resources) and in biodiversity as also in minerals.

Accordingly, the restructured and empowered NEC felt that its planning should be aimed at transforming the primary sector to a strong base of the new Regional economy, with gradual building up of secondary sector activities that can serve as Centers of future growth. The tertiary sector has to be realigned with a strong component of social service Institutions, evenly spread, especially in education, health, mother and child-care, youth services, women empowerment and such like.

In other words the basic OBJECTIVES of planning in the socio-economic sector should be:

Universalisation of:

l Employment (direct & indirect) to enhance the family income;

l Education with stress on character building and upgrading of relevant skills

l Health care with stress on Women & children

By Using Strategies that include:

l Utilising in a sustainable manner the vast potential of resources of NER (e.g., Agriculture & Forest based; Water-Power based; human-skill based)

l Strengthening of traditional institutions to make them stakeholders in development

l Opening up fresh avenues of trade and commerce (trans-border trade)

Thrust Areas: considered by NEC included the following:

a. Drawing up of long-term Plan for Human Resource Development that may include improving the standards and tuning of education to make it relevant to the community. Stress on vocationalisation, Value education, Orientation of Teachers in teaching skills and Values.

b. Highest priority to income generation for the masses by adopting the strategy of Value addition of local produce locally (at the family level and at the community level) and developing the necessary marketing linkages.

c. Grass-root level Science & Technology inputs to upgrade relevant skills with stress on the local youth (especially women).

d. Sustained R & D back-up for continuous upgradation of the simple S&T inputs.

e. Catalyse, coordinate and speed up the opening of trans-Border trade. f. Institutionalised mechanism of continual consultation with and active involvement of the local community (in developmental planning/governance) in implementation, monitoring and evaluation of local schemes and projects.

g. Adopting Mission approach for focused attention in areas like development of Bamboo, Silk, Horticultural produce, medicinal herbs, indigenous medicines.

h. Institutionalisation of mechanism to ensure outsourcing taking advantage of the expertise now available in the region (e.g., in Universities and other Institutions of excellence) in Studies/Surveys; Preparation of reliable data-base and continual updating; Drawing up of Sectoral Plans, Annual Plans and Perspective Plans at the Regional, State and Local levels; Planning for Skill upgradation & Value education; Evaluation; Training and Orientation at various levels. To keep the full-time NEC Secretariat as lean as possible.

i. Extensive use of IT/ITES to bring about total transparency up to grass-root levels to enable the community to function as watchdog for quality, corruption, social audit etc.

j. Evolving procedures that are in tune with the local socio-political environment, geo-climatic factors and short working season. k. Ensuring quality and accountability through objective monitoring and periodic evaluations by experts.

l. Special focus on the youth for self-employment, holistic development with stress on games, sports, art and culture and exchange visits to other regions, etc.

m. Involvement of Women in all developmental Programmes, including awareness campaigns, skill upgradation and value education programmes.

n. Promotion of Tourism by developing an integrated Regional Policy and Action-Plans, Eco Tourism, involving the local communities.

Human Resource Development

The most precious asset of NER is our Human Resource of 4.56 crores of virile, hard-working people distributed among 400 or so communities, speaking around 200 languages/dialects (thinly spread over 2.62 lakh Sq Km). In fact, NER is a unique example of basic unity in superficial diversity. Under the traditional system of self-governance, the common man was fully involved in all matters relating to the community, be it security or development. Erosion of these practices and values has had an unsettling effect.

To give practical shape to the words of wisdom of the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on HRD, NEC constituted the North Eastern Regional Education Council (NEREC) in July 05 for re-tuning the education system in NER. Its membership included top academicians like VCs of Universities in NER, Directors of IIT Guwahati & NERIST Itanagar; the 8 State Governments; Regional experts and national-level bodies like UGC, IGNOU, and NCERT etc. After study in depth and discussions, NEREC gave its findings and recommendations in a Paper titled Revamping of Education in NER. This was considered in a meeting of all stakeholders organised in Aug 07 to discuss the HRD Sector in NER. Main shortcomings noticed and lines of remedial action initiated thereon are very briefly enumerated below.

i. High on literacy statistics but low on quality: Fast horizontal expansion of education after independence resulted in serious loss of depth. Presently Education has become irrelevant to the immediate needs of the local community and does not even enable the youth to find proper place for themselves in the highly competitive market economy. ii Very High Dropout Rates in Schools: Teaching has to be made more interesting for the children in the School system.

iii Dissonance with the Regional Ethos The message of present education is dissonant with the regional cultural ethos of equity, equality, dignity of human person with high regard for labour. In NER, the moral code within the community is unequivocal about honesty, truthfulness, trust, transparency, community above individual etc. There is a strong tradition of collective unanimous decision based on consensus. Yet the new value-frame inculcated through education and the western concept of development emphasises individualism, competition, division and decision by vote and an opposition that continues to oppose for its own sake and such like. This contradiction is at the root of many a phenomenon, which inhibit realisation of the optimal potential of the Region.

iv Single track system - Need to integrate vocational stream with the general academic stream to achieve optimal skill:Knowledge mix to suit the aptitude of the student as also to make education more communitarian and substantially improve its employability-potential: Remedial Action on these shortcomings was initiated in an 8-pronged manner, viz.,

(a) specially designed courses for skill upgradation-cum-motivational training (in teaching of Maths and Science and language impregnated with the indigenous value system, at the elementary level to start with);

(b) strengthening the in-service training machinery in the States, and intensive teacher-training courses both by contact mode (by NCERT) and distance mode (by IGNOU) for covering the huge backlog of untrained teachers (around 1.25 lakh at the elementary level alone in NER).

(c) A policy decision was taken to progressively earmark 1% of its budget on integration of arts & culture in the education system. That would make education interesting for the child and substantially reduce the very high drop-out rate in School;

(d) The State Governments were addressed to undertake revision of syllabi to achieve the aforesaid long-term objectives and to ensure that the communitarian moral social frame should be an integral part of entire education right from the nursery stage. In fact, with its rich tradition that is an integral part of the mindset, NER can give a lead in this vital matter to the entire country; and

(e) To aggressively pursue implementation of the several initiatives taken by the Central Government for Rectification of Imbalance between knowledge & Skill. Action is also in hand with the help of IGNOU and NCERT to reach the unreached sections of society (drop-outs, partially employed and others) with skills and knowledge.

(f) Teaching of languages of our Eastern Neighbours: in the wake of operationalisation of the ‘Look East’ policy has been encouraged through our Universities and Central Institutions.

(g) Extensive use of IT in Education: to be able to reach (in stages) up to the remotest Village Schools and beam model lessons (especially in Science & Mathematics) regularly for students and refresher material for teachers.

(h) Emphasis on Nation-building objectives: Lord McCaulay’s had (in the 19th century) replaced the Indian system of holistic education by his model designed to train the native youth to aspire for employment under the Government as its faithful servants to help the handful of colonial masters to perpetuate their rule over the vast Indian sub-continent. Training in skills for value addition of local produce locally as a means of gaining prosperity was discouraged. Our youth today also aspire for Government service. It was therefore, emphasised that in our system of education, the primary objectives may include:

l Manifestation of the perfection that exists already in the child.

l Achieving concentration of mind, rather than mere collecting of facts.

l Enabling the student to stand on his own legs in life through productive activity to gain prosperity for him/herself and thus contribute to the national prosperity, NOT depending on government job only.

l Develop a nationalistic and secular outlook in consonance with the regional/ traditional/cultural ethos (vide para 4.2iv) expanded beyond the narrow limits of one’s own clan/tribe/community.

l Making Education Meaningful for which recommendations on infusion of indigenous values in education evolved by NEREC have been circulated among the States.

Security & Public Order

Review of security and public order has been one of the mandatory functions of NEC right from the time NEC was set up in 1972. Sub Section 4 of Section 4 of The North-Eastern Council Act 1971, was retained unaltered in the Amending Act of 2002 and it reads as follows: "The Council shall review from time to time the measures taken by the States represented in the Council for the maintenance of security and public order therein and recommend to the Governments of the States concerned further necessary measures in this regard."

NEC did not directly concern itself much with this subject in the past mainly because it was being handled by its parent Ministry (MHA) primarily by its NE-Division in close conjunction with Police, IS and other concerned Divisions. NEC machinery was utilized appropriately and unobtrusively for security ends as well. This close organic linkage was severed with the setting up of DoNER as a separate Department and then a separate Ministry. This separation in a sensitive border area seriously affected by insurgencies and militancy has not been in the best national interests. The Administrative Reforms Commission has recognised this point and recommended reversion of DoNER to MHA. Whatever be the final outcome, the fact remains that there does exist the need for a mechanism for involvement of NEC in the complex security issues which is the responsibility primarily of MHA at the Central level and the State Governments at the local levels.

With 98% of its borders touching other countries and in the prevailing security environment in NER, it is imperative that development and security should go hand in hand, with one complementing and supplementing the other. In fact, proper development is possible only when the law and order is maintained and peace prevails. On the other hand, it is equally true that imaginative developmental initiatives, distributive justice and income-generation alone can provide long-term satisfaction and fulfillment to the people, keep them engaged in honest productive economic activities, divert the minds of the youth from frustration to hope and aspiration, and thus prepare a stable base for solving the problems of violence, militancy and insurgency.

Border Trade

Stoppage of border trade along the long international border in NER after the partition of the country in 1947 had crippled the local economy besides closing the age-old supply lines and communication links with the rest of the country. Border trade could not be regulated and normalized mainly on account of security considerations. Economic hardship and consequent discontentment has continued to persist mainly for this reason. Resumption of legal, well regulated border trade will remove this resentment and open fresh avenues of income-generation, which would go a long way to change the mindset in favour stability and public peace. NEC took the initiative and organised a top-level consultation jointly with BSF. The outcome has been very encouraging. One Border Haat has been opened and another is on the anvil.

The collective fraternity of the eight Governors and Chief Ministers discussing security and public order under the auspices of NEC may be in a better position to evolve a regional consensus and prevail upon individual States to take remedial action in areas found deficient (e.g., in areas of real-time exchange of information/intelligence, coordination in operations along the borders, border disputes, smuggling, border trade, modernisation of State Police, proper utilisation of Regional Police Training Institute for upgraded training of State Police personnel, sorting out issues with Army and Para-Military Forces etc). Collective discussions may gradually build a climate where mutually acceptable solutions to bilateral problems could emerge in due course. This arrangement merits serious consideration and trial.

To meet the needs of the educated unemployed, a project report (DPR) for a short-term programme of holistic training-cum-handholding of local youth who volunteer for taking to entrepreneurship in their own area, is currently under finalisation.


Somehow the general impression has been deliberately circulated within the Region that NER is poor and backward and cannot do without money and material from the rest of the country for all time to come. But the fact is that really it is not so. NER has inherited the best in body and mind from many races; the best in the field of art from many cultures; is equally at home in the martial arts, in games and sports as in fine arts, song and dance, literature and poetry, as in weaving and carving. Nature has endowed NER with immense riches by way of rivers and lakes, forests and fields, hills and vales below the surface of which lies buried boundless wealth of petroleum and gas, coal and minerals etc. It has plentiful rains and all types of climates where all types of fruits and vegetables, grains and herbs can grow. The list is endless. All these lie scattered all over. Divided and alone the eight States may not feel rich, but collectively the Region is immensely rich. Only the States have to come together to convert these rich resources into material prosperity to reap and share the benefits.

The first step in this journey towards prosperity is for the State to encourage and promote the mental, psychological feelings of love and respect for each other; encourage social and economic intercourse among their different communities instead of creating, highlighting and playing up border disputes; creating physical barriers to movement of goods and vehicles, different obstacles - physical and financial - for natural produce of one to be processed and value-added in the other and such like. European Union type of arrangement is worthy of emulation by NE States.

The second step is to bring about total transparency in governance and full involvement of the communities in developmental projects right from planning through implementation to their monitoring and evaluation; to carve out a roadmap for the future along with the people and then encourage them to start marching on that road with unhalting steps with patience and perseverance.

Born in 1972, NEC has now matured over the last 33 years. New responsibilities were entrusted to it in 2005. Full use ought to be made of its potential by all the Ministries and the States. The process of reform has to begin with NEC itself and the sooner it is started the better it is for all.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati