–Jintumani Barman |
The world economy is in the process of economic revival after the tarnishing effect of the Covid-19 pandemic including Assam. In the line of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan worth 20 lakh crores package, Assam also announced the Atma Nirbhar Asom scheme. Homecoming picture of lakhs of migrants raised the question of how much capable the Assam economy is of employing this huge workforce.Frequently we see the pictures of hardcore regional political-social sentiments in the state, still we neglect the issue of economic self-reliability of the state.A clear solid roadmap is not reflected in election manifesto of political parties too. Ambikagiri Raychoudhury aptly said— “ Ji jatiye nijor pothar aru bozar rokhya koribo noware, sei jatiye nijok rokhya koribo noware.” How much more is required to make Assam economy self-reliant, competitive market player?
From the picture of organized rural agri economy reflected in the concept like “Gohalit goru, pukhurit maas, barit tamol-pan”, Momai Tamuli Barbaruah’s economic idea of self-reliant family, to organized handicrafts industries in various parts reflects idea/sentiments of self-reliable Assam economy in the past. Momai Tamuli Barbarua made it compulsory for every adult able bodied female to spin a certain quantity of yarn everday. Record like Edward Gait’s ‘A History of Assam’ says that handicarft industry was highly developed during Ahom period. Self-sufficiency had been the key-note of Assam’s economy in medieval time also. Even in 1950-51, per capita income in Assam was 4% above national average ( Planning Commission, 2002); now after 68 years of independence, we are the fourth poorest state, according to Assam’s 2016-17 budget speech. Economic strength of a state comes from domestic, external market control capacity. Dependency on the other state for almost all our daily need is one of the obstacles to Assam’s economy. This dependency has extended up to that level that even for state festival Magh Bihu’s Uruka night too we need to import tons of fish from other state’s ponds/market. The state import 30 lakhs egg on daily basis from other states. Various study says that amount of money out-flow from Assam to other state for milk,egg, meat import will be approximately 1500-2000 crores annually. We know Assam is naturally blessed with large area of inland waterbodies, large grazing area, required climate condition, etc, for fish-milk-egg production. We have to produce more and for that, we need an economic road map and better leadership.
Assam’s 85% population lives in rural area, almost 75% of total population are still dependent on agriculture directly or indirectly. We can’t hope for immediate big industrial investment for many reasons. So, the key for rural economy boost is the small-medium industries and an organized effective production-market chain, specially Agri-based small scale industry like food processing units with higher density to transform this huge workforce participation in agriculture and allied sector into economic growth in real sense. Wastage of tons of fruits is a routine scene in rural area. A mega food park is there in Tihu, Nalbari but yet to be fully operationalised. According to budget speech 2016-17, As per Situation Assessment Survey (SAS) of NSSO conducted during 2002-03 and 2012-13, the real growth of farm income in Assam in terms of CGAR was 0.88% during these ten years,and it was estimated that at this rate it will take 70.34 years to double the farm income in Assam. Farmer’s income is very low because of lack of proper market and lack of value addition in their farm production. In 2020,there was a huge demand for jackfruit in western countries, and Bangladesh topped in the exportation,though there is a mass production of jackfruit in Assam too. Developing the state’s rural economy into an organized economy through co-operative industrialization is must. ‘Sitajokhola’. ‘Kaziranga National Orchid Park’, etc. can be a model. Assam already have some model of handicrafts industries which can absorb a huge workforce locally. Today those models are not in employment generating mood only because they can’t compete in the market for lack of updated technology-skill introduction. Bringing to the employment generating mood giving market control capacity, we can still depend on Sarthebari’s Bell metal industry, fireworks crafts of Barpeta, jewelry craft, brass metal industry, pottery industry; market is still there, what we don’t have is an ecosystem for market competency. NABARD in it’s “State Focus Paper 2020-21, Assam” said that number of MSME unit in the state is 45,509 (providing employment to 2.69 lakh persons) ,which appears to be very low considering the potential assessment pegged at about two lakh units.
Recently, during the BTR election campaign, the present BTR chief Promod Baro in his Economic Vision raised the idea of ‘one VCDC,one product’.Thing is that since every area of the state is characterized by some special climate condition-physical features-social conditions for some special production, following this, government can establish ‘production cluster/district’ with specific production all over the state and go for cluster based approach. There is a need for structural change in the government departments to assist the producers.
In global market some products from Assam have monopoly, though facing challenges in recent times. Assam produces 95% of global production of Muga Silk, we have more than 300 medical herbs-plants with commercial value, marketing of medicinal plants means why always someone ‘industrialist baba’; what we need is more research and brand marketing. Assam produces 51% of India’s tea and nearly 11% of the world’s tea. But in recent times challenges coming from countries like Kenya, Sri Lanka, Vietnam for declined quality of Assam tea.In the country, Assam is the largest producer of bamboo, regarded as alternative wood, timber of 21st century carrying great importance from sustainable development point of view. In the Bio-Refinery project for the production of Fuel Grale Ethenal in Numaligarh Refinery Limited(NRL), 5 lakh MT green bamboo will be processed annually, which will be a great opportunity for the rural economy. Bamboo production can be the pillar of the rural economy boost of Assam and as well as NER. Perhaps this will help the nonfunctioning paper mills to get back on their feet. River banks of Assam are suitable for the farming of bamboo and simolu; both of these plants can reduce erosion; Assam has lost 8% of its land for erosion .
Govt. is popularising direct cash transfer schemes like Arunodoi for low-income class. It is expected that these money transfer will increase purchasing power of the beneficiaries which will speed up the production-market machinery.No doubt that a market will be created, but the issue is we still depend largely on other state for maximum daily items, in such a situation will this process fully benefit the state economy? steps to be taken simultaneously to boost the production of the own state also. For the development of entrepreneurship ecosystem in Assam, schemes like SVAYEM have been launched, there is a need of strict monitoring to ensure that funds disbursed are invested only for entrepreneurship development purpose.
Assam tourism is yet to find a position in global tourism map after having all such tourism contents in the state. Assam tourism is still confined to Kaziranga and Kamakhya only even for domestic tourist of the country, Assam economy will be benefited much only after being able to attract the tourists for atleast two-three nights within the state. In this era of social media, tourism is such a service sector where tourist themselves instantly promote the tourism services they get; but for that too we must take initiative to unlock the the flow of global tourist to Assam. How will the state convince global tourist after implementing AFSPA here at the same time?
Fast implementation of Act East Policy and increasing connectivity with ASEAN countries is another opportunity for the Assam economy. Guwahati can be turned into an economic hub in a real sense as a nodal city of Act East Policy. Trilateral highway among India-Myanmar-Thailand, Proposed North-East economic corridor from Meghalaya to Moreh via Assam, Multimodal logistic park at Goalpara, redevelopment of National waterway of Brahmaputra and Barak, etc will play a determining role in making Assam economy self-reliant and market player in global economy, if opportunities are considered with a visionary roadmap. Assam should also focus on labour intensive and export-oriented production policy to use low-skilled workforce, following which policy Bangladesh is today one of the fastest growing economies and capturing the global textile, leather, garments market. It is the high time to adopt an economic roadmap to make Assam economy self-reliant. We need to mobilize existing resources, ideas for a vibrant ecosystem of work culture and production. Only economic self-reliability can maintain a vibrant social ecosystem in the state forever.