Towards Equitable Development
Election fever has gripped poll-bound Manipur after a relative lull due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A high decibel election campaign has begun now that the state assembly poll is just a few weeks away. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) kicked off its campaign with Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating as many as 13 projects like the steel bridge on the NH-37, 200-bedded Covid hospital at Kiyamgei, and three ventures under Imphal Smart City Mission. He also laid foundation stones of nine developmental projects related to road infrastructure, drinking water supply, health, urban development, housing, information technology, skill development, art and culture, among others, during his visit to the state capital earlier this week. While accusing the previous governments at the Centre of creating a “hill-valley chasm” in the state and the Northeast in general, Modi claimed that the BJP-led governments at the Centre and the state have brought peace and development. Bringing development projects worth INR 4,815 to one of the most neglected states is welcomed and will surely help the people once completed. However, similar moves should be initiated in other less developed states as well, especially in the industry-starved Northeast in order to help put the region on par with its counterparts in terms of economic and infrastructure development. For this, a consistent effort is required and not just a one-time investment or announcement of projects moments before elections as the region has been neglected for far too long.
And yes, the prime minister had rightly pointed out the existence of “hill-valley chasm” which has been there since the attainment of statehood. The claim that the incumbent government has brought a visible change in the entire Northeast, including Manipur is debatable but it is visible that this “change” has failed to narrow the development gap between the urban and rural areas. For instance, most of the development projects announced by the PM are based in urban areas. It is a known fact that the state capital has taken the lion’s share with most government offices, educational institutes, hospitals, etc. being concentrated in the valley, leaving the hills gasping for want of such facilities. The chief minister of the state launched an outreach campaign called “Go to Village” in 2018 and “Go to Hills 2.0” later last year with an aim to provide welfare scheme benefits to people living in remote areas. It’s a commendable initiative and will surely help the villagers but at the same time exposes the lack of public facilities in hill districts. People from the hills still have to go to either district headquarters or Imphal for certain certificates and documents as many sub-divisional offices are non-functional. This necessitates bringing services to the hills. However, it’s just a temporary arrangement. The chasm between the valley and the hills can be narrowed only if development projects are equitably distributed and the government promotes decentralisation. The state government also should provide basic facilities like all-weather roads to villages in the hills and improve communication systems, which are needed to boost economic activities. Such moves will not only bridge the development gap but also reduce civil unrest that often paralyses the economic activities of the people. It’s time to do away with the urban-centric approach of development and pave way for sustainable growth.