NEW DELHI: Made up of eight states and accounting for about 4% of India’s population, the northeast region is better known for its separatist movements and incendiary ethnic conflicts. It has 25 Lok Sabha members, 14 of them from Assam, and so, does not draw serious attention from political parties involved in the national sweepstakes. The region receives huge funds from the central government that prop up the local economies. But, simmering under the surface is a question that haunts everybody â€” what about jobs?
Census 2011 data released this year has some strange and disturbing trends on jobs in the northeast region. If states were to be ranked by growth in jobs between 2001 and 2011, Tripura and Assam would clock in figure among the top five states with 27% and 26% increases in total number of workers, respectively. But on the flip side, the growth in workers was just 4% in a decade in Mizoram â€” the lowest among all states. Three states â€” Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim â€” were below the national average of 20% growth in workers between the two censuses.
These growth rates may be deceptive because population has been growing in the same period. A better idea of how many jobs are being created can be had by deducting population growth rate from the increase in workers. This reveals a much more serious situation in the northeast.
Three states â€” Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh â€” show a decline in total workers. This means that more workers are joining the labour force than jobs are being created. Among these, Mizoram is facing a shocking crisis with a decline of over 19%. One factor could be that Mizoram is now an urban-majority state â€” over 52% of its population stays in urban areas. So the buffer of agriculture is absent. Seen in the context of the fact that Mizoram has one of the highest literacy rates in the country at 91%, this must be food for thought for policy makers both in Aizawl and New Delhi.
In two other states, Sikkim and Manipur, the adjusted growth rate plummets down to around just 4% in a decade. Tripura with 12% and Assam with over 8% perform creditably in comparison to the other states. Nagaland has the most bizarre situation â€” since the total population of the state has declined between 2001 and 2011 the two censuses, it shows a rise of nearly 15% in its workforce, adjusted to population.
Lack of growth in non-farm employment in most states, and the difficult hilly terrain, about 70% of which is under forest cover, are two key reasons why employment is stagnating in the northeast, says Bhupen Sarmah, director of the O K Das Institute, a Guwahati-based research institute. “It is an illusion to think that development will take place merely on the basis of injection of funds from the central government. The northeast receives a huge amount of this largesse but look what is the result,” Sarmah points out.
Sarmah may have a point, although it is also true that a lot of the largesse remains on paper. According to the ministry of development of north eastern region, a special non-lapsable fund created for financing projects in the northeast approved projects worth Rs 12,716 crore between 1998 and 2012. Sounds great, but there’s a catch â€” only about Rs 9,231 crore were actually released and state governments submitted utilization certificates for only Rs 5,641 crore. A Lok Sabha question recently revealed that about Rs 2,000 crore remains unspent from this fund every year between 2008-09 and 2010-11.
Another example is the national job guarantee scheme ( MGNREGS) that promises 100 days of employment to anybody who demands. In some states it has become a mainstay of economic support, like in Mizoram with average 73 days of work provided and Tripura (87 days). The national average is just 44 days per household.
However, some other states in the northeastern region are drastically lagging â€” Assam (25 days), Nagaland (35) and Manipur (37). (Source: ET)