Sunday, September 19, 2021

Bleeding economy

Nagaland economy is dying silently, with far-reaching long term negative impacts. It is high time political parties, business groups and civil society initiate a coordinated and effective action. A collective response has to be politically sophisticated and result oriented too. But the moot point is why is our economy dying? Because it has been slowly made to bleed to death! The subsidy culture was the first wound given to the local self-sufficient economy at least in food related items. There are no two opinions that agriculture has always been the real backbone of our economy. Even at present around 70% of the population consists of cultivators. Unfortunately, over the years instead of progressing, this sector has been rather dwindling and we are at a juncture when we depend on imports for most of our agriculture based products! While on one hand most of the agricultural products and the people engaged in producing these have been declining over a period of time, on the other the only thing which has grown geometrically are the Government employees! A sizeable chunk of the State budget goes into the salaries of these employees. As Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio stated in his Budget 2020-2021 speech that more than 65% of budget is spent on non-plan salaries. This is the reason why Government is spending less on developmental activities, although development project undertaken in the State also rarely sees its completion. Unfortunately, over a period of time we have depleted slowly the dignity of manual labour and created a mind-set of white collar jobs among our youth. According to some estimates around a lakh of our youth are educated but unemployed. Most are waiting for the white-collar Government jobs even at the lowest level. This is the greatest disservice that has been done to our society by our rulers for last 60 years or so! This mentality has to change. But one also cannot fault our youths entirely for going after Government jobs. With little or no industries in the State, and the agriculture sector facing a near dead due to Government’s neglect (State Budget 2020 was silent on agri sector), what is the option left for the educated youth? Youths wanting to take up entrepreneurship are also not getting loans, as banks in the State have stopped financing people after the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Act 2002. Another unproductive expenditure is the construction boom in bungalows and villas. Over the past few years numerous posh houses worth thousands of crores must have been constructed by people with ill-gotten money (with Dimapur topping the list). This is totally dead investment. The money could have been invested in various local enterprises especially in agriculture based industries. Also tourism today is being wrongly projected as a sector that will fuel economic growth in the State. Yes, if things were peaceful and we had direct international air access, Nagaland would have become a major tourist destination. In response to opposition remarks that the programme of the Government are all “festivals, music, dancing and tours only”, the CM in his remarks on budget discussion claimed that Hornbill Festival has emerged as an engine of economic growth for local entrepreneurs. But let’s not forget that Hornbill Festival is a 10-day affair in a year, and to believe that a10-days festival will fuel economic growth in the State escapes reason. Another sheepish mentality is construction of shopping complexes everywhere. Instead of investing money in making goods which could be locally used and could lessen imports of these, people have virtually gone crazy in making shopping complexes to sell goods from all over the world. Totally consumer based economy without any attempt to produce these goods especially in the food chain locally. Above everything else, the local economy faces another serious handicap and that is the most undependable highway. If the State economy is to stabilize and grow, two things are most essential. First is the return to agriculture based economy and the other is a dependable roadways all year round. Sadly, governments of all the political parties are least interested in creating an independent economy. They have mostly been busy in improving their own and their family’s economic well-being at the cost of the common people. The civil society has to wake up and take an initiative in this regard. Let us hope and pray this happens soon. In the alternative, our economy is destined to bleed to death!