‘DEMOCRACY IS THE ONLY WAY TO SOLVE PROBLEMS OF NORTH EAST REGION’: DR. NAJMA HEPTULLA
The two-day 16th North East Region Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference (NERCPAC 2017), which was inaugurated by Lok Sabha Speaker Smt. Sumitra Mahajan on 15 June 2017, concluded today.
Lauding the initiative of the Speaker of the Manipur Legislative Assembly for organising the NERCPAC 2017 within the two months of the constitution of the new Assembly in the State, the Governor of Manipur Dr. Najma Heptulla, who graced the event today, observed that democracy is the only way to solve problems of North East Region. She said the legislators, besides being the political representatives of the people, are also social reformers and social philosophers, who are mandated to articulate the grievances, hopes and aspirations of the people. As such, it is their duty to be well aware of the ground realities, so that they could voice the concerns of the people in a more effective manner. Smt. Heptulla said that the Presiding Officers, who watch the proceedings of the House from a higher pedestal, have an important duty to conduct the affairs of the House in a people-centric manner. Recalling her efforts to highlight the topical issues during her long stint as the Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, she urged the Presiding Officers to work beyond their conventional mandate to ensure that critical areas of national interest are debated and discussed inside their legislatures and outside it.
Dr. Heptulla observed that North East region, due to certain reasons, has been historically and geographically cut off from the mainland. As such, it is necessary that sincere efforts are made in right earnest to attend to connectivity-related issues. She emphasised that there should be more direct flights to North-East region from different cities of the country, which will not only lead to better connectivity but also to better prospects for tourism industry. She highlighted the need for better roads and rail network as per the special requirements of the region. Stressing that education and job-creation are two big challenges of the region, she underlined the need of setting up of more higher educational institutions. On health related infrastructure, Smt. Heptulla urged the authorities concerned to explore the feasibility of ‘flying doctors’ to attend to emergent situations in the hilly areas. She also pointed out that the criterion of population for allocating funds by the North Eastern Council needed to be revisited as the interests of smaller States tend to be adversely affected by such an approach.
Today, the Conference held deliberations on second agenda item, viz. ‘Special Plan for development of Railways, Airways, Surface Road and Inland Waterways connectivity for speedy economic development of North East Region’. Deputy Speaker of Tripura Legislative Assembly Shri Pabitra Kar said that the entire North East region lack communication system even after 70 years of independence. He urged that all the districts of the North East region should have four lane National Highway for better connectivity and broad-gauge railway line should be taken up firstly to State capitals and then to all district headquarters. Speaker of Mizoram Legislative Assembly Shri Hiphei said that the Central Government may be approached to have a special plan for overall development of the region. Speaker of Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly Shri Tenzing Norbu Thongdok felt that money alone was not the major challenge in the delayed execution of the project but their clearance by various agencies is also a major problem. He suggested to simplify acquisition of land and tendering process, etc. Member of Manipur Legislative Assembly Shri P. Sarathchandra Singh called for finding ways and means for integration with the mainland and for connectivity with South East Asia. Speaker of Nagaland Legislative Assembly Dr. Imtiwapang Aier emphasized that special plan for North East is required to be given a special status for economic rejuvenation of the region. Speaker of Assam Legislative Assembly Shri Hitendra Nath Goswami delineated that conducive atmosphere, better connectivity, funds and strong will of the people as four dimensions for the development of the region.
The Conference also took up a special discussion on the subject ‘Parliamentary Procedure for the New Millennium’ which was proposed by Speaker of Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly Shri Tenzing Norbu Thongdok. Among other suggestions, he proposed that the legislatures of the North East need to have longer and frequent Sessions, participation of public and media in the work of the House and its Committees, and treating Committees’ conclusions as decisions until rejected by the whole House. Other distinguished delegates also participated in this Session.
Yesterday, i.e. on 15 June 2017, the Conference took up discussion on the first item on the Agenda ‘North East and Look East Policy’, which saw delegates sharing their experiences and proposing suggestions to make the Policy to be effectively implemented in letter and spirit. Participating in the deliberations, Member of Manipur Legislative Assembly Shri P. Sarathchandra Singh said that North East has thousands of years of historical and cultural affinity with Myanmar. He hoped that the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, which would bring global connectivity to the region, would be a hallmark of the Act East Policy. Speaker of Arunachal Pradesh Shri Tenzing Norbu Thongdok appreciated the fact that the Act East Policy has brought diverse dividends to India and other nations in the ASEAN framework. Today, the Policy transcends beyond ASEAN countries and embraces the Korean Peninsula, New Zealand, Fiji and other Pacific Islands in the Far East. He suggested setting up of a legislative forum for better implementation of the Policy. Speaker of Mizoram Legislative Assembly Shri Hiphei highlighted the challenges of the North East region, especially the inadequate infrastructure, which hinders the investments by the neighbouring countries in the region.
Speaker of Nagaland Legislative Assembly Dr. Imtiwapang Aier observed that the Look East Policy has great significance for the Far East because as it has the potential of bringing more trade and commerce, which would lead to economic uplift to the region. Expressing his concerns over delayed implementation of the Look East Policy and its resultant impact on the economic development of the region, Speaker of Assam Legislative Assembly Shri Hitendra Nath Goswami observed the unless the region has better connectivity and adequate infrastructure, no policy- be it Look East Policy or Act East Policy- would bring the desired results. Deputy Speaker of Tripura Legislative Assembly Shri Pabitra Kar emphasized that the Government of India should follow up on Act East Policy and should proactively initiate the discussion with various stakeholders of the region to understand and appreciate their concerns and challenges.
Speaker of Meghalaya Legislative Assembly & Chairperson, NERCPA Shri A. T. Mondal summed up the discussions held during the Conference. He said that the discussions centred on policy shift and inclusive policy. The thoughts floated by the delegates included setting up of a legislators’ forum, a separate ministry or a council to take forward the Act East Policy which recently got rejuvenated in 2014. He concluded that North East is nothing but an image of India. It is, thus, all the more important that we uplift this region to change the image of the country.