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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Northeast Echoes
ĎTill date IIM Shillong is without a full-fledged director. A faculty member is holding fort for now. You wonder why the system for finding a new director is not set in motion well in advance to avoid stop-gap arrangements, as this usually cripples an institutioní

Stop choking institutions of N-E

Ever since the DoNER ministry was created, the North Eastern Council (NEC) has suffered attrition. Although DoNER was envisaged as an agency to liaison with the different central ministries and the NEC was meant to be a regional planning body, both institutions have failed to deliver. When the National Security Advisory Board met in Shillong recently, one of the foremost issues discussed was this dichotomous role of the NEC vis-ŗ-vis DoNER. Many felt that NECís role is now truncated and its funds reduced to one-third of the budget of some states. At one time, the chief ministers of the eight states could sit and thrash out issues of common concern under the chairmanship of any one governor by rotation through the NEC. At present, the eight chief ministers hardly meet and each state is thinking separately.

Top-heavy bureaucracy

Inter-state issues such as communication bottlenecks and a common strategy to tackle insurgency could not be discussed. As a result, the NEC is today a shrivelling institution supporting a top-heavy bureaucracy. It is only able to sanction projects under Rs 5 crore. Anything above that has to get the concurrence of DoNER. What is also killing the NEC is the absence of a vision. The NEC board is packed with retired bureaucrats who are well past their shelf lives and are there mainly because of their proximity to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The two retired bureaucrats ó P.P. Srivastava and I.P. Borthakur ó have been on the board for more years than one can count. They had retired from active service two decades ago. Their contribution, if any, is only to themselves as they enjoy the powers and perks of Union ministers of state.

When the population of this country is so young, one fails to understand what new ideas can come from people who are now on the verge of senility. There are reasons why people retire. And there is such a thing as a fresh vision, which cannot come from people who have spent the large part of their lives in straitjackets. When retired people continue to look for sinecure positions, new ideas are throttled. When retired people donít want to hang up their boots and call it a day, they are actually suffering from some mental condition. How can our institutions be run by such unhealthy minds?

Sadly, the Centre only perpetuates this fatal human flaw. As a result, an institution that is designed to serve the interests of the people of the Northeast is allowed to turn decrepit and useless.

When the S.P. Shukla Committee toured the Northeast with the then Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda, who was in the hot seat for 10 months (1996-97), they tracked serious governance deficits in the region and attributed that to the failure of the NEC. The committee, therefore, proposed the creation of DoNER. It was supposed to be a custodian of 10 per cent funds from all development ministries.

These funds were then to be channelled to each of the eight states. The corpus was called the Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR). But the nomenclature is misleading. Funds that are unutilised within a fiscal year do lapse. DoNER has not been able to effectively utilise the funds mainly because of bureaucratic red tape. Officials of the eight states say that if they submit a project proposal to DoNER, it takes at least three years before the project is opened up for discussion with the states. By then the project cost has escalated and even if the sanction does come, it is no longer viable. This has been the grouse of the Northeast states against DoNER and the NEC can do nothing because it is seen only as a subsidiary. The much-trumpeted Shukla Commission report, called Transforming the North East (1997), had defined five basic deficits ó a basic needs deficit, an infrastructure deficit, a resource deficit, a two-way deficit of understanding with the rest of the country and a governance deficit. While no one can blame the commission for its work of identifying the problems of the region, this is no rocket science. The eight chief ministers could have done this work as efficiently as the Shukla Committee could, if they had been tasked to do so. Who could be better than the people of the region to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and suggest the right ways and means? However, our proclivity for high-profile committees and experts is legendary. But thatís because people of the Northeast are considered too backward and naÔve and incompetent to chart out their own development course. Itís also an excuse for Delhi to keep a tight grip on the region.

Stagnation rife

The tussle between the NEC and DoNER remains a live issue and the end result is stagnation of development in the region. Now the chief ministers do not want to meet under the auspices of DoNER because by protocol, the minister for DoNER is a Union minister of state ó a status that is equivalent to that of a deputy chief minister of a state. Why would the chief ministers wish to grovel before him? And the worst case scenario was when a minister (from the region) holding the DoNER portfolio was milking the ministry for his personal aggrandisement. He allowed the ministry to be controlled by his kith and kin that did the wheeling and dealing and allegedly demanded 30 per cent of the money sanctioned for all projects as a bribe. But DoNER and NEC are not the only institutions that have suffered attrition.

The North East Indira Gandhi Regional Institute for Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS) has not had a full-fledged director since its inception. It was only in November this year that Dr A.G. Ahangar, a cardio-thoracic surgeon from Kashmir, took over. He has promised to turn this institution into a ďglobal instituteĒ and a harbinger of medical tourism in the Northeast. However, Dr Ahangarís other comments were educative. He said the institute was like a derailed train that had to be put back on track. Interestingly, since the inception of NEIGRIHMS 16 years ago, not a single executive committee meeting has been held. This means that the institute has been remote-controlled by the Union health ministry without allowing NEIGRIHMS to grow and blossom into an autonomous institute along the lines of AIIMS New Delhi, which was what Rajiv Gandhi had envisioned in 1986 when he laid the foundation stone for the project. The NEIGRIHMS board again is packed with retired bureaucrats. Evidently, they do not add value to the institute. There is much haggling from all quarters to be on this gravy train as there always is with government-created institutions.

Concern over IIM

Then we have the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong, whose director retired in July this year. Till date the institute is without a full-fledged director. A faculty member is holding fort for now. You wonder why the system for finding a new director is not set in motion well in advance to avoid stop-gap arrangements, as this usually cripples an institution. But whatís worrying about IIM Shillong is the allegation that the new board of governors is also headed by a retired bureaucrat, Falguni Rajkumar. Are bureaucrats indispensable? With no experience in corporate affairs or industry and even their credentials as administrators being hugely suspect, can they take IIM Shillong to new heights? Doubtful! Institutions of the Northeast can do without these permanent riders on the gravy train. They have done enough to disable institutions and permanently damage their capability to stand up with pride and dignity. Donít the people of the Northeast deserve better?

(The writer can be contacted at patricia17@rediffmail.com)