Talks on improving connectivity in the Northeastern part of India has been a welcome step. With the ‘Act East’ policy of the Indian government, improving connectivity in the Northeast stands to serve the dual purpose of developing this region and strengthening the geo-political strategies of the government. Against this backdrop, the following is an attempt to sketch what one of the states of this region, Nagaland, stands to benefit, if an improved connectivity is materialised.
Transportation System and Economic Development:
There are two key aspects for consideration, from the standpoint of the stakeholders of the transportation system: monetary costs and non-monetary costs. Stakeholders here are the transport users, who travel for work, educational and social commitments, firms and business commitments, and so on. While monetary costs include fares, fuel and other vehicle operating costs, non-monetary costs include the trip time and reliability and comfort level of the travel. Any improvement in the system is bound to cause reduction in these costs to the benefit of all transport users.
With better roads and increased road connectivity, commuters can make longer and faster trips, and hence take advantage of new opportunities (jobs or markets), which were previously too difficult to access. Moreover, connectivity also facilitates faster movements of goods from abundant areas to areas of scarcity. This in turn ensures the availability of such goods at fair prices. All such measures eventually lead to overall economic growth and development. However, it is unfortunate that the existing condition in Nagaland is far from this reality, due to the non-materialization of the policies on connectivity.
Most Naga villages remain inaccessible even after fifty-eight years of statehood. Hence, the systemic benefits of modernization and technology are unavailable for them. Enhanced connectivity can break the isolation of villages, and integrate them into the larger markets. This can help the villagers and small scale producers to alter/modify their economic activities, in order to benefit from comparative advantages that they enjoy in terms of production. Connectivity and accessibility also ensure that villagers have crucial information regarding soil, climate, and suchlike that helps them in choosing crops for cultivation suited to the micro-climatic conditions and soil of specific areas. This reduces their sole dependence on traditional crops, allowing them to diversify and gain benefits from the larger market.
Poor transportation systems (including both road conditions and goods/passenger vehicles) lead to high costs. Therefore, the profit margin of farmers, especially marginalised farmers decreases and in some cases are negligible. One of the biggest concerns is the influx of vegetables from outside the state. Given the expected behaviour of consumers in choosing cheaper alternatives, farmers are required to fix competitive prices, which they cannot as their base price is pushed up by higher logistic costs. Hence, One way to ensure profitability (and in most cases livelihood) is to reduce the transportation costs.
For businessmen, poor transportation tends to raise the price at which they can supply goods to the market. On the contrary, an improvement in the system, by reducing logistic costs, tends to lower the supply price. This reduction/rise in transport costs is passed on to the consumers and the same is felt by the purchaser of final goods and services. This is certainly one reason why MRP is never Maximum Retail Price but Minimum Retail Price in Nagaland, especially in the interior areas.
There are various reasons as to why industries cannot come up in all regions. For instance, weight losing manufacturing processes like mining (the impurities gangue are removed from ores thereby losing weight), are economical only when plants are set up near raw material sources, which explains why iron and steel plants are located mostly in resource-rich Chota Nagpur region of India. On the other hand weight gaining manufacturing processes like food processing, are economical only if they are located near markets. Such measures are aimed at reducing logistic costs. In the absence of a proper transport system, this strategic move is not possible, and hence industries can not be set up and run efficientiely in such areas. The case in point is the lack of outside industrial investments in the state; even if the current political imbroglio is assumed away for argument’s sake. In Nagaland, Dimapur is a feasible industrial location due to topographical reasons and wider market accessibility. However, due to the lack of connectivity and proper transport system, it is difficult to get raw materials on time which adversely affects the industries here. This implies that the farmers and small scale producers are also hard hit.
Transport Systems and Socio-political Implications:
As I think about the socio-political implications of the transport system, I remember vividly the tragedy of a pregnant woman from a small Town in Bhandari. She developed birth complications, and while being transferred to the nearest referral Hospital (in Wokha Town), died on the way; only to be operated upon later to separate the mother and child, on reaching the hospital. The choked remark of the father-in-law still rings in my ear, “my daughter-in-law and my grandchild would have been alive if the roads were good.” Given the resource constraint, it is not feasible to establish hospitals in every village, or multi-specialty hospitals in every sub-division. However, having a good road connection can reduce this limitation, so that patients requiring special medical intervention can be transported with ease to better-equipped hospitals.
Better roads can also contribute to reducing corruption. Better connectivity helps in partial reduction of the general unwillingness observed among the bureaucrats to go to far off postings, citing inter alia poor connectivity as a major inconvenience. This is expected to reduce their meddling with political bosses for ‘transfers and postings’, which can help them in observing neutrality, the ideal requirement of the job. It is critical because the bureaucratic-politician nexus is a major factor in corruption. Likewise, the same can be said for nurses, teachers and other government officials who are hesitant to take remote postings.
In a world where competition is ubiquitous, especially in the economic domain, I find no better way to conclude but quote the title of World Bank’s Bi-annual Report (2016), “Connecting to Compete.” The government should rise to the occasion to provide better connectivity. In the absence of better connectivity, the farmers, the present and future entrepreneurs and the citizens will be at the receiving end of competition for their products, which will not be competitive, owing to high transportation cost and other connectivity issues. Notably, good connectivity will contribute in leveraging the rich endowments in the state- minerals, favourable agro-climatic and soil conditions, eco-tourism prospects, educated unemployed human resource, to mention some few- for economic and social gains. It is gratifying to note that the state government has recognized connectivity improvement as a prime thrust area, and has envisioned major road projects. This is in the right direction; however, implementation will be the key.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: - Dr. Tumbenthung Humtsoe is currently with the Finance Department, Government of Nagaland. He is also a guest faculty at the National Institute of Technology, Nagaland. ‘Between Lived Dreams and Lived Reality’ is his first work of fiction.