The two-day global summit of prospective investors is the first of its kind in the state as well as in the region. Carried out amidst much fanfare, the two-day summit of Advantage Assam saw entrepreneurs from as many as 21 countries participate. Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Togbay was also amongst the dignitaries that attended the meet. The summit which promised huge inflow of capital and massive undertaking of projects in almost all spheres got everyone’s hope soaring up.
In two days’ time almost 200 MoUs have been signed and a promise of investment of one lakh crore has been made. Industries like Reliance, Tata etc are planning to invest more in the state in the coming days. New industries will no doubt give the much needed boost to Assam’s ailing industrial scenario. A state where unemployment scenario is disturbing, such initiatives will definitely create newer avenues of employment. Everyone is waiting with bated breath for the twin towers to come up in Guwahati which will not only be a visual delight but also add a sense of affluence to the state.
But amidst all this hope, many are expressing concerns and doubts about the possible outcomes of this meet. How far will such initiatives benefit the people of Assam is a question many are asking. The Prime Minister’s speech went back to the recent announcements in budget like the ambitious insurance policy and did not elaborate much on the policies that will be undertaken under the Advantage Assam initiative. Other ministers also repeated high sounding claims which read more like election campaign for the upcoming and already held elections in the region.
Reliance’s Mukesh Ambani announced an investment of around Rs 2500 crore in various sectors like retail, petroleum, telecom, tourism and sports. He went on to claim that it would create at least 80,000 jobs. Many are hopeful that now Assam will become a business hub connecting South Asia and South East Asia. The two-day event tried to showcase the state’s manufacturing opportunities and geostrategic advantages to foreign as well as domestic investors.
In a neoliberal economic set up, states are left to fend for themselves. Be it West Bengal’s Biswa Bangla or Magnetic Maharashtra or Vibrant Gujarat, every state is trying to be the most coveted destination for global capital. In such a scenario, one must approve of Advantage Assam. But one should also take a moment to ponder if Assam is really ready for such massive undertakings.
Magnificent plans with Assam as the centre is anything but new. Starting from Look East Policy to Act East, many plans have been envisaged to make Assam the gateway to India from South East Asia, the meeting point of South Asia and South East Asia, the powerhouse of the nation etc. Be it the National Bamboo Mission or other policies, a huge amount of fund is earmarked for the northeastern states, but a year or so later nobody gets to know where the amount has been utilized.
In such a scenario, one must ask what will Advantage Assam bring for us? Even earlier outside industries have been given much leverage for doing business in Assam. Patanjali was given huge tracts of land including alleged elephant corridor, for setting up organic industries and food parks. While jobs were promised to the locals, later appointments were made to people brought from outside. Also how far lowly paid jobs like that of security guards can provide socio-economic mobility should also be questioned.
What if the new industries repeat the same modus operandi and start a flow of employees from outside the state? Also many have complained that these initiatives will create a monopoly of corporate houses. This is a serious issue as many indigenous industries – be it the paper mills, sugar mills and other public sector undertakings, are ailing and on the verge of closure. How will they compete with the new players in the region? Will the government take some protective measure or facilitate some tie ups of these small scale industries with the big corporate houses?
A staunch criticism of the Look East and Act East Policies was that it will turn the region to a mere transit point whereby it will only be a getaway for business transactions with not much role to play. A similar concern should be there in context of Advantage Assam as well. Will industries from the region be able to compete? Is the infrastructure of the state strong enough or developed enough to support such undertakings? Where will the land for such large scale industrialization come from?
Considering Assam’s fragile ecological condition, there is a need to see that development is also sustainable. The need of the state and the region should be the priority. The state still suffers from massive electricity shortage, terrible urban planning and yearly floods. Massive construction in Guwahati and surrounding areas may choke the already congested city. Also there is a need to see that developmental policies are not centralized only in Guwahati and other areas of Assam are also incorporated.
In this age of globalization, development without global capital is difficult. But should it be at the cost of local industries and entrepreneurs – that is the real question. People of Assam will be glad if Advantage Assam delivers even the half of what is promised, but let us also be aware of the possible dangers that it will accrue if enough precautions to safeguard local interests are not taken.
Parvin Sultana is an assistant professor in Pramathesh Barua College, Gauripur. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.