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Mreghalaya at 45

By Gary Marbaniang

The Chief Secretary came out with exquisite data the other day to drive home the point that Meghalaya at 45 has come a long way in its journey towards progress.But the data he came out with were taken in isolation. When we compare our major macro-economic indicators against the ultimate benchmark set by different states in the region, we find ourselves lagging on almost all fronts. It reminded me of the time when I was growing up in a locality called Riatsamthiah in the heart of the city.Our neighbourhood produced some of the best badminton players in the locality and also the some of the best amateur players in the city and this in turn instilled in us the belief that we can compete with the best. It gave us the courage to participate in the big time tournaments at Tirot Sing Indoor Stadium.But our hopes were dashed when we came up against seasoned professional players.These experiences taught us the valuable life lesson that in order to be the best you have to test yourself against the best.

Our economic progress must be tested against certain benchmarks of excellence in order to truly evaluate the magnitude of our progress.The Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) is the standard index as far as measurement of economic growth is concerned.As per Central Statistical Organization data, GSDP at current prices for 2013-14 stood at Rs 21,044 crore. Compare this with Sikkim, the epitome of economic management skills in the region, then those figures looked really meager. Sikkim’s GSDP for the same period stood at Rs 12,376 crore and for a small state with a small population, this is a really outstanding figure.The Net State Domestic Product (NSDP) or the GSDP adjusted for depreciation will give us a clearer picture of where we stand right now in the economic pyramid in the region. Our NSDP at current price for 2013-14 stood at Rs 18,504 crore whereas Sikkim’s NSDP for the same period stood at Rs 11,136 crore and taking into account the size of population of the two states, Sikkim’s per capita income will naturally be higher. Our per capita income stood at Rs 58,522 rupees for 2013-14 whereas Sikkim’s per capita income for the same period stood at Rs 1,76,491.That means that an average Sikkimese has almost three times more disposable income than an average Meghalayan.

Compounding our economic woes is the fact that our Consumer Price Index is the highest in the region.Our consumer price index for 2013(Base Year:2010=100) is 138.9 whereas Tripura’s CPI for the same period was 122.7.For rural labourers the condition is more grim as far as inflationary pressure is concerned. For 2012-13(Base:Agr.Year 1986-87=100) the CPI for Meghalaya was 701 whereas in Tripura, CPI for the same period was 586.That means for the general population, inflation had shot up by almost 38.9 percent since 2010 and for rural labourers,inflation had skyrocketed by almost 701 percent from 1986-87 to 2013.Dissecting the economy further we find inherent flaws in our growth story.The size of the manufacturing sector for 2013-14 stood at Rs 900 crore and the registered manufacturing units stood at almost 773 crores. This indicates the small size of the informal sector.For the rest of the country, the size of the informal sector is much bigger than the formal sector and most of the employment generation for the manufacturing sector happens in the informal sector.Most of the registered manufacturing units in the state thrive on subsidies and the employment opportunities for local youths are almost non- existent.

As far as the Micro,Small and Medium enterprises(MSME) is concerned the number of working enterprises in Meghalaya for the period 2010-11 stood at 5,497 units whereas the number of working enterprises for Nagaland for the same period stood at 9,315 units. As far as employment generation is concerned, the MSME units in Nagaland employ 1,13,857 people whereas the MSME units in Meghalaya employs a dismal 23,193 people. When it comes to the value of production of the Khadi and Village Industries, Meghalaya’s size fades in comparison to another state, Mizoram. Mizoram’s production from this industry for the period 2012-13 stood at Rs 160 crores whereas Meghalaya’s production for the same period stood at Rs 83 crores and the employment numbers for Mizoram for the same period stood at 0.66 lakh whereas for Meghalaya it was only 0.33 lakh.

The value of production of minerals and ores in Meghalaya for the period 2011-12 was a whopping Rs 4,917 crore and the only state in the region to surpass us on this front is Assam whose production for the same period stood at Rs 11,439 crore. I had a discussion with my niece the other day regarding the state of the economy of Meghalaya, and she told me that her Economics tuition tutor had informed them that Meghalaya is in a state of depression. If Meghalaya is in a depression then it means that at some point of her life she had experienced economic prosperity. We cannot reach a state of depression without passing through the other stages of the business cycle. The more appropriate term to describe our economy at present is a state of financial crisis. The importance of coal mining to the economy of the state cannot be overemphasized but at the same time it cannot be done at the cost of environmental degradation.

We therefore hope that the blueprint for sustainable mining that the State government had submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forest would result in lifting of the National Green Tribunal ban. Looking back at the year 1972, we should be really thankful that we have been given the golden opportunity to govern ourselves.When I was working in a reputed nationalised bank,a crisis of huge proportions struck one of the bank’s rural branches and since I was working in one of the nearby branch, the bank’s higher authority decided to depute me to the affected branch to deal with the unexpected rush of customers.Two officers were also deputed from Shillong and we became roommates for a few days. During one of the nights of our stay, I became a bystander to one of their arousing conversation.They were lamenting on the economic plight of the state of Meghalaya and they uttered words that left a deep impression on my mind.They were under the impression that it is better for Meghalaya to go back to the years before 1972. It left me baffled for a moment.It is like the children of Israel grumbling against Moses for taking them out of Egypt whenever they encountered minor setbacks during their long arduous journey towards the promised land. We’ve come a long way as a State and as a people and we must believe in our ability to govern ourselves since it is the only way to overcome the major obstacles that might hinder our path towards economic progress!

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