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Sanjoy Hazarika is a columnist, author, filmmaker, Saifuddin Kitchlew Chair at the Academy of Third World Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia.

Official report tells the ‘real’ story about development

Number of people under BPL has risen in spite of Central assistance.

A mother and child return after taking water from a tanker on the outskirts of Agartala on Friday. REUTERS

here is a new official report which paints a dismal picture of the human development condition in the states of the Northeast. It is not by the Planning Commission or the Ministry of Health or Human Resources Development or the World Health Organization or UNICEF, but by the very ministry charged with the "development" of the Northeast, the Ministry for the Development of the North Eastern Region (MDoNER).

District data unlocks the real picture. While the report seeks to compare the conditions in different states of the region, it is also useful to contrast the data with other parts of India. It strengthens recent assessments by the Planning Commission, which has pointed out that the number of people under BPL had risen in the states of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland despite huge levels of Central assistance over decades.

DoNER's forthright former secretary, Jayati Chandra, notes how, despite an abundance of fruit and vegetable production, Assam, Sikkim and Tripura have high rates of anaemia among women; she speaks of the "consistently higher Maternal Mortality Ratio" in Assam (the worst in the country with 381 deaths per one lakh deliveries) and the high school dropout levels despite good overall literacy levels. The picture is highly irregular and in cases "dismal" as the report says.

In her preface, Chandra reflects on a perspective that gives the general sense of the country that the states of the region are seen "to be doing fairly well in the broad dimension of human development as compared to states in other regions." As one goes into details, as we have noted in this column consistently, the ground level situation is the exact opposite in many critical areas of growth and development, or rather the lack of these aspects. Thus, Chandra says that "as one delves deeper, the picture is startling in its revelations calling for more focused remedial actions and targeted interventions" and then goes on to cite the realities mentioning at the start of this column.

The data for most sectors is drawn from two reference points in terms of time: 1993-94 and 2004-05, although information from 2009-10 and the 2011 census is also shared at a few places. A significant trend can be observed in the consumption expenditure of rural and urban households: while most rural households in the states showed that they spent more of their income on food than "non-food" (one presumes on sectors such as education, transport, etc), the urban households have shown a clear decline in terms of according greater importance to non-food. The economic inequality among different income groups is stressed here, for this affects overall economic well-being.

In education, where census data, which identifies a literate as someone who can both read and write with understanding in any language but may be without formal education or minimum educational standard, the states of the region are among the best performers.

But there is a great degree of variation even in this: Arunachal Pradesh is at the bottom with 66.95% (and 34th of 35 states), Mizoram with 91.58% ranks third at the national level after Kerala and Goa. Inter-district data variation is also significant within a state: Mokokchung in Nagaland recorded literacy rates of 92.68%; Mon's level is a skimpy 56.60%. Tap water supply in rural areas has reached nearly 80% of village homes in Arunachal Pradesh, but barely 7% in rural Assam.

There are a few success stories like Sikkim: nearly 80% of Sikkim's schools have drinking water; it has 125 women teachers to every 100 male teachers (compared to 26 for Tripura, otherwise viewed as a successfully governed state).

The states score poorly on critical aspects of basic facilities: drinking water and provision of girl's toilets at schools (to prevent sexual abuse as much as anything else) are pathetic.

Statistics sting and damn, even in a slim 68-page official report as this brought out by the very agency charged with improving conditions in the Northeast. Much remains to be done. The slothful pace of implementation of crucial programmes in the states, even in sectors identified as "national priorities" such as health, remains a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens. Right to Information challenges would help shed some light on such murky matters and force states to deliver.

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