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HVK Archives: 'It is a vicious circle

'It is a vicious circle - The Observer

Posted By Ashok V Chowgule (ashokvc@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in)
9-15 February 1995

Title : 'It is a vicious circle: industries don't come to the North-East because there is no peace; there is insurgency because there is no development' - Interview of the week - Lal Thanhawla
Author :
Publication : The Observer
Date : February 9-15, 1995

Many of the guests at the Second Global Conference 1997, organized
in January by the All-India Association of Industries in Mumbai,
were surprised to see Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla there.
Rare indeed is the sight in these parts of a VIP from the
North-East. And Thanhawla (pronounced than 'haula) was no less
surprised at having been invited.

The conference was about (what else?) economic liberalization and
how best the states could take advantage of this by improving their
infrastructure. And Thanhawla further shocked his audience
comprising foreign businessmen, NRIs, and consular corps members by
telling them that he was from the most backward state in the
country and he was not even conversant with the emerging
post-liberalization scenario.

Amazed by this, OLGA TELLIS sought him out for an interview to
learn more. Thanhawla agreed, despite everyone trying to catch his
attention, among them an executive from Mercedes-Benz who wanted to
sell him a bulletproof car. Thanhawla brushed him aside, saying,
'Mizoram is the most peaceful state, we do not need bulletproof
cars!"

It was revealing, and painful, to hear from Thanhawla how the
North-East is treated. He recounted how, when he had come to
Mumbai for the Congress session in 1968, he was asked to show his
passport, and he had to insist that he was an Indian. And there's
been little change in the situation since then. "These little
irritants," he said, "are felt very much by the people. It is the
greatest cause of alienation."

Thanhawla was certain that if any Union minister is shown a map of
India and asked where Mizoram is, he will not be able to point it
out. Most people he said, don't even pronounce his name correctly,
though he can pronounce and spell even the longest South Indian
names! Excerpts from the interview:

Why do you fell there is this barrier between the north-eastern
region and the rest of India?

It is a very long story. There are three mega races in India - the
Aryans, the Dravidians, and the Mongoloids. The north-easterners
belong to the Mongoloid race, and for some reason, few people
recognize us as Indians. There is an artificial barrier. That is
why it is necessary to bring our people into the political and
economic mainstream.

At the AIAI seminar you spoke as if you are really not conversant
with the post-liberalization scenario.

Yes. Despite the tax concessions and moratoriums on taxes that the
Centre has given us, none of us [in the North-East], not even
Assam, the big brother with oil infrastructure, train and air
connections, and river routes, can take advantage of it. After
December 1994, there were 1,014 investments in the Punjab, 3,733 in
Maharashtra, but in the entire North-East there were only 58
initiatives. Of these 58, 48 were in Assam and they were only
letters of intent. And there was not a single one in Mizoram. I
had apprehensions about liberalization, but I see that we need
investment in infrastructure. If we develop an international
airport in the North-East in our capital Aizawl, it can become the
gateway to the eastern emerging countries like China and the
South-East Asian countries.

This is our concept. This is what we want. Unfortunately, the
states in the neighbourhood - Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, and Tripura
- are not peaceful It is a vicious circle: industries don't come to
Mizoram and the North-East because there is no peace; there is
insurgency because there is lack of development.

The Mizos are very progressive people. We are cent per cent
Christian and literate, but ethnics like the Chakmas pull down the
literacy rate.

In Mizoram we brought about peace. I had to sacrifice my chief
ministership for this - I offered my chief ministership to the
opposition leader [the late Laldenga] on a platter during Rajiv
Gandhi's tenure.

So liberalization has passed you by?

It has, practically. We attend meetings, hear speeches, but we have
no practical experience of liberalization or the so-called fruits
of liberalization. In fact,

I am very much jealous and covetous of all the developments I see
here in Mumbai.

Nothing is possible, I realize' unless there is infrastructure. I
confronted the Planning Commission, asking them for funds, and they
say they cannot give funds because there is no infrastructure. I
said break this vicious circle. There is no infrastructure because
there are no funds.

We have been breaking it gradually. We are constructing an airport
at Aizawl which will be ready by March 1998 to take the Airbus 300.
But here again, we used the Rs 45 crore given for this project
just to level the ground. The planners sitting in Delhi do not
realize the kind of terrain we have. So the price has escalated and
we are waiting for more money. And more delays means more cost
escalation. The Planning Commission has yet to allocate the extra
funds.

I have had discussions regarding the opening of trade with Myamnar
and Bangladesh. We have long international borders with these poor
states which can generate economic activity. Today there is illegal
trade on both sides which is estimated at Rs 50 crore annually. We
are also in contact with Bangladesh to open up the river routes and
land routes.

Why are you introducing prohibition even though you agree that It
is hypocrisy?

Ours is a small state of 7 lakh people. I agree that prohibition
is observed more in the breach elsewhere in the country. I remember
when I was part of the Seventh Finance Commission, we had gone to
Gujarat. The then chief minister, Vasant Chaudhury, told Justice
Quereshi, who headed the commission, that the Planning Commission
should reimburse them for the revenue they were losing by way of
excise due to prohibition.

Justice Quereshi told him that en route to his office, they had
passed innumerable illicit liquor dens and houses where liquor was
being brewed. He advised the chief minister to scrap prohibition.

But we are introducing it because we are almost a dry state. If we
enforce it, we will enlarge the excise department. Because of the
proximity of the Golden Triangle, drugs find their way into
Mizoram. Our state is the only peaceful state in a sea of troubled
states. We can enforce prohibition because we have the tacit
support of the NGOs and the churches.

What is the thrust of the development plan that you have for
Mizoram?

Mizoram has been ravaged by 20 years of insurgency and compulsory
uprooting of people by the army. The rest of the country marched
forward meanwhile, so we have a backlog of 40 years to clear up.
We are sure that we can be self-sufficient in food-grains through
agriculture. We can not only be self-sufficient in power, we can
give power to the neighbouring countries like Myanmar and
Bangladesh which are power deficient. We can generate 1,5002,000 MW
of power by tapping our rivers, but we are facing poverty amidst
plenty.

We had requested Prime Minister Deve Gowda to discuss the opening
of border trade and river routes with Bangladesh, and he did,
during his recent visit there. The high commissioner of Bangladesh
contacted me and said their industry minister was keen to reopen
the trade routes.

The state of our economy is such that we have to be supported by
the Centre. There are no financial institutions in Mizoram to
generate money. Whatever money is given by the Centre is
judiciously used in the best interests of the state. The problem
is that the national planners do not know adequately the local
conditions. They are not aware of the geographical disadvantages
we have; few know the terrain. We don't have plains for irrigation
for agriculture.

I'll give you an example of how they don't understand the ground
realities. In Mizoram, we have the best sports people, but we have
no standard football ground. The boxer who won a bronze, the first
bronze for India, at the international boxing tournament in Mumbai
recently was Zoram Thanga from Mizoram, and we have no boxing
facilities in Mizoram. Take the international airport we want to
build. We spent Rs 45 crore just cutting the hillocks to level the
place and the Planning Commission is not funding the extra money
needed to complete the airport.

Have you prioritized certain areas for development?

Mizoram cannot become an industrial state, but what we can and
should have is agro-and forest-based products and horticulture.

For instance, we have passion fruit in plenty and nobody can meet
the demand as we can. We are in touch with an Italian company
through a Hyderabad based institute, and we hope to be able to
import the machinery/equipment for a plant to make concentrate from
passion fruit.

We have tung oil in plenty. which is mainly used for paints.
Indian manufacturers make a chemical composition out of this and we
should be able to supply this in whatever quantity they need. Our
chief secretary was recently in Mumbai and met some paint companies
in this regard.

We are also in the process of putting up some small power plants.
Currently the Overseas Development Corporation of Japan along with
the NEEPC [North-Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited] is
putting up a 60 MW hydel power project at Turail. There is also
the 210 MW Tuidai hydel power project coming up with the NEEPC. We
also have ginger in Plenty. We just need money and businessmen to
come and help us use our resource.



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