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Tripura's tryst with destiny
After suffering decades of geographical isolation and humiliation, Tripura has a chance to uproot a decaying Marxist administration. It will be now or never
Tripura, which goes to poll on February 18, graduated from being a Union Territory to being a State in 1972. Being a relatively young State endowed with abundant resources of rubber, tea and commercially exploitable natural gas deposits, one would have expected this State to make rapid strides in terms of economic progress. However, development has been sorely missing in Tripura which has a lush forest cover of 60 per cent and the reason is not too far to see. Not much has changed for this State since 1963, when it was still a Union Territory. It was then ruled by Sachindra Lal Singh of the Indian National Congress. Today, it is headed by Manik Sarkar of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M], who has been the Chief Minister since 1998. If anything, things have only gone from bad to worse in the last 20 years.
Most of Tripura's woes have to do with its geo-political isolation, stemming from criminal lack of political will and pathetic state of infrastructure. National Highway 44 is the only highway that runs through the State, connecting Agartala to the rest of India. During monsoons, landslides near Patharkandi in Assam and Sonarpur in Meghalaya cut off Tripura not only from the rest of India but also from the rest of North-East. The fact that the first ever broad guage rail network from Lumding to Agartala via Badarpur, commenced only in 2016, under the aegis of the Union Government, is a shameful testimony as to how the Leftist State Government in Tripura under the CPI(M), did virtually nothing for two decades. It is also an alarming revelation of how the UPA-led Congress totally ignored the interests of Tripura and its people, more so when the State has relied for 85 per cent of its revenues on Union Government transfers.
Coming back to the geographical isolation of Tripura, it needs to be mentioned that prior to the Partition, the distance by road, between Agartala and Kolkata, was less than 350 km. However, post partition, the route between Agartala and Kolkata, via the Siliguri land corridor, became 1,700 km. Tripura lost most of its important rail heads to east Pakistan, now Bangladesh, post partition. One of the poorest legacies of partition and Nehruvian socialism is the fact that it greatly aggravated the geographical and economic isolation of Tripura in particular and the North East in general. On the one hand, over the years, Tripura saw an unmitigated influx of refugees and insurgents from across the 856-km long border that it shares with Bangladesh. On the other, it suffered a huge strain on its economic and natural resources.
Thanks to the vision of the Modi Government, Indo-Bangladesh trade via Tripura, rose from Rs357.65 crore in 2014-15 to Rs383.72 crore in 2015-16. Agreements and joint dialogues are on between India and Bangladesh for promotion of sustainable larger foreign trade with Bangladesh. On June 2, 2015, a direct bus service between Kolkata and Agartala via Dhaka, covering a distance of approximately 500 km, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi to facilitate ease of transport and commerce. Fully operationalising the 750-MW mega power project in the Gomati district and the railway link between Agartala and Sabroom in the southern part of Tripura, are high on the Modi Government's agenda. Besides the building of 42,896 dwellings for the urban poor under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in the State.
Tripura could have easily been the gateway to India's enchanting North-East. However, with a crime conviction rate of barely 24 per cent and the complete inability of the Leftist State dispensation to rein in crimes against women and unnatural deaths, which have been rising at an alarming rate, it is not surprising that only 15,376 foreign tourists visited the State in 2013-14. In 2012, for instance, 202 rape cases were reported with a woman being raped virtually every second day, even as the State Government snoozed lazily. Again, it is nothing short of tragic that reeling under decades of Leftist misrule and apathy, the Net State Domestic Product at constant prices for the State has risen from Rs17,419 crore in 2011-12 to Rs22,583 crore in 2014-15. Gross State Domestic Product stood at Rs25,086 crore in 2014-15. This again tells a story of how Tripura is amongst India's poorest States with overall Work Participation Rate (WPR) rising only to 39.9 per cent in 2011 from 36.2 per cent in 2001. WPR of females were even lower at just 23.57 per cent in 2011. In a shameful reflection of ‘governance deficit', despite having a literacy rate of more than 95 per cent, the State has 7.3 lakh unemployed youth and counting. Even the entrepreneurial spirit of the local population has been stymied by the fact that despite being in power for 20 years, the Manik Sarkar Government could do no better than giving Tripura only one Regional Rural Bank that covers all eight districts of the State.
The Tripura Human Development Report is a scathing testimony to the rampant under-nutrition amongst women and children in rural areas. Given that 74 per cent of Tripura resides in villages, that surely says a lot. While Manik Sarkar rejoices at being the poorest Chief Minister ever with just Rs1,520 as cash in hand, as per his last filed election affidavit, it is another story altogether that the poor Chief Minister has an uncanny penchant for zipping around in helicopters at the expense of hapless tax payers even for a short distance of less than 50km. After suffering decades of geographical isolation and humiliation, all thanks to lopsided Nehruvian blunders and economic isolation under an inept Leftist regime for the longest time, Tripura has a tryst with destiny on February 18, 2018 ...an opportunity to uproot a decaying Marxist ideology that has been rejected world over. Tripura must follow the suit as it deserves better. It is now or never.
(The writer is an Economist and Chief Spokesperson, for the BJP, Mumbai)
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