Developing Lamka through the Prism of “Growth”

Developing Lamka through the Prism of “Growth”
By G. Thangmuanlal

The economic history of most Western nations has undergone through several hierarchical stages of growth, as W.W. Rostow propounded in 1960 (Rostwo, 1960), which is capitalistic in nature, as opposed to Marx’s “socialism” which argues that “history is a never-ending process” (Tucker, 1972). Time and again, the cliché of the term “growth”, and later “development”, has gained significance which acts as the guiding principle of nations worldwide in their ceaseless pursuit for the betterment of standard of living to its citizens. It became the de facto measurement of any country’s welfare profile at the national and international arena. Along with it came the disturbing relative ranking of countries which has remained more or less static throughout history where the rich became richer while the poor, poorer. Using this de facto measurement of “growth”, it is possible to analyze any “economy” including the economy of Lamka (here, Lamka is Churachandpur district) which is the crux of this essay. In the light of this, there are some baffling questions which need to be addressed. How can “Lamka” be developed so that it can be at par with other high-growing districts within and outside the State? What are the specific problems which impede the process of growth in Lamka? And more importantly, how can the problem be addressed effectively and efficiently? This essay will try to break it down and analyze the different contours of the matter at hand, and if possible, offer some policy-prescriptions which might be of significance in ameliorating the economic and political status quo hitherto it maintained.

Understanding “growth”, then, becomes an imperative task. In simple economic term, growth is identified with Gross Domestic Product of a country. The semantic term of the word "growth" has been more or less associated with economic growth and the proponents of these theories from Classical economists to Keynesian and post-Keynesian economists, appealed nations worldwide until the semantic term was modified into broader definitions through the "development" discourse which began from the 1960s onwards.

Addressing fault lines in the second question can be analyzed through the prism of economic, social and political discourse. In the economic sphere, the first and foremost hurdle is the land distribution system, where there are contestations between the Government and the locals over the use of land. Manipur LR&R (7th Seventh Amendment) Act, 2015, is an example of Government trying to assert its authority over specified land through legislation. The highhandedness of the Government coupled with the Chieftainship system of land organization where property selling is still limited, along with widespread nepotism in practice led to structural hurdles which restraints private investors to invest in the economy. Secondly, the de facto multiple tax systems which exist within the economy has significantly impeded the growth process, particularly in small manufacturing sectors which are already experiencing slow growth rate over the past years (DIC report, 2016). They are either levied as a customs tax by the Government or as a local tax by third-party organizations including UGs, in a proportional but regressive manner. These may not explicitly impact the growth process in the short-run, but surely in the long-run, the likes of double-taxation have a regressive tendency which limits the growth of private sector investments in the economy. Thirdly, there is a general lack of interest in the subject matter of “economy” which is particularly evident in the nature and content of media where it seldom finds its space. The media has hardly if at all, put to light the various mechanisms in the working of markets or for that matter, the direct relationship between economic growth, and market production and expansion. Lastly, the existence of high poverty rate, i.e. about 29.3 percent households below poverty line (District Report, 2016) and income inequality, has the Government appealed for “inclusive growth”. Inclusive Growth as a concept and as a national policy which dictated two consecutive Five-year Plans, i.e. 11th and 12th, dealt with growth not only in terms of increase in GDP rate, but also include various determinants like gender equality, equal opportunities of workers, financial inclusion, etc. with the view to curb and eliminate poverty and inequality thereby bringing the country towards “development”. Then, can inclusive growth save us? Not necessarily. The concept emerged as an alternative to the failure of the economic growth process in terms of GDP increase which maintained that high GDP would cater to the needs and development of the society. Since inclusive growth is a post-growth phenomenon, the concept is less significant to juxtapose it to the currently prevailing economic conditions of Lamka which is still at its “natal stage” as far as Rostow’s is concerned, hence its incompatibility.

In the social sphere, the society of Lamka has undergone several structural changes since the past two decades. These structural changes are visible in the form of the emergence of civil societies including philanthropic organization such as the ZYA, YPA, SYO, and the like, which aimed at ameliorating the seemingly poor conditions of the society in cultural, educational and traditional terms. Firstly, these civil societies appeared to endorse the traditional culture which could hamper the progress of society in general and economic progress, in particular. On the one hand, lies the continuing traditional mindset which has its roots in patriarchy and Chieftainship system while on the other hand, the waves of modernity penetrated the society particularly in the labor-production relations. It can be explicitly summarized as putting “new wine in an old bottle” where the new ideas of “modernity” are encapsulated in the old traditional system which can be quite incompatible at times. However, the crux of the problem is that these civil societies are the best alternative arrangement to cater the needs of the society and it only shows the administrative failure in dispensing justice and equality within the society. Secondly, gender inequality has been an issue although not as much as it was in the West and other parts of India. One possible reason why it was placed such a low-priority could be our relative backwardness in education. The problem it ensued is that the traditional patriarchal mindset of men working out in the public and their labor valued while women limited to non-valued household works has negative impacts on the growth of the economy. It essentially meant that 50% of the total workforces are kept out of the production process thereby having an exponential negative impact in the long run.

Politically, Lamka has been infected with the absence of any effective regulatory mechanism, be it in the public-sector or the private-sector. As such it has led to a kind of “anarchic” system within the socio-economic and political framework. Any legislation brought forth regarding public-welfare programs either never seen the light of day or are derailed from their objectives. This led to widespread distrust of public institutions of the State, leading to an unstable political scenario which has never been a safe haven for investors to thrive. Due to seemingly anarchic conditions within the district, natural resources are either exploited or privatized thereby exclusionary policies ensued, leading to declining in forest areas. Secondly, the rising economic power of non-locals within the district has gained significance as economic power inevitably led to political power. The problem is that although the increase in economic growth is always desirable it is more important as to who owns and benefits from the growth process. If the benefits of growth are siphoned out of the economy, it could have a negative impact on the psychological mindset of the locals or inhabitants which could potentially create unnecessary tensions between them. As the different ethnicities are not always in peaceful terms with each other, the high presence of non-locals could add “petrol to the fire”. This is to state that the political condition of Lamka is such that it is socially cohesive but politically divisive.

In the light of all these problems, suitable policies must be drawn to address both the short-term as well as the long-term structural change needed for the society, which leads us to suggest remedies for the third question. Firstly, the need for a strong regulatory mechanism arises out of the widespread mass derailment from moral and etiquette practices, particularly in the business sector, where norms are self-defined to suit one’s needs. To rebuild public trust in existing government institutions, a more or less effective vigilant commission must be set up on the lines of “judicial reviewing” (Mehta, 2003) discourse which will allow every entity, including the government, under strict prudential legal scrutiny. The “vigilant” body being formed will not intervene in the workings of the market. Rather it will enforce strict action towards those indulging in impunity in unlawful market practices. It will be extended to include protection against environmental degradation and also curb the need for civil societies in governing the larger public interests. Secondly, migration laws can be framed in such a way that it will create a “win-win” situation for all parties concerned. The quantity of inward migration can be limited, say on a yearly basis, which would be either through merit-based or otherwise, for the larger interest of the society while at the same time providing incentives to the non-locals so that they would feel privileged and eagerness to invest in the economy for good. This would mean providing a safe haven for them and fulfilled assurance that their identity, culture, religion, and interests will be protected. Thirdly, the tax system should be made transparent, predictable, and relatively just. Tax compliance should be maintained by ensuring an efficient taxation system which would essentially be centralized so as to avoid double taxation at the same time checking against unlawful evasion. In the long run, fourthly, gender equality, more so “gender equity” must be ensured for a healthy and just society. This will go a long way in improving the welfare of the society in general and female workers in particular. Women have equally the skills and capacity as that of their male counterparts which are needed in the production process. It is also logically and empirically sound to argue that by not entertaining female workforces who comprised half the population of working force, the full potential of economic growth cannot truly be realized. Lastly, also of equally significant reforms should be made on strengthening the industrial base of the economy. The practicality of building specialized industrial infrastructures on the lines of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) is quite an essential approach to achieve high growth rates in Lamka which could cater to the much-needed employment generation and thereby poverty reduction. This necessitates the linking of theories with practical and academics with markets system. The need for research has increased tremendously which can be carried out through the introduction of vocational institutions and incubation hubs within academic institutions. Besides, the role of media in covering the entirety of the growth process through spreading effective awareness is highly crucial for generating constructive debates, ensuring mass education, and thereby acting as a mediator between the public institutions and private entities.

The practicality of the various policies discussed above will face scrutiny due to the stark reality of the fact that Lamka is merely a district within a larger Manipur state has made it all the more an impossible task to enact and implement laws into one’s own hand. However the fact that the region under consideration is a “home” for more than two lakh individuals, having a unique characteristics in terms of multiplicity of collective identities, cultures, languages, and ethnicities, made it all the more necessary to critically analyze and plan for the welfare of larger public interest which transcend beyond individual-vested interests. It would mean shifting our attitudes and priorities towards the economy for the larger public interest essentially through the electoral political process. The seemingly paradoxical situation here is that while we aimed for a greater GDP growth through promoting “ease of doing business”, the larger difficult question remains whether it would come with a huge price of losing our land, or more so our identity, which history has time and again proved disastrous but right.

Rostow, W. W. (1960). The stages of economic growth: A non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge University Press.
Tucker, R. C. (1972). Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx. Cambridge: University Press.
Das, O. K. (2016). District Report: Churachadpur.Guwahati: ICSSR.
Mehta, P. B. (2003). The burden of democracy. New Delhi: Penguin Books.

P.S. The Writer is an M.A. student in Centre for Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi. Views are personal. Copyrighted content. 5th September, 2017.