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Arunachal Pradesh - Economy

Till not so long ago, an overwhelming majority of the people in Arunachal depended on agriculture, which was based mainly on swidden cultivation, the slash-and-burn method that is known in North-East India as jhum. A small minority of people (mainly the Apatanis, the Singpho and the Khamptis of Lohit district) who were settled in river valleys and plateaus practised permanent cultivation. Agriculture was basically limited to the production of paddy, the staple food of the people. Crop production was supplemented by a number of activities: hunting, fishing, and the collection of forest produce. Industrial activities were interwoven with household level production; no separate professional class, fully distinguishable from the agrarian population, appeared.

As awareness of material comforts grows, societal leaders will have to decide how to reconcile the appetite for material development with the tribal way of life. Elsewhere these transitions have sometimes led to severe dislocation or even the extinction of tribal culture. As a result, most students' bodies and other civil society organizations -- representing tribal pressure groups -are vehemently opposed to developments such as the large hydroelectric power projects that the Government of India is proposing and, in some cases, started building.

The arguments against these projects are familiar -- destruction of fragile biodiversity, displacement/submergence of tribal villages and the resulting socio-economic disruptions, or seismic hazards. While some of these concerns are genuine (especially the seismic concerns), one suspects many are being driven by simple xenophobia.

Ironically, the groups making these arguments live in modern homes in the capital, wear Western clothes for the most part, and often have a Western education. But they are trying to preserve "their" way of life back in the villages. Hence the confusion: They say the people of Arunachal are not averse to shopping malls, but they will not let the owner of the shop be from Calcutta, Mumbai or New Delhi. They say they want factories and projects, but will not ease IL or PAP restrictions to enable the engineers and executives to travel to the state at short notice.

Arunachal has three primary areas of economic potential: hydropower, forest-based industries, and tourism. With nearly 50,000 MW of hydroelectricity potential, Chief Minister Gegong Apang envisioned his state as the "powerhouse of India." The Indian government, through the North East Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) and National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), has identified 68 major power projects. Of these NEEPCO has completed one (Ranaganadi Stage 1) and one is under construction (Kameng); NHPC is also building the 2,000 MW Subansiri (Lower) with a scheduled completion date of 2010. Basic survey and infrastructure development is underway for eight other of these projects. The state government would also like to encourage its own medium-size projects, generating 100-500 MW, and claims it is open to "outside" investment -- including U.S.-sourced investment -- through the build-operate-transfer route. The state is trying to overcome objections to these projects by holding public hearings where villagers participate.

According to the state Forest Department, Arunachal's forests generate 30,000 cubic feet per year of Non-Timber Forest Produce (cane, bamboo, etc.) that is supplied to the local factories. Nearly 6,000 hectares of forest is replanted every year. Agriculture is carried out primarily through low-productivity slash-and-burn (jhum) technique, which, given the low density of population, is not currently an environmental threat. Despite its vast tourism potential, the infrastructure is limited and the obstacles -- such as the permit system -- substantial.

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Page last modified: 21-02-2018 17:59:53 ZULU