The largest state in the Northeast with an area of 78,438 square kilometers and a population of 3.2 crores, Assam has witnessed significant development over the past few years since it came out of the grapples of decades-long insurgency.
The Central Government’s focus on the Northeast in recent years has also helped Assam navigate through the local issues and carve out a path of inclusive growth for itself. Assam has been recognized as the ‘Most Improved Big State (Overall)’ in the annual State of the States survey carried out by India Today magazine. It has been bagging the top slot for three consecutive years – 2018, 2019, and 2020. The state scored 1,222.3 out of a total of 2,000 points.
The state has emerged as a frontrunner in the Life on Land category of the 2020 edition of the Niti Aayog’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) India Index. It has also made significant gains in the health and education sectors. However, despite significant improvement across various sectors, it still ranks 17th in terms of its contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Therefore, to change the status quo and put Assam on the list of top drivers of India’s growth, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has promised to make Assam amongst the top five performers in the country by 2026. The task, however difficult it may sound, might not be impossible given Sarma’s track record in revamping the education and health sectors in the state during his tenure as a Cabinet Minister.
The Assam Government is developing an ambitious reform agenda to unlock the state’s growth potential over the medium term, focusing on policy and institutional reforms dovetailed with downstream investments in related sectors. On specific parameters to ensure all-round development, one of the primary areas of focus is the faster achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) As Chief Minister Sarma pointed out, the state has progressed to the ‘performer’ category from the ‘aspirant’ category in the SDG India Index 2020-21.
Though the state has incorporated reforms suggested by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade in the past, more concrete steps need to be taken in this regard. The state also improved its ranking in the export competitiveness and innovation parameters.
Governmental interventions like enabling single-window clearance, simplifying the regulatory hurdles through segregation of compliances and procedural guidelines, limiting the number of required compliances, encouraging more patent filing across higher educational institutes to nurture a culture of innovation, amongst other measures are some of the steps in the right direction.
In terms of the gross state domestic product (GSDP) and GSDP per capita figures, the state still has significant ground to cover before it could make a place in the top five states. However, Assam as a state can start by working towards increasing its per capita GSDP and reaching levels comparable to states like Kerala and Odisha which have a similar population sizes.
The state should also engage its SITA (State Innovation and Transformation Aayog) to actively participate in the process and come up with innovative solutions to complex problems that have been a hindrance to economic growth in the state.
Assam, being an agrarian economy primarily, relies heavily on agriculture. The One District One Product (ODOP) program of the Government of India could be a game-changer for an economy like Assam. The construction, hospitality, and financial services sectors are some of the fastest-growing sectors in the state.
Given specific focus from the Government, these sectors could drive the state’s growth in the future. Assam’s performance in recent times across a host of areas ranging from its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to the way the Government handled the micro-loan crisis, indicates that it could be one of the states to watch out for in the near future.