ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Namrup Fertiliser Plant

Development projects in Assam have been grossly neglected while insurgency and political issues have claimed centre stage. The Namrup Fertiliser Plant is a prominent example of such neglect. Political opposition ensured that in spite of the viability of the Namrup plant, its fate was tied to the economically sick Hindustan Fertiliser Corporation (HFCL). It is time politicians realised that the struggle to separate the Namrup unit from the other units of HFCL is part of a larger movement to promote development, which, in turn, could prove to be the best check on insurgent politics in the region.

It seems that several central leaders are finally coming round to accept the position that much of Assam’s woes could possibly be traced to New Delhi’s treatment of this region as a sort of ‘colonial hinterland’. While delivering the Lachit Barphukan Memorial Lecture at the Guwahati University recently, George Fernandes referred to the perennial neglect of Assam and the north-eastern region by the centre and said that insurgency in the area was directly linked with infrastructural backwardness and the high rate of unemployment. The defence minister has made similar statements before and, given his strong trade union background and socialist credentials, there is no reason to doubt his sincerity. But, one would have hoped that such statements by leading functionaries of the NDA government would also be backed up by concrete action. It is not enough for the prime minister to assure a delegation from Assam that the state’s flood problem would be tackled at the central level. The people of Assam would like to see some concrete steps in that direction before the next floods set in. But, alas, between the intention and the deed there always falls the shadow. And that shadow has been formed by decades of neglect, viewing this region as a periphery which has been precariously hanging on to the union, not as a part of the overall Indian mindset.

Many will recall that the first popular upsurge in Assam occurred in the late 50s over the demand for a refinery in the state. This was followed by several other popular movements ranging from the demand for a bridge over the Brahmaputra to a second refinery. One may also recall the stand taken by the central government regarding the setting up of the first refinery, when defence reasons were cited to stall the move. In reply to Nehru’s letter that a refinery could not be set up in Assam because the defence ministry had objections, Bishnuram Medhi retorted that if the centre could defend over fifteen hundred and more of crude carrying pipeline, it should have no problem in defending a single refinery! And this exchange took place between a prime minister who is rightly credited with ushering in the technical age in India and who proudly proclaimed that modern India’s temples were its factories. Obviously, even for Nehru, what was urgently necessary in the form of an expanding industrial infrastructure for the rest of the country, was not so for Assam and the north-eastern region. As a school student, this writer recalls a public meeting in Shillong in the late 50s where Nehru declared that if Assam needed a bridge over the Brahmaputra, it would have to produce the steel needed for it. When one sees the centre’s dilly-dallying over the future of one of the country’s very few profit-making public sector organisations like the Namrup Fertiliser Plant, one cannot help but cry foul against the centre. The story of Namrup Fertiliser Plant is yet another example of New Delhi’s insensitivity towards the needs of the people of this region. One had hoped that with a change of hands in Delhi and the ending of the monopoly of Congress rule, there would be a change in the overall attitude of the centre towards this region. But, protests notwithstanding, the mindset that has grown over the past half-century seems to have remained intact.

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