Development Perception Survey of Tripura Calls for Co-creation, Multi-stakeholder Engagements-I

By Abhishek Chaturvedi and Sharmila Chhotaray

The Current Context

It’s been a positive start by the NDA-led govts. at Centre and Tripura State since 2018 with the kind of economic and social push, despite the covid blow.

Even if purely commonsense and nothing unusual, it’s beyond any sensible thinking why such a push wasn’t a priority for erstwhile regime(s). Why thousands of lives had to be lost, over a generation ossified, human development stunted, frustration and hopelessness inviting external fissiparous forces to set up labs for insurgency, narcotics and human trafficking, before people voted for a regime change.

Not that it’s all begun, a ‘regime of truth’ shift, it’ll be interesting to see ‘what’ and ‘how’ governance around sustainable development is rolled out—top-down or bottom-up, trickle down or co-creative—in a land that’s socio-politically mired by the ‘indigenous vs outsiders’ discourse.

Given the grim state of socio-economic growth, a general distrust by people, apathy by the larger industry, complex rules over land use (mostly forested, managed by tribal autonomous councils), the Govt. of India and Tripura surely have a colossal and complex task cut out for itself.

Meanwhile, Sustainability Co-creators (SUSCO), a Gurgaon based social impact thinktank and Dept. of Sociology, Tripura University jointly undertook a ‘Development Perception Study’ across the state and spoke to a massive 12,000+ respondents to understand their issues, and the results are so explicit.

But before that one should ask if the govt. is keen to know, and if the development stakeholders in Tripura interested, let’s look at how the government is trying to pull, and what’s pulling it back?

The Double Engine Pull

Tripura has the 2nd highest per capita income (1.54 lakhs) after Sikkim (3.17 lakhs) among the NE states in India, and almost at par with the Indian average PCI (1.63 lakhs). It has reported positive economic growth during the covid years, even if contested.

Noteworthy among the walk-the-talk efforts by the Centre on its Act East policy are building of the Maitrei Setu bridge to boost Indo-Bangladesh trade, setting SEZ in Sabroom to attract investments, a $60 million loan by ADB for urban development activities, securing paddy farmers through launch of MSP.

The PR buzz around GI-tagged queen pineapples being exported to Middle East countries, shipment of richly crafted bamboo products, growing eco-tourist arrivals (over 5 lakhs in FY ‘18-19 alone), signing of MoUs worth thousands of crores with private sector in agri-forest industries such as rubber, agarwood (incense) and fruits, has gone down well.

So have been the social sector investments by the Centre in housing (PMAY), sanitation (Swatch Bharat), health (Ayushman), urban development (Smart City Mission), drinking water (Har Ghar Jal), clean cooking gas (Ujjwala), MNREGA, infrastructure, roads (Bharat Mala), introduction of premium trains (Vande Bharat, Shatabdi), and continued food subsidy (Covid-relief). Surely, all this has created an air of hope, change for better, and interest among people locally and outside.

Human Development Pull-back

The state, however, is confronted with serious developmental challenges. It’s ranked 25th on the HDI, 16th most poor on the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (Niti Ayog, 2021) with 16.65% households (HH) being multidimensionally poor, 28.02% deprived of basic nutrition, 13.5% deprived of maternal health, 10.79% not even completing basic six years of schooling, 56% deprived of clean fuels for cooking, 26% not having sanitation facility, 14% not having access to clean drinking water, 67% having inadequate or kutcha houses. N. Tripura and Dhalai districts face the maximum intensity of multi-dimension poverty with a massive 48% and 47% respectively, while others six aren’t better off.

Such a grim reality, reminiscent of ‘80s and ‘90s—a hangover from decades of systemic inertia—coupled with lack of opportunities, has created a vicious spiral of multi-dimensional poverty, jobless and uneven growth, almost total dependence on Centre and other states, sway into illegal trade with Bangladesh, resulting in a general feeling of hopelessness, lack of respect for law and institutions.

It’s worth a note that Tripura is now in the second place in the Northeast in terms of murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping and abduction, dowry related deaths, rape cases (NCRB). Being part of the international drug trafficking corridor between Myanmar and Bangladesh, drug peddling and consumption have been pushing the petty crimes chart in the state, besides the fear of narco-terror. News around organized human trafficking syndicates have also been making waves, victims of which are lured with lucrative jobs, education, and housing.

SUSCO-TU Development Perception Analysis

In March 2022, in a first of its kind, SUSCO and Dept. of Sociology, Tripura University (TU), jointly undertook an All-Tripura Development Perception survey across all eight districts of Tripura. By far, this was also the largest situational survey of community perception of this kind ever assumed by the Dept. in Tripura.

Post an intense orientation and training, the joint team drew a fool-proof field-engagement strategy that involved all 60 Assembly Seats (AS). Unlike a typical District, Block, Gram Panchayat, Village level engagement, as has usually been the norm with SUSCO in other states in India, it was decided that the team leverage upon the most recent Election Commission AS-wise date (a neutral autonomous institution) to overcome the double challenge of the extant 2011 Census data and the need to factor in new Covid-induced baselines. Also, to ensure minimal carbon footprint, paper-less, and quick response time, the study was digitally optimized using mobile phones.

Outcomes from engagement with 12,613 respondents—51% men and 49% women, 68% Bengalis (both Hindus, Muslims) and 32% Scheduled Tribes (ST), across castes, categories, and age groups—revealed what people’s key issues are, women’s issues, what STs think, satisfaction levels with current and previous governance around community development needs, successes and failures, and who they feel would be most appropriate to address their issues.

About the Authors

Abhishek Chaturvedi is India’s leading social impact advisor and Founder of Gurgaon-based Sustainability Co-creators.

Sharmila Chhotaray is Asst. Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Tripura University.


Representative pic taken from open source , internet : Editor