Key Development Perception Findings
Overall, key development issues highlighted by respondents were jobs (71%), health (56%), education (54%), inflation (33%), Covid and corruption (25% each), peace, law and order (23%).
For women, top issues were financial dependence on men (51%), unequal pay (42%), access to health (16%) and domestic violence (16%).
For tribals, 46% perceive need for a new political formation for their development. They rated government’s performance as poor or very poor (76% for Left Govt.), (73% for BJP-led Govt). For tribals, tribal statehood is a big issue, but tribal development is even bigger.
Assembly-wise qualitative finding points towards some serious anomalies at grassroots level. These were more glaring in schools and anganwadi centres e.g., hugely lopsided teacher-student ratio, poor classroom infrastructure, unsafe drinking water, unhygienic toilets, mid-day meals sans nutrition, and child-unsafe campuses. Poor public toilets, safe drinking water, water logging, choked municipal drainage, flooding, rampant mosquito breeding, malaria were common issues too. Political bias in rolling out popular govt. schemes e.g., housing, tap-water were frequently reported, besides rampant drug trafficking around border areas.
A closer look at the development perception data also indicates towards an uneasy political mandate for the two major contenders and minor contestants if there were elections to be held anytime soon.
Professionals Experiential Insights
For a more rounded assessment and to compliment the quantitative information, SUSCO-TU also interviewed several local experts esp. who have a deeper understanding of state politics, developmental issues, economy, society, law, culture, and environment.
The study was concluded on 25th March 2022 with an open-house panel discussion titled ‘Sustainable Development of Tripura’ with some of these subject matter experts at the TU Campus, where student interns directly engaged with the panel and sought responses against their firsthand field-level observations.
The panelists included Ms. Vishwasree B. (DM and Collector, Sephajala; an IRMA post-graduate), Dr. Sumanta Chakrobarty (Registrar of MBB University; a Ph.D. in Environmental Health Engineering from BITS, Pilani), Dr. Sarat Kumar Das, State Project Officer, Disaster Management Authority), Dr. Shymal Das (Dean, Faculty of Arts and Commerce) and Abhishek Chaturvedi (Co-founder, Chief Executive of SUSCO).
Despite being a small state, discussions revealed the complexities involved in planning and implementing initiatives. Falling under the dangerous seismic Zone 5, fragile ecosystem and environmental degradation, significant dependence on agroforestry, primitive economy, substantial dependence on basic goods from other states (even food items like fish and eggs), an overwhelming influence of Bangladesh (both legal and illegal), poor rural infrastructure (health, education, potable water, sanitation, roads) and a mindset ossified in time, are some of the basic realities.
Abhishek stressed the need for co-creating development initiatives designed for high-growth and high social impact in Tripura with like-minded stakeholders among government, academia, industry, multilateral and bilateral agencies, civil society organisations, media and local communities. He acknowledged the work being done by the government, but also viewed it as unsustainable and unsynchronized without diversifying the stakeholder base and in the absence of a spirit of co-creation with the local communities. He added that Tripura is perfectly positioned at the cusp of breaking free from its current and past pull-back factors, and just need the right stakeholder-mix to take-off.
Vishwashree rightly opined, ‘sustainable practices have to be looked at from a different perspective by taking into consideration the local community issues and in the process, enable them to access the resources in a way that they want and when they want… government plays a vital role as an initiator and catalyst to bring that change and development.’
Sumanta pointed at the ‘enormous contribution of clean air from Northeast India to the rest of India’ and must be compensated with carbon credits. Sarat, nonetheless, cautioned that ‘infrastructure development initiatives must be earthquake proof’, adding that the ‘mindless construction across urban areas is very worrisome’.
Co-create Multi-stakeholder Hybrids, Pull Sustainably
While the food subsidy during the Covid pandemic from the Indian Government helped check millions slipping into extreme poverty, based on the purchasing power parity (PPP) of $1.9 (around INR 150) per person a day (IMF), opinion among global economists is divided. Likewise, while the GDP of Tripura increased (even during the covid-years) overtaking the national average, but that too is contested.
To sum up, the government has rightly switched to Act East policy, but by being the lone stakeholder (unlike most other states) it won’t be able to pull it off at the speed and trajectory that’s required when it comes to bridging Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and breaking the multi-dimensional poverty charts.
It needs to rope in others, esp. whose business is entwined with social and environmental transformation, and whose approach participatory and co-creative. But first it’s essential for the government to help establish honest post-covid baselines, prior to any goal setting. And in this the role of university students, youth could be crucial in bringing out community needs and success stories, like the one done in the SUSCO-TU study.
The governments at the Centre and State must immediately facilitate meaningful multistakeholder dialogues, commission social impact assessments (SIA) of its work by committed external experts and enable community needs assessments (CNA) for mapping future course of development.
Because, while counting the number of trees, one must not lose sense of the wood!
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.