BTC Principal Secretary gives glimpse into economic landscape of Kokrajhar

Priyanka Chakrabarty

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Guwahati: Kokrajhar the headquarters and economic nerve centre of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), is an important town for the Bodos, the single largest tribal community in Assam. Business North East recently reached out to the Principal Secretary, Akash Deep.

Excerpts of this interview are below:

Business North East: What is the current economic status of Bodo people living in Kokrajhar?

Akash Deep: Kokrajhar has a mixed economy with agriculture, small-scale industries, and trade. The Bodo people, like many other indigenous communities in India, have faced challenges such as land alienation, lack of adequate infrastructure, and limited access to education and healthcare. However, efforts have been made by both governmental and non-governmental organizations to improve the socio- economic conditions of the Bodo people through various development programs and initiatives.

Bodos in Kokrajhar are primarily agriculturists, paddy being the primary crop. They have also started to diversify their economic activities through scaling up traditional practices such as animal husbandry, sericulture, and handloom and textiles.

BNE: What kind of livelihood options are available in the district?

AD: Kokrajhar is a significant livelihood option in the region, with fertile land supporting the cultivation of crops like rice, maize, jute, pulses, and vegetables. The region is also known for its rich tradition of handicrafts, including bamboo, cane products, textiles, pottery, and woodcraft. Sericulture, or silk farming, provides employment opportunities to local communities. Livestock rearing, including dairy, poultry, and pig farming, contributes to the local economy. Kokrajhar's natural beauty attracts tourists, offering livelihoods in the hospitality sector, including hotels, restaurants, and eco-tourism ventures. Small-scale industries, such as food processing units, handloom and textile mills, bamboo-based industries, and agro-based enterprises, also contribute to economic growth. Kokrajhar's status as a hub for education and administration in the Bodoland Territorial Region also creates employment opportunities.

BNE: What is the progress of Kokrajhar becoming a location for Bharat Darshan?

AD: Kokrajhar's rich cultural heritage, diverse indigenous communities, traditional handicrafts, and natural beauty make it a promising destination for tourism development. For Kokrajhar the government has allocated Rs 70 crore as part of the project. A comprehensive master plan has been developed with a focus on ‘hero interventions’ at Diplai Beel near Kokrajhar as a ‘Wetlands Experience Park’. This masterplan has been approved and has moved into the ‘DPR’ stage. Soft aspects like marketing, capacity building and development of Information Technology (IT) infrastructure are also in various stages of planning and conceptualisation. Eco-huts on the banks of the lakes are expected to draw nature lovers and tourists. In addition, there will be canopy walking, hiking in Chakrashila hills.

BNE: How are Bodo women making their living? What steps are being taken for their empowerment?

AD: Bodo women, like women in many other communities, engage in a variety of livelihood activities to support themselves and their families. They are involved in various stages of farming, from planting and tending crops to harvesting and processing agricultural produce. They are skilled in traditional crafts such as weaving, bamboo and cane craft, pottery, and traditional textile production. Bodo women create a wide range of handicraft products, which are sold locally or through cooperatives and self-help groups. They rear silkworms, cultivate mulberry plants, and engage in silk yarn production. Sericulture provides employment opportunities and income generation for many women in the community.

Steps are being taken for the empowerment of Bodo women through various initiatives aimed at enhancing their socio-economic status, promoting gender equality, and developing women's entrepreneurship: 9,685 Self Help Groups i.e. 96,850 women have been supported with a total of Rs. 24.2 crores through Mainao Swrang Bithangki. At the same time, 9,000 women are covered through Individual assets like poultry shed, goat sheds, and farm machinery banks, etc, 12 out of 19 All Women Farmers Producers Companies (FPCs) have already received financial grants of Rs. 1.5 Lakhs each, while 7 all women FPCs have further received Rs. 3.95 Lakhs each as 1st Trance Funding under FPC management cost. Convergence of multi-sectoral schemes for empowerment has been prioritized for women by the BTR Government under Onsai Bithangki, Bodoland Handloom Mission, Bodoland Sericulture Mission, Mahila Lakhpati Initiative, etc. A special budgetary provision for Bodoland Women Empowerment Mission has been designed for FY 2024-25 onwards.

BNE: What kind of entrepreneurship practices are present in Kokrajhar? What steps are being taken for emancipation of local entrepreneurs?

AD: Given the region's agrarian economy, agro-based entrepreneurship is prevalent in Kokrajhar. Local entrepreneurs engage in activities such as food processing, organic farming, dairy farming, and production of value-added agricultural products. Kokrajhar has a rich tradition of handicrafts, including bamboo and cane craft, traditional textiles, pottery, and woodcraft. Local artisans and entrepreneurs produce a variety of handicraft products, which are sold locally, regionally, and even internationally.

The BTR administration is actively taking steps for the emancipation of local entrepreneurs in Kokrajhar through various initiatives aimed at promoting entrepreneurship: Bodoland Rural Industrial Centers across BTR are being set-up for regenerating rural industries, trade and commerce and also for tapping the potential of trade and exchange along the Indo- Bhutan border areas of BTR. These centers will also promote rural enterprises of farmers, SHGs and entrepreneurs through providing incubation support, grants-in-aid, and technological know-how. A bodoland agricultural festival is being organized to provide a common platform to our farmers and researchers, rural entrepreneurs and consumers for holistic development of the agriculture sector in BTR. The aim is to gradually transform BTR into an International agriculture hub. Through the Bodoland Pig Mission, the Govt. is trying to help piggery farmers to transition to more scientific farming methods and help them construct modern pig farms. Moreover, 10 Dairy Clusters for milk production shall be set up in the next five years and these clusters shall produce 1.5 lakh liters of milk per day. Already 3 dairy clusters have been taken under the Bodofa livelihood mission, and financial assistance to the tune of Rs. 90 lakhs per cluster shall be provided. In each cluster, focus will be on breed improvement, silage production, milk collection system and value addition. In view of bee-keeping being a huge potential in BTR owing to our large areas under forest cover, we will strengthen Bodoland Sweet Mission as a livelihood option in rural areas to benefit 1000 individual farmers, SHGs and budding entrepreneurs.

Moreover, 50,000 sericulture farmers are being trained and supported to establish clusters, develop production centers and marketing units. Having completed the formation of 20 handloom clusters, we will now collectivize and form another 300 weavers’ clusters to enhance primary weavers’ incomes and link them up for financial support, transactions and linkages under the community ecosystem strengthening component. Recognizing the importance of pisciculture as an important source of livelihood for the people of BTR, we plan to promote integrated fish culture units across BTR, and enhance the existing pond area of 133 hectare to 300 Hectare in the next 5 years.

BNE: What is the role of Bodoland University in improving the condition of local people? How much local employment was facilitated in the university?

AD: Bodoland University, by providing quality education and skill development opportunities, empowers local youth with knowledge and skills necessary for employment and entrepreneurship. Bodoland University engages in research and innovation activities aimed at addressing local challenges, promoting sustainable development, and preserving indigenous knowledge and culture. Faculty and students undertake research projects in areas such as agriculture, language and culture, and socio-economic development, contributing to the body of knowledge and solutions relevant to the region.

Bodoland University serves as a major employer in the region, providing job opportunities for local residents in various capacities such as faculty, administrative staff, and support personnel. The university's presence contributes to local employment and economic development, directly benefiting the livelihoods of many individuals and families in the surrounding areas.

Further, Bodoland University also organised Bodoland International Knowledge Festival (BIKF) in 2023. This engaged over 10,000 youth from across Bodoland in various knowledge building, learning activities for a better career development and co-curricular growth.

BNE: What are the current and future plans in Kokrajhar for its growth and development?

AD: The Bodo region, once unstable, has experienced peace, growth, and development. The BTR Peace Accord 2020 extended autonomy, promoting sustainable development. The Bodoland Trade and Industries Development Corporation Limited was registered and operational, and Kajalgaon, Chirang has been designated as the Industrial Hub. Two industrial estates are being set up at Ramphalbil and Kokilabari. Infrastructural projects worth Rs. 1,500 crore are being approved and executed. The Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) has established a petroleum, oil lubricants, and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) depot in Kamardanga, aiming to enhance employment, energy accessibility, and socio-economic progress in BTR, Assam, and northeast India. The government plans to target potential industrial sectors like bamboo value chain development, food processing, tourism, and horticulture. Mini technology centers will be established in BTR. The Joint Convergence Coordination Committee will develop a comprehensive Industrial Policy to improve coordination between critical departments. The BTR Government is also focusing on overall development and strengthening implementation of Central Government schemes across different departments.

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Priyanka Chakrabarty