Tourism too requires well-developed infrastructure. It also needs good packaging and a marketing strategy to attract a large number of tourists from home and abroad. Unlike many other tourist destinations in India with significant historical monuments, Assam will have to rely on nature
the rivers, the hills, and the wildlife – to bring in tourists. Rang Ghar, Kareng Ghar will not be too
alluring to most tourists after a visit to Taj Mahal or to Ambar Fort or to the caves of Ajanta and Ellora. Once again, the climatic conditions of Assam may not be very conducive to the tourism industry. Rains and floods now occur more frequently between April and October – much beyond the ‘official’ monsoon season – and will be a major deterrent for tourism even with well developed infrastructure. Ecotourism may not be a major driver of economic growth as some enthusiasts have suggested. Only a handful of tourists are interested in adventurous ecotourism. Demand for tourism comes mainly from middle income consumers with very conventional expectations. Furthermore, the socio-political problems which often take violent form may also deter tourists from coming to Assam. Advanced countries like the U.S. has special advisory for their citizens travelling in Assam and other northeastern states. Finally, in order to promote tourism as a major industry in Assam, it will also require some cultural adjustments. The hospitality that is so elemental to the colorful culture of Assam has to be geared towards the market forces of demand and supply, an adjustment that may not always be pleasant.
The ‘look east’ policy is poised to benefit Assam and other northeastern states by facilitating free movements of goods and people between this part of India and the southeast Asian countries. While the people in Assam will benefit from being able to consume cheap imported goods from China and countries in southeast Asia, there is not much, out of what Assam produces now, to export to those countries. The export of tea to this region may increase. Some handicraft items may find a market. The overall impact on the economy is not likely to be very significant. Further, if Assam and other northeastern states are used just as a trade corridor, without integrating them into the production of traded goods, the gain would be inconsequential for the overall economic development of the region. There may be unintended consequences such as smuggling of illegal drugs and arms, human trafficking, and a surge of violent crimes. Thus, while a comprehensive policy that provides checks and balances for all potential outcomes, good and bad, might work in favor of the overall development of the state, successful implementation of such a policy will involve a long gestation period.
The policy recommendations for economic growth and development of Assam do not seem to have paid too much attention to tapping the human resources in the state. The state has a good pool of highly qualified, technically skilled young people who unfortunately have to leave the state in search of jobs every year. Based on the availability of this stock of human resources alone, Assam can hope to make profitable investment in service industries, particularly those in information services (like Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), advertising, publishing, media companies). There are several advantages to information service industries. In general, these industries require low investment in physical capital and infrastructure. They are less vulnerable to the climatic conditions and to political and social disruptions. Furthermore, these industries may also suit the temperament of the people of Assam. Casual observations indicate that there is a strong preference for jobs that require less physical activities, particularly among the educated people. The information services fit very well into such preferences.
With a large number of institutions of higher education, Assam is well-positioned to train and prepare a workforce necessary for such industries. With five universities, one Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), three engineering colleges, three medical colleges and numerous undergraduate