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Tripura attracting investors by taming insurgency: Manik Sarkar

By Sujit Chakraborty, IANS

Agartala : Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar says the ruling Left Front government’s success in taming the decades-old tribal insurgency is helping the state attract investors from as far as Japan and Germany.

“With the two-and-a-half-decade-old militancy showing signs of abating, countries like China, Japan, Germany, Thailand and Bangladesh, besides Indian investors, have shown interest to invest in or provide financial assistance to Tripura,” Sarkar told IANS in an interview.

Sarkar said China has agreed to provide technology to set up bamboo-based industries and livelihood opportunities to farmers and tribal people, while the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) would provide Rs.3.66 billion as soft loan to the state.

“Germany will also provide Rs.1.12 billion for ecological conservation projects and development of livelihood resources for tribals and other forest dwellers,” the chief minister said.

Last year, a Thai delegation led by Commerce Minister Krirk-Krai Jirapaet visited Tripura and expressed interest to invest in sectors like tourism, infrastructure, food processing and agro-based industries, he said.

“Though the central government praised the state government over its success in curbing militancy, we are not complacent. We have been keeping our security forces on alert in combating militancy and want a lasting solution,” Sarkar said.

Taking credit for his government’s achievements in stemming the insurgency, Sarkar said the number of extremist-related incidents fell from 499 in 2000 to 103 in 2007. Similarly, kidnappings have plunged from 542 in 2000 to 60 last year. Compared to 152 civilians killed in insurgency related violence in 2000, the toll in 2007 was only 20, he said.

“Our government’s basic objective is to improve the standard of living of all sections of people of Tripura, with special emphasis towards the uplift of economic condition of the poor,” the chief minister said.

Tripura’s per capita average annual income was only Rs.534 when it attained statehood in 1972 and the figure rose to Rs.20,357 in the last economic survey conducted in 2004. People living below the poverty line came down from 68 percent to 55 percent during the past eight years.

The 59-year-old Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member has now set his sight on creating political history in Tripura by becoming chief minister for the third straight time with assembly elections due next month.

“The state government has launched separate perspective plans to achieve self-sufficiency in foodgrains, fish, meat, dairy products and horticultural crops by 2010-12,” Sarkar said, and underlined his government’s focus on education. It wanted Tripura to be the educational hub in the northeastern region.

“The literacy rate of the state has increased to 81. 4 percent in 2005 from 30.98 percent in 1972. The school dropout rate has also come down from 87.29 percent in 1972 to 61.08 percent in 2006,” he said.

Healthcare is another area where the state government has laid maximum stress, besides welfare schemes for uplifting the downtrodden who account for about one-third of Tripura’s 3.5 million people, Sarkar said.

Rejecting corruption charges levelled by the opposition Congress, he said, “Social audit of development works and their expenditure is being conducted in the state and people, irrespective of party affiliations, are participating in the open auditing process. Can this be seen in any other part of the northeastern region?”

The leftist leader also expressed his confidence that the CPI-M would win the Feb 23 assembly poll for the sixth consecutive time. “The Left Front government has so far not done any such thing that went against the interests of the common people of the state,” Sarkar said.