Profile of Karimganj District, Assam, India
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Economy and Development

Development status

Developmental scenario of Karimganj district is not very bright. In fact, it is one of the most backward districts of India in terms of socio- economic development. The CMIE index (a comparative index of development generated by the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy with index for India as base of 100) for Karimganj District stands at 39 in comparison to 54 for state (Assam) and 100 for India. Geographical remoteness from the main part of the country coupled with poor communication and other infra-structural facilities are the main factors behind the low level of development.

Workforce and Employment

As per 2001 census, out of the total population of 1007976, only 235,016 (23%) persons constitute the main work-force, 68,278 (7%) account for marginal workers, leaving the rest 70% population non-workers and hence, economically non-productive.

Distribution of Workforce

Out of the 235,016 main workers again, 153,321 (68%) are engaged in agriculture and allied activities like farming, fishing, forestry, horticulture etc. Industries (household as well as non-household), mining & quarrying, construction works etc. all combine account for only 16,859 (8%) of main workers. Trade, commerce, transportation, communication etc. account for another 26,730 (12%). The rest 25,750 (12%) are engaged in the service sector.

Primary Sector

Agriculture : Econony of Karimganj district is agrarian in character with as much as 60% of the active workforce engaged in cultivation. Together with Farming, Livestock, Fishery, Forestry etc, the Primary sector of economy engages a total of 68% of active workforce. But the net area sown at around 35% of the total land area has remained more or less stagnant for years due to low rate of multiple cropping, which again, is the result of poor irrigation facility, even though the district is fed by three perennial rivers, large swamps and watersheds. As a consequence, the productivity is rather low. For example, in 1997-98, winter Rice - the main farm product - registered a productivity of 1,759 Kg/Ha. Sugarcane, areca nut, vegetables etc are also significant farm products. Sugarcane production in 1995-96 was put at 121,355 M.T. while areca nut production was 1,083 M.T. Other cultivated crops are large in variety, but low in quantity having little marketable surplus. Leaving 30% of total land area under forest, the remaining 35% is either barren, fallow or uncultivable wasteland.

Plantation : Among plantation crops, Tea and Rubber are the major ones with the turnover of the former being 77 Lakh Kg. and the latter, about 1 Lakh Kg. The total land area under 27 tea gardens in the district is about 25,000 Hectares, although only about one-third of this land is under actual tea plantation. Rubber plantation in the district is relatively new and occupies only a fraction of the land under tea plantation. Most of tea and almost whole of the rubber output is exported to other states/countries.

Fishing : Karimganj District has huge potential for fishery, being endowed with a large number of rivers, swamps, ponds and other natural water bodies. There are 49 registered beels covering a total area of 4,420 Hectares and about 23,535 smaller ponds and lakes covering another 3,545 Hectares. Besides, there are 7 river based fisheries in operation. Total Fish production in the district in 1997-98 was 8372.97 M.T. Besides, about 176.338 Million fry and fingerlings were also produced in the same year. In spite of this, the district is far from being self-sufficient in fish production, particularly, owing to the huge consumption of the item. Large quantities of fish is imported from distant states of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and also neighbouring country of Bangladesh.

Farming : Livestock and Poultry occupy an important place in the rural economy and also act as household assets. Cattle, buffalo, goat, sheep, pig etc are the most common livestock animals while hen and duck comprise the poultry birds. However, egg production is very much deficient and therefore imported from other states in large quantity.

Forestry : Timber, Bamboo, Cane, Stone, Sand are the major forest products of the district. The district has about 54 thousand hectares of forest area covering almost 30% of the total area. The forests are rich in various costly timbers like teak, sundi, gamari etc. Huge quantity of bamboo is harvested and supplied regularly to paper mill in the neighbouring Hailakandi District. However, in the last few years, restrictions have been imposed on cutting of trees to prevent large scale deforestation and as a result, timber production has gone down considerably.

Secondary Sector

Industry : There is no large or medium scale industry in the district. The only sugar mill located at Chargola near Ratabari is closed for more than a year. A nunber of industries like textiles, polythene etc. set up in the Badarpur Industrial Estates a few years back have mostly closed down due to infra-structural problems. All existing industries in the district are in the small or cottage sector. Tea processing, Food Products, Bamboo & Cane Products, Saw & Plywood, Weaving etc. are the industries comprising the entire Secondary Sector of economy. Cane furniture, mats, decoration pieces manufactured in the cottage industries of Karimganj are supplied to all over india and are in great demand all over.

Oil & Natural Gas exploration : Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has been engaged in exploration works at several drilling sites in the district. There are indictions of large reserve of natural gas in the region. Already natural gas is being drilled on commercial basis from one drill site at Adamtilla in Patharkandi Block. A small gas-turbine based power station with an installed capacity of 15 MW has been set up at that location by DLF Corporation to generate and distribute eletricity, which has been functioning for the last 3 years.

Tertiary Sector

The Tertiary Sector of Economy is a key sector constituted by
(a) Construction (engaging 2.30% of Active Workforce),
(b) Trade & Commerce (9%),
(c) Transport & Communication (3.30%),
(d) Other Services (11.50%)

Trade & Commerce : As per last general Census held in 2001, around 9% of the active workforce in Karimganj district is engaged in trade and commerce. Before independence, Karimganj towm was an important centre for trade and commerce in the entire region due to good communication links both by rail and by steamer services through what is now Bangladesh. Direct trade links with Calcutta snapped after partition of the land in 1947 and gradually the importance of Karimganj as a trading centre also lost its glory. The direct rail service was totally stopped and the steamer service continued in a limping manner. Presently the rail link through Badarpur-Lumding-Guwahati-New Jalpaiguri/Siliguri is the only railway link, albeit a very long one, connecting Karimganj to the rest of the country. Similarly, the national highway through Badarpur-Shillong-Guwahati is the only viable road link available. In view of the immense importance of this road link on the entire economy of this region, the road has been considerably improved, making it more stable, wider and less landslide prone.
Karimganj has to has to depend on the supply from rest of India for most of the items of daily need, such as food grains, spices, sugar and other food items, textiles & garments, construction materials, automobiles & auto-parts, stationery items and so on. The supply of Kerosene, Petrol, diesel, L.P.G., paper etc comes from other parts of Assam.
Among the export items, tea, bamboo & bamboo products, cane & cane products, forest products like timber & stone, areca nut (betelnut) are the major ones.
Internal trade in the district has been seriously hampered by very bad road conditions, border area restrictions on trade, low productivity of agricultural sector, poverty of mass population keeping down demand, low credit disbursement from banks and so on.
However, international trade with Bangladesh has picked up considerably in the recent years and promises to grow further. At present a large number of items like food items, fruits, coal and other products of daily use, mostly sourced from outside the district are exported to Bangladesh through two border points in Karimganj. While Kalibari Ghat on River Kushiara in Karimganj town is utilised for supplying goods by boats and small steamers, Sutarkandi border point - about 12 Km. away from Karimganj Town is extensively used for direct road tranportation of export items. An International Trading Centre and Free Trade Zone in Sutarkandi is proposed to be set up raising great expectations about a new boost to the local economy. Last year, exports worth about Rs. 50 Crores were carried out through Karimganj Border, which resulted in considerable foreign exchange earnings. According to exporters based in Karimganj, given some diversification of traded goods, a little tax inducements from Government, improvement of roads and other infra-tructure, the volume of border trade can go up manifold from its present level. Apart from the current products like coal, foodgrains, spices, sugar, fruits and vegetables etc - which are sourced from outside, many other locally available items like paper, bamboo, stone etc may have large export potential.

Gross Domestic Product - District Level

The Economics & Statistics Deptt. has made a tentative assessment of contributions made by some of the sectors of economy in the district. Although not complete or perfect, some indications regarding the general economic status is available from this study. The estimated contributions of various sectors towards District Domestic Product (DDP) are as follows :
Agriculture : Rs. 203 Crores
Fishing : Rs. 83 Crores
Farming : Rs. 70 Crores
Forest : Rs. 5 Crores
Industry : Rs. 71 Crores

Basic information with regard to the share of the tertiary sector is not available yet. However, after taking certain assumptions, the per capita DDP in 1996-97 was put at Rs. 1,628 /- based on 1980-81 price level and at Rs. 6,663 /- at current price level.

To arrive at Gross Income, we have to add the total foreign exchange remittances received from family members living and earning abroad, the estimated value of which may be put at around Rs. 100 Crores per annum.

Problems and Prospects

The district suffers from lack of infra-structure and poor communication facilities. The main sector of economy - agriculture - is primitive in nature with poor productivity. In the other sectors too, lack of entrepreneurship, low credit-deposit ratio, erratic electricity, unusable roads during monsoon, periodic floods etc. have stifled development. High population density (457 per Sq.Km in 1991, 475 in 2001) - which is second highest in the entire North-East, puts additional pressure on the limited cultivable land.

However, there is enough scope for development if the inherent strengths and unique advantages are adequately harnessed. Vast forest reserve, huge potential for fishery, horticulture and other agro-based industries, possible natural gas reserve and also immense possibility of border trade with Bangladesh - provide a bright hope for an economic turnaround. National Highway - 44, the main road link with rest of the country is now in a much better condition than earlier. Conversion of existing Meter Gauge rail link through Hill Section to Broad Gauge is in progress and once completed, will facilitate direct and uninterrupted rail communication to anywhere in the country. Talks are also on regarding opening up of the Border with Bangladesh for resumption of direct rail, road and steamer communication with Calcutta. Hopefully, the coming years will see a sea-change and rapid development in the economic status of the district.

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