Assam is popularly known as the Gateway to the North-East, the region made up by India’s seven north-eastern states. It forms one of these “Seven Sisters” states along with Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya and shares international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh. It is India’s 14th most populous state, with 31.2 million people across 27 districts.
Although relatively stable in recent years, Assam has a history of conflict and tension between ethnic groups and separatist movements. The Bodoland TerritorialArea Districts (BTAD) especially have seen considerable violence with the Bodos, the largest tribe in the State of Assam, gaining control of the area in 2003 after an agreement with the Indian government. Since then, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) has been a coalition partner to one of the country’s two leading parties, Indian National Congress.Conflict between groups and factions in the BTAD has continued, with sporadic violent incidents.
Assam’s economy is predominantly agriculture-based, with 69 per cent of the population engaged in the sector. It is the biggest producer of quality tea in India, contributing over 50 per cent of the country’s overall produce. Assam state is also rich in petroleum, natural gas, coal and limestone deposits. It is one of the richest biodiversity zones in the world and consists of tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, riverine grasslands, bamboo orchards and numerous wetlandecosystems.
Assam is a multi-hazard state and prone to floods, earthquakes, storms and landslides along with man-made disasters, and has a history of major disasters ranging from large earthquakes to severe floods.It also faces acute flooding and erosion problems. Growth in most of the cities and towns is haphazard and uncontrolled. Poorly built and maintained infrastructure and lack of adherence to minimum construction safety standards makes the impact of earthquakes much greater.
Reducing the Under-Five Mortality Rate (U5MR) and Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) continue to be priorities for the state, which records the greatest number of deaths in India on these measures. Assam’s U5MR is 75 per 1000 live-births. While it was able to bring down the MMR from 480 per 100,000 in 2004-05, the number at last survey remained at 328 per 100,000 live-births. There are other signs of hope, with Assam successfully bringing down the Neonatal Mortality Rate (NMR) to the national average of 29 per 1,000 live births.
Assam began implementing the national Right to Education programme in 2009 through a series of state-level consultative workshops for senior officers of the Education Department and State Council of Education, Research and Training. Through this process, a framework of implementation rules and select government resolutions were drafted and subsequently approved by state cabinet in 2011.
The 2011 census showed some encouraging progress for Assam on education. The female literacy rate rose from 54.61 per cent in 2001 to 67.27 per cent. The census put the state’s overall literacy rate at 73.18 per cent, up from 63.25 per cent in 2001.
In response to the national Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), Assam has established child protection structures and mechanisms in a range of districts. It is the first state to officially declare a Child Protection Day. Celebrated on March 4 each year, the day marks anniversary of the establishment of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR) under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005.
While Assam is categorized a low HIV-prevalence state, with an estimated adult rate of 0.07 per cent compared with the national rate of 0.27 per cent, the number of adults with HIV has risen from 0.04 per cent in 2007 and is being monitored.