This book was, perhaps, envisaged along with a conference titled ‘Social Sector Development in North-East India: Problems, Issues and Challenges’. The most striking point the book states is that human capital development should be the focus of all efforts for the social development of the region; it states this point but does not emphatically make it—does not delve much into it to provide a strong rationale for its validity. It is, however, this very underpinning that makes the work stand out from others (for, by now, plenty has been written about the status and development of the North East, and the bleakness of the unresolved issues and challenges) and that guides the book’s structure.
The book is a compilation of informative articles by different authors. These articles are arranged into themes that are factors contributing to human capital formation. After an introduction by the editors, there is a section that introduces the reader to the context of the North East. This context-setting is another strength of the book, providing different lenses through which to analyse the rest of the sections. Then, there are sections on different areas of development—education; health; poverty, unemployment and food security; and governance—the areas that directly concern human capital development. The book ends with a chapter on the unique challenges in social sector development in North East India.
Of the contextual lenses, that of ‘diversity’ is the most prominent and continuous strand throughout the book. It emerges as a characteristic feature of the region, one which is most often unrecognized, which is a strong influencing factor affecting the design and outcomes of any social development initiative in the North East, and which is perceived as one of the biggest challenges in any such effort. Significant historical contexts are also elaborated, as these have affected growth and development of the region; for instance, immigrations have had an impact on the local culture, language, and identities.
Most chapters within the area-wise sections are status reports on the North East region that highlight issues using secondary data from government sources. The density, granularity, and time span of data (which are primarily presented in a tabular form) are variable across chapters, some looking at inter-State variations and some focusing on the conditions in a single State of the North East, or even of a particular community. This prevents the book from deeply exploring any theme but permits it to touch up on a multitude of dimensions. It is up to the reader to recognize and pick what they wish to work on. Additionally, this variability possibly makes the book relevant for a larger variety of readers; it can be useful for researchers, policymakers, and those involved in social sector development.