For the last few years, Indian Government has given a big push to a diverse range of infrastructure projects in the North Eastern Region. The emphasis has been on improving rail, road, air and inland waterways connectivity in the region. The Indian government’s ‘Act East’ policy, focuses on strengthening relations with neighbouring countries and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is spearheading initiatives to enhance connectivity through various projects pertaining to road, rail, air, telecom, power and waterways.
North East Region: an overview
Northeast India, also known as North Eastern Region (NER) comprises of eight states namely Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. It is geographically connected to the rest of the country by a narrow corridor of land, flanked by Nepal and Bangladesh. The region also shares borders with Bhutan and China on its north and Myanmar on its east which overall constitutes approximately 60% of India‘s land borders. It is the only region in south Asia to be surrounded by five countries. For decades, poor infrastructure and limited connectivity have acted as roadblocks hindering the socio-economic development of these states.
These Northeastern states have several features in common, and yet, each of them has a distinct identity and peculiar character. Although the region is richly blessed with many natural resources in terms of forests, minerals, biodiversity and hydroelectric potential, the region is far behind in development. Inadequate infrastructure and poor connectivity are the major constraints to development in the region. Not only is the region poorly connected to the rest of India, it is also poorly connected to neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia.
However, considering the fact that this region is one of the most difficult terrains in terms of accessibility and developmental works, the Central Government has been trying to provide necessary help and assistance to fast track its growth and expansion. Studies have even suggested that the completion of current and proposed infrastructure projects in the north-east could herald greater economic growth for the region and increase its geopolitical importance.
With less development in all fields whether be it in roads, railways, power, education and human resources, the north eastern states in general and Manipur in particular has been literally living in a dark era for quite long. Backwardness in all necessary fields has led people to leave their respective states and look for careers outside thereby leading to brain drain and the vicious cycle continues.
Act East policy
From Look East Policy to Act East Policy, the Indian government now seems to be fully committed on developing this region. And for that infrastructure development has been rightly recognized as the key.
National projects such as the East–West Corridor (EWC), which runs from Porbandar in Gujarat to Silchar in Assam, as well as international projects such as the Trilateral Highway connecting Manipur to Thailand via Myanmar, could generate further economic activities and regional development, which in turn will influence economic growth through higher production and consumption.
Earlier the Central government had announced to set apart a sum of Rs 500 crore (subsequently enhanced to Rs.586.20 crore) for North Eastern Region for border areas facing special problems that cannot be tackled through normal schemes. This is called Social and Infrastructure Development Fund (SIDF). It was a one-time package that covers projects, prioritized by the State Governments as per their requirement, which, inter alia, include construction of new roads and bridges, re-establishment of new sub-stations/transmission lines, construction/upgradation of hospitals, establishment of schools, water supply projects etc. A total of 37 projects were approved. A total of Rs 124.92 crores was sanctioned for the state of Manipur under SIDF for taking up various projects which include Infrastructure Development Project in Autonomous District Council of Sadar Hills, Kangpokpi; Senapati and Ukhrul; Infrastructure Development Project in Autonomous District Council of Chandel, Churanchandpur and Tamenglong; Improvement Chura- Sugnu Road; Augmentation of Water Supply Scheme at Kangsang land and its surrounding areas; Augmentation of water supply scheme at Kasom Khullen Sub- Divisional Head and Construction of Bridge across Tuilak River in between Tuilakganj Village and G. Bualjang.
Under the North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (NESIDS), a total of Rs 1765.12 crore has been approved by the union government, the sanctioning of which began in F.Y. 2018-19. Manipur got a share of Rs 191.74 crores under this scheme.
This week, Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and MSMEs Nitin Gadkari laid the foundation stone for 13 highway projects and inaugurate a Road safety project in Manipur. The projects include a Road length of 316 kilometers, involving construction value of about Rs 3000 crore. Paving the way for development of Manipur, these roads will enhance better connectivity, convenience and economic growth in the State.
With all these projects initiated and completed, the otherwise strife-torn region would develop drastically in all counts along with making production and import of goods possible. The economic condition of the people of the north east including the people of Manipur will be lifted and developed with the improvement of rail, road, air and inland waterways connectivity. It will have direct economic consequences due to reduction in travel time, better connectivity between markets and production centers, greater tourist flows and so on. Along with this, the sense of alienation which the people of the region have been feeling for a long time will be drastically reduced and oneness shall prevail.
India’s Northeast, which lies deep in the lap of the easternmost Himalayan Hills, assumes a greater significance for the nation. This region, unlike the rest of the regions, forms a distinct part with varied origins of people belonging to diverse cultures and languages. Though the glaring difference marks one of the underlining factors that contribute to view the region as special, a section of people feels that it has not been given the attention it supposed to have received. Its prospects for development and expansion remain curtailed with meagre opportunities for conveyance and communication. The measures taken by the Government at the Centre to enhance the economic development of the region are now expected to give desired fruits after the latest concerted push in the right direction. It is hoped that soon this region will see progress happening at a pace that is on par with the rest of the country.
The writer is a Senior Journalist & Former News Editor of The People’s Chronicle & Consultant – Media and Communications.