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[Sansad TV] Perspective: North East Infra in Focus

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Context

  • Several initiatives have been undertaken by the Centre Government to develop North Eastern Region holistically for improving basic infrastructure and providing connectivity in the region.
  • In this article, we shall discuss and analyse all these challenges and initiatives taken for Infrastructure Development in the NE region of our country.

North-East India: A Backgrounder

  • The Northeast region of India comprises eight states- Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim.
  • According to 2011 census this 3.78% of country’s population resides in this region.
  • It also comprises approx. 7.98% of country’s area including 5,483 Km of India’s international borders.
  • These eight states also constitute 3.37% of country’s total agriculture land holding and 34.5% of the total bamboo bearing area in the country.

Various associated issues

[A] Security

(i) Leftist insurgency

  • The Maoist rebellion in Northeast India is at present in its ‘latent phase’. It basically involves arms dumps and identification of local militant elements.
  • However, these days, militancy and extortion has become an organised activity in the region and is one of the major sources of funds for the militants.

(ii) Drug smuggling

  • Golden Triangle comprises of the regions of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar it has been one of the largest opium-producing areas of the world since the 1950s.
  • Drugs produced there enters into India through Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland from Bhamo, Lashio, and Mandalay in Myanmar.
  • Moreh (Manipur), Champai (Mizoram), Dimapur (Nagaland), and Guwahati (Assam) have become the nucleus of drug trafficking industry in India’s northeast.

[B] Developmental issue: Connectivity with mainland

  • The NER is connected to mainland India only through a narrow stretch of land (about 22 km wide) in West Bengal called the ‘Siliguri Corridor’, sometimes known as the “Chicken’s Neck”.
  • Except for this narrow Siliguri Corridor, the entire northeastern part of the country is bound by international borders.

[C] Sovereignty threats

  • Neighbouring countries like China and Myanmar are accused of promoting insurgency in the region.
  • China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh and its water diversion plans on the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet are creating a public perception in the northeast that China is a threat to India.
  • This has created positive influences on the minds of the insurgents .

[D] Sub-national aspirations

  • The region is populated by a number of different communities, with diverse cultures, languages and customs.
  • It is also marked by difficult terrain, backward areas, and limited connectivity. This area was known for the active presence of a number of militant groups.

Key issues:

1. Demands for autonomy: This demand arose in Tripura and Manipur which compromised the state of Assam. This majorly arose when the non-Assamese political leaders felt that the Assamese was forcibly imposed upon them.

2. Secessionist Movement: The Mizo hills area in Mizoram never felt that they were under the British therefore after independence they did not consider themselves as part of India. Several campaigns started to be independent states.

3. Movements against outsiders: This issue has taken place in several states of the Northeast. The Assam movement was such a movement against outsiders because they suspected that there were huge numbers of illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Root causes of turmoil in NE

  • Colonial past: The connection between the NER and the rest of India is relatively recent, dating back to 1826 with the signing the Treaty of Yandaboo.
  • No historical ties: It was when Burma ceded Assam, Manipur, Jaintia hills, Tripura and Cachar to the British at the end of the First Anglo-Burmese War.
  • Heavy militarization and AFSPA: Even under the British, the region was mostly seen as providing a ‘buffer zone’ from Burma and China. This perspective continued after independence leading to heavy militarization.
  • Abrupt integration: The integration of NER into the rest of the country was ‘abrupt’, with no prior history. The states were integrated and demarcated into ad hoc units for administrative convenience.
  • Political disconnect: The participation of the northeastern state governments in any development activity is nearly non-existent. Politics for them has merely left to Tribal Affairs.
  • Local aspirations: The region’s own politics or the political aspirations of fragmented tribes were marginalised within the larger political discourse.
  • Others: Inflation is another fuel to the turmoil. Distribution is mostly road-based and disruptions in movement, particularly during the six-month-long rainy season, causes sporadic fuel scarcity in the hill States.

Opportunities in the NER

[A] Tourism

  • NE Region of India has immense resource potential to develop tourism.
  • Assam is the leading state in terms of overall inflow of tourists’ in the region while Sikkim proves to be preferred destination of foreign tourists.
  • The region offers enchanting visits for tourists interested in wild life, religious, cultural and ethnic tourism, river cruises, golf and a host of others.

[B] Emerging market

  • The North East is a fast-growing market with untapped opportunities for investment, trade and tourism.
  • It has the potential to become a nodal point of India’s growth story.
  • It is abundantly endowed with natural resources, mineral and forest wealth, diverse flora and fauna and fertile land for cultivation of exotic fruits and vegetables.

[C] Agricultural Potential

  • Traditionally, the North East is known for tea, but it could also offer plantation and export opportunities for a wide range of crops including oil palm.
  • Similarly, the region has about 50 species of bamboo, 14 varieties of bananas and 17 varieties of citrus fruits.
  • North-Eastern states also have a huge production of fruits such as pineapples and oranges.

[D] Rich mineral resources

  • The Northeast region of India has an abundant mineral comprising chiefly of lime- stone, coal, natural oil and gas, uranium, feldspar, and others.
  • The total hydrocarbon deposits (oil and gas) accounts for 20% of the total India.

[E] Gateway to the East

  • The NE region is a vantage entry point to south-eastern Asian markets.
  • Given its location, the Northeast assumes the role of bridging the space between mainland India and other Southeast Asian nations.
  • Taking this idea forward, the government decided to focus more on improving its relation with ASEAN and the East Asian countries.
  • It was also aimed at eliminating the insurgency problem in the NE once and for all by way of opening up the region to Southeast Asia.

Connectivity in the region

(A) Road

  • Under Bharatmala Pariyojana (BMP) roads stretches aggregating to about 5301 km in NER have been approved for improvement.
  • Out of this, 3246 km road length has been approved for development of Economic Corridors in the North East.
  • Under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, road length of 20,708 km has been already constructed.
  • Other major development include construction of bridges of over the Brahmaputra to narrow down distances.

(B) Railway

  • There are plans to provide a railway link for the NE states through 20 major railway projects, encompassing 13 new lines with a length of nearly 2,624 kms.
  • The Murkongselek (Assam) and Pasighat rail project is already under implementation.
  • The most important of them is 378-km Bhalukpong (West Kameng, Arunachal)-Tenga (Arunachal)-Tawang (Arunachal) rail connectivity that will reach a height of 10,000 ft to the Tibet border.

(C) Air connectivity

  • The Pakyong Airport in Sikkim is the first greenfield airport in Northeast India. It is situated around 30 kilometers from Gangtok.
  • The launch of the UDAN regional air connectivity scheme (2016) saw a number of new air links in the region.
  • The most important of them is Pasighat (2018), the first-ever commercial air link to Arunachal.

(D) Digital connectivity

  • Telecom Commission has approved a comprehensive strategy to implement BharatNet in North East Region (NER).
  • Under this strategy, 4240 Gram Panchayats (GPs) in the North-East are to be connected by broadband and by satellite connectivity.

Way forward

(i) Infrastructure and connectivity

  • These are two basic requirements essential for economic development of a region.
  • The need for infrastructure becomes more acute for hilly and mountainous areas that are on one hand difficult to traverse and on the other hand tend to be sparsely populated.
  • Thus, there is a need for heavy investments in infrastructure development.

(ii) Timely completion of projects

  • Most North Eastern States are resource-starved and it is vital that funds are properly accounted for.  
  • In addition, projects that are retained and put on priority lists raise the expectations of the people.
  • This further contributes towards deficits in confidence of the people upon the Central Government.

(iii) Single nodal agency

  • Another challenge is that there are multiple bodies and agencies like the NEC, DoNER and the recently created North East Forum.
  • There is a need for clarity on the roles between these bodies and budgets need to be allocated to the States.
  • Flexibility should be allowed for the State governments for utilization of these allocations.

(iv) Tourism

  • Tourism is one of the alternatives that can play a pivotal role in the socio-economic development of the NER.
  • The challenge lies in making the region accessible to the tourists from mainland India and other countries.
  • Sense of integration can be imbibed through various projects such as Dekho Apna Desh etc. among the NE youth.

Conclusion

  • It is evident fact that, for a long time, the North East was a neglected and forgotten part of the country.
  • The region has great potential to develop not just as a self, sustaining economic unit of India but also contribute to the success story of the country.
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