The North-eastern region has always been considered as a place that is not favourable for investors, due to militancy inflected districts, poor work culture, frequent break down of Law and Order and the biggest hurdles being a transport bottleneck and the high cost of movement of man and material to and from the region due to lack of infrastructure. With these deficiencies, the citizens from this part have always regarded Delhi is a distant dream as expressed through a popular cliché- Delhi bahut doorhai. As an attempt to remove this, a first of its kind initiative, a two day Global Investment Summit in Guwahati, held at the Sarusojai Stadium supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government was held.
The Summit was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 3, 2018, who in his inaugural speech, had expressed happiness over the new terminal being constructed at Guwahati Airport. He also expressed his expectation that this would boost the region’s connectivity with Asean countries. Modi also appreciated that Bangladesh and Bhutan have opened their Consulate offices in Guwahati and said the northeast is at the heart of India’s ‘Act East Policy’.
The summit claims to have participation of over 5,000 delegates from across the world, including Asean countries.
It may be reminded that the first day of Global Investment witnessed the signing of a total of 176 MoUs with 160 companies, amounting to Rs 64,386 crore. This includes one with Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries Ltd, which will invest Rs 2,500 crore in the next three years in retail, petroleum, telecom, tourism and sport sectors, companies like McLeod Russell, Century Plyboards Ltd, and Spicejet have also assured to invest considerable amounts to boost the economy of the region.
Ambani, in his address at the meet, also said that Reliance Industries will also set up a world class football academy and a centre for conservation of wildlife and eco tourism in Assam.
Also, Tata Trusts will operate 17 cancer care centres in partnership with Assam government across 15 districts in the state from next year, at an investment of around Rs 2,000 crore, Tata Sons Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran made the announcement on the first day of the Summit; he added that Tata group has a long standing relation with Assam. Assam is very close to the organization. The proposed cancer care programme will be launched in the state in the coming days.
The misconception about the North East being a militancy affected area, and earlier as the head hunting zone has largely been dispelled and this should be attributed to the booming of Information Technology and social sites and now this first ever Assam Global Summit. However at ground zero, there is not much development of infrastructures to remove the main obstacle of the region being landlocked which has given rise to the psychological alienation amongst the Indians who consider North East (NE) so far off and has in turn resulted in the physical separation from the so called Main Land.
It may be mentioned that NE has no direct access to any sea port. The region is connected geographically to India only through a strip of land called the Chicken’s neck - Siliguri Corridor. While transportation connectivity plays a key role in the economic development of any region, unfortunately, the NE is logistically removed from the rest of the states.
The eight NE states meanwhile are entangled within the inter-state boundary disputes or communal conflicts within the states, leading to frequent breakdown of law and order, hence the infrastructural developmental activities were affected.
As pointed out by Nagaland Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang, the North-East has huge potential with rich forest and natural resources, a high literacy rate with a vast reservoir of educated and dynamic workforce fluent in English, progressive in outlook and IT-savvy. But due to poor connectivity, the huge tourism potential of Nagaland is lying unexploited. He was addressing the 4th Connect North-East Summit, inaugurated under the theme: Act East through Nagaland at the NBCC Convention Centre in Kohima.
Zeliang also stressed that the NE region is landlocked, except for Assam, therefore air and road connectivity become the feasible options and people have been using roads mostly because of the poor air connectivity. He also his personal experiences of travelling on six-lane roads in South-East Asia, where good roads with beautiful green landscapes on both sides had reached the NE borders and it should be connected to mainland India by mending the bottlenecks in the North-East roads, like the stretch from Imphal to Kohima.
Justifying his statements, Zeliang stated that the most practical road and rail connectivity between India and South East Asia should run through Nagaland to Moreh border via Imphal, the route for which the battle of Kohima was fought during World War II. He said Nagaland shared 215 km of international border and the eight states of the North-East shared over 5,300 km of border with five countries.
With development of connectivity infrastructure and cooperation with the neighbouring countries, North-East can easily become a major trading and economic hub, connecting South-East Asia and the ASEAN countries assured Zeliang.
North Eastern Council Secretary Ram Muivah had also stressed that only three out of the eight capitals in the North-East states namely Agartala, Guwahati and Itanagar are connected by broad gauge rail link. He voiced the hope that Imphal would be connected by 2018 and Aizwal and Kohima by 2019. Muivah highlighted that the proposed Greenfield Airports at Razhaphema and Itanagar needed to be taken up expeditiously while completion of the Pakyong Airport should be expedited.
It is evident that in most cases respective states in the region are demanding either the improvement of Airports or railway connectivity, whereas till date Guwahati is still the main transit point of the region, although Siliguri too is developing fast as the next optional hub for connecting the landlocked region.
There is no discussion as how the development of either Greenfield Airports at Razhaphema and Itanagar could solve the connectivity problems within the region. If there is no development of the road connectivity within the region, at the same time even if it is the hub for the ASEAN countries, how will they be ferry to the rest of the region or to the main land India?
The onus to remove this bottleneck should not be pushed to the Central government, if the NE heads of state do not come across the table to draw the blueprint for a practical connectivity of air, rail and road with mutual understanding, particularly when it comes to inter-state boundaries, all such exercises pertaining to the Act East Policy will just turn out to be yet another white elephant.
More than unification for political aspirations, the heads of state cutting across political lines should trash out a master plan to connect all the eight states, then only one can talk of removing the bottle-neck problem of the region, such that more investors will now focus in investing more for inclusive national growth.