Why a new dawn of development is imminent in the North East

G Kishan Reddy *

Change is blowing across the quaint and beautiful mountains and valleys of the North Eastern States. After ten years of unrelenting efforts, a new age of peace and growth has begun.

For the first time, the inherent potential of the 8 States was acknowledged when the Hon’ble Prime Minister called them the ‘Ashtalakshmi’ of Bharat, harbingers of growth and prosperity. History is being scripted in the accelerated pace of Roads, Rail, and Air connectivity in the region. When it comes to quality, they are comparable to the world-class infrastructure in the rest of India.

The youth are no longer suffering with bandhs, chakka jaams, and strikes but now their dreams are ringing truer than ever. Trade has been made easier, and new tourist attractions have been unveiled, all thanks to the enhanced connectivity.

North East Region, in itself, is a saga of unprecedented political will, inspiring dedication and collective ownership of a cause so dear to every Bhartiya – heralding a new dawn of development and growth in India’s Ishaan Kon ! As the Hon’ble Home Minister has aptly described during the recently concluded 71st Plenary of NEC, the past decade has been a golden chapter in the history of North East India.

This transformative approach has not only shattered the glass ceilings of the conventional model of conflict-centric-administration to a development- oriented model of governance in the region but has sown the seeds of cultural and social integration, fostering a stronger, more united Bharat.

The recent flagging of the first-ever international railway connec- tivity in the North East Region, the Agartala Akhaura Rail link, is a proud example of how a once neglected ‘hinterland’ of India has risen on the international trade and tourism map.

The North East of India, with its vibrant cultures and abundant resources, is a region that has borne the brunt of political indifference for far too long. Violence and instability were often used as a convenient cloak to veil a lack of genuine commitment and the huge chasm between precept and praxis was starkly evident.

However, under the leadership of PM Modi Ji, in the last decade, continuous efforts have led to the establishment of peace and security in most parts of the region. The Government, taking the challenges of geography and security head- on, is building highways of development and prosperity. The reimagination of Arunachal’s Kibithoo from India’s last to Bharat’s first village and as the launch pad of the Nationwide Vibrant Village program is symbolic of this commitment towards the North East and its remotest corners.

With over 5 lakh crore invested in regional development, by over 50 ministries, since 2014, the area is poised to seize growth opportunities. Since 2014, a financial revolution has been underway, with a whopping 233% surge in expenditure by 54 Central Ministries (from 24,819 crore in 2014 to Rs 82,690 crore in 2023) or a 152% boost in budget allocation for the DoNER Ministry (Rs 2,332 crore in 2014 to Rs 5,892 crore in 2023), reveals a dynamic financial landscape, fueling transfor- mative agendas. The recent PM-DeVINE scheme, promising Rs 6,600 crore support for diverse State needs, is a testament to this commitment.

In 2014, the Hon’ble Prime Minister shared his vision of ‘Transformation by Transportation’ in the North East Region, 10 years down the line; we are seeing his vision manifest wonderfully. Connectivity is now emerging as the most dynamic sector.

Be it Manipur’s first freight connectivity in 75 Years, its second Railway Station in Nagaland after 100 years, flights taking off for the first time from several States, the first Goods train in 75 years reached Manipur in 2022, world’s tallest Girder Rail Bridge- with 141m tall pier constructed on Jiribam-Imphal Railway Line, improving connectivity in NER has been a subject of awe and inspiration.

Before 2014, the mammoth Indian railways never chugged beyond Guwahati or Tripura, today the network is spread far and beyond with the plan of connecting all State capitals nearing completion and a substantial 170% increase in commissioned sections, more than twice the average per year (66.6 km/year during the UPA-2 period to the current 179.78 km/year). Coupled with political will and collaboration, a remarkable financial upswing enabled this change, with a 384% surge in annual budget allocation compared to the UPA-2 era, soaring to Rs 9,970 crore for FY 2023-24.

“American roads are not good because America is rich, but America is rich because American roads are good”, this famous quote by former US president John F Kennedy finds an apt corollary in the North East. With the development of NER being a priority, National Highway development in the North East Region has overtaken the National average as well. Road construction in the North East more than doubled under this Government, rising from just 0.6 km of National Highway being laid per day under the UPA Government to 1.5 km, between 2014 and 2019.

Consequently, since independence, till 2014, there were only 10,905 km of National Highways in the NER, but in the span of just 10 years, by 2023 the figure rose to 16,125 km of National Highways in the region. Today 5,388 km of projects worth 1.11 lakh crore are ongoing !

Likewise, Air connectivity has received a major boost, with 8 new airports constructed since 2014. The Regional Air Connectivity Scheme proved to be a shot in the arm for air travel in NER, offering viability gap funding for challenging routes, today 64 new routes have been operationalized under the UDAN scheme. For the first time, each State boasts of a functional airport, with recent additions like Pakyong, Umroi, and Itanagar soaring into operation.

Rivers are a lifeline of the North East, in pre-partition days there were navigable transport routes that allowed easy access to goods. International boundaries ruptured the links cutting off economic opportunities for the people.

Astoundingly, it took 7 decades to restore the inland waterway links. 19 new National waterways (with just 1 till 2014) and bilateral agreements, including the Inland Water Transport (IWT) protocol with Bangladesh and the use of Chittagong and Mongla Ports, will open economic opportunities for increased trade with ASEAN and neighbouring Nations.

As the transformed connectivity paradigm brings about a ripple effect with benefits reaching far beyond the economic spectrum, it becomes evident that the Northeast Region is not only thriving in terms of infrastructure but is also nurturing talent across various fields. From budding entrepreneurs to world-class sports stars, the region is witnessing a remarkable surge in opportunities.

Initiatives such as the country’s first Sports University in Manipur and substantial sanctions under Khelo India since 2018 reflect a commitment to harnessing the sports talent in the region. Moreover, the registration of almost 4000 startups and the sanctioning of microfinance loans exceeding 670 crores until December 2022 highlight the dynamic growth and potential within the North East.

The progress achieved in the North East Region in the last decade has catapulted the region from being a remote corner of India to its New Growth Engine. The revolution in connectivity has opened avenues never explored earlier.

Today we are simultaneously working on the region’s economic growth by nurturing its tourism, economy, agro-based industry, the potential of the service sector and the young workforce, natural and organic farming, the renewable energy sector and many other areas that remained untapped over decades. We have achieved a great feat in the region and there are more milestones to achieve and under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi ji, it is a battle half won.

A few lines capture our vision and determination for a new dawn in Poorvottar of Bharat
“Embracing the dawn, crafting a journey so bright,
North East’s journey, a beacon shining bright
Excited to soar high, where ambitions unfold,
North East, a saga of growth waiting to be told”.

* G Kishan Reddy wrote this article for PIB which was published at The Sangai Express
The Author is Union Minister for Development of North Eastern Region, Govt. of India
This article was webcasted on February 09 2024 .

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