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2008: North-East raised a ray of hope

December 29, 2008 12:04 IST

The northeast witnessed the dawn of a new hope in 2008 as plans to bring the long sequestered region's economic development at par with other parts of the nation reached some major milestones during the year.

A revivified North East Council and the development of northeastern region ministry, together with the union ministry of commerce, translated into first steps a long made promise that could go a long way in opening up this region to the rest of the world.

The ministry of DoNER, in consultation with the NEC, for the first time prepared a blueprint, called NER Vision 2020, for the region's development.

It was signed on May 13, by the governors and chief ministers of the northeastern states and a couple of months later, released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The document emphasises on a fivefold development perspective encompassing economic, institutional, participatory, human resource and infrastructure development.

Besides emphasising on agriculture, the document also lays stress on infrastructure development perspective, rail, road and air connectivity, cyber and telecom connectivity, inland waterways and power.

The document also lists ways to enhance the share of private investment in the region to tap the vast potential in the field of quarrying and mining in order to bring about the desired change in the sectoral composition of the region's GDP.

Vision 2020 document urges the Centre to 'redefine' its 'Look East' policy to resolve outstanding issues of trade, transit and investment with neighbouring countries.

An independent regional airline is in the process of being created and is likely to begin operations early next year.

Subsidised by the DoNER ministry, it will run services within the region.

The tenders are being processed of late.

The ambitious and aspirational 'vision', however, involves an investment of Rs 13 lakh crore (Rs 13 trillion) in the next 12 years before it can turn dreams into reality.

While releasing the Vision 2020 document, Manmohan Singh announced a plethora of schemes that included a robust infrastructural plan encompassing upgrade of airports, linking of all the capitals with rail and Rs 31,000 crore (Rs 310 billion) for road improvement, to spur up development of the northeast.

The announcement came close on the heels of India signing an agreement with Myanmar for developing the Myanmarese port of Sittwe.

The port is being developed by India at an estimated cost of $103 million. Access from port would be provided to Mizoram through the Kaladan river.

This will provide an alternative transport route between the Northeast and the rest of India, apart from improving accessibility of the northeast to Southeast Asia.

During the year, the Centre also announced an investment of close to Rs 850 crore (Rs 8.5 billion) over the next three years to fully develop eight Land Customs Stations along the border with Bangladesh, four along the border with Nepal, and one along the border with Myanmar, as part of the Look East policy.

In December, as many as 17 thematic groups formed by the NEC came up with the action plans as part of the Vision 2020's ambitious programme to pace up socio-economic development in the region and give thrust on trade relations with neighbouring countries.

NEC officials said the Vision 2020 could see an annual investment of over Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion) being pumped into the northeast for development of different sectors ranging from air connectivity, roads, rail, communication, poverty alleviation, banking, tourism and agriculture.

The growing economic cooperation between India and Thailand got boost when the India Trade Promotion Organisation hosted an exclusive India event -- India Fair 2008 -- at Bangkok to provide an ideal platform to the Indian companies and organisations to explore potential for their products and services in the Thai as well as ASEAN market in July.

The 4th North East Business Summit in Guwahati was another effort to promote business relations the northeast region shares with India's neighbouring countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Cambodia and Laos.

A total of 115 foreign delegates and 12 countries participated in the summit that focused on sectors like IT, infrastructure, power, agro and food processing and tourism.

The stress was laid on aspects like the opportunities presented by the northeast, strategies to develop the north eastern region, building international partnerships and issues pertaining to road construction, connectivity, power, telecom in the northeast.

The region also saw investment proposals to the tune of Rs 7,000 crore (Rs 70 billion) from the non-government sector.

Rituraj Borthakur in Shillong
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