Landlocked NE needs better connectivity
No doubt, standard highways are being constructed across the North East region. Given the fact that the region is a landlocked region, highways and railways are of paramount importance in the region. But the ongoing construction works are too little and too late. One can never over-stress on the importance of standard highways, railway networks and smooth connectivity for economic development of a region. But these fundamental infrastructures are either totally absent or quite inadequate in the North East region. For too long, the North East region has been isolated not because of its mountainous terrain but on account of geo-political considerations. Policy planners and decision makers sitting in the power corridors of New Delhi seem to have little synergy with the socio-economic reality of the North East region. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public announcement that policies and programmes for the North East are now framed as per the needs of the region, many are hoping a paradigm shift as far as planning for the region is concerned. The Prime Minister was also candid enough to admit that “Earlier policies were formed behind closed doors in Delhi and then unsuccessful attempts were made to fit the Northeast in this”. One crucial issue of the region is poor connectivity and the need to improve it. Being a landlocked region, it is heavily dependent on rail and road transport but the region does not figure prominently in the country’s railway map and the highway networks are not up to the mark. Poor connectivity is one fundamental factor for the region’s economic underdevelopment. If policies and programmes for the North East are now framed as per the needs of the region, connectivity must be one priority area.
For many decades, Indian policy makers and political leaders more often than not attributed economic underdevelopment of the region to its disadvantageous geographical location and landlockedness. This argument is rather interesting. Merits and demerits of a region’s location are relative terms which cannot be defined in any absolute parameters. This debate revolving around geographical location, geopolitics and economic development or backwardness can be contextualized in the North East region and its surrounding countries. Yes, the region is remote from all directions but in terms of distance, the region is comparatively quite near to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan and even China and Thailand than most other main Indian cities with the exception of Kolkata. It is simply bewildering that those at the helm of affairs at New Delhi could not make a standard, all-weather highway between Imphal and Silchar. A landlocked State like Manipur needs not just one or two highway(s) but at least half a dozen which would connect the State with the outside world in different directions. Today, highways are road to survival. In future, they can be roads to prosperity. This is all the more undeniable in the absence of access to sea routes or maritime trade. Many people have been hoping that the entire North East region is put in the railway map of the country as early as possible but a good highway network is also essential if the region should realize economic progress and transform itself as a growth engine as envisaged by none other than the Prime Minister himself. Improving highway networks is not necessarily in the interest of the region alone. The much talked about Act East Policy (earlier Look East Policy) would never fructify without standard surface transport infrastructure in the region. The Northeast occupies a key position in the overall scheme of the Government of India’s ambitious project called Act East Policy on account of its highly strategic location. The Delhi Mandarins should acknowledge at least this fact and act accordingly.