NE needs both road & air connectivity
Air connectivity in the North East region has improved considerably over the last five years or so and this is indeed a positive development. Now the Government of India is reportedly working on launching fight services to Bangladesh and Myanmar from Agartala and Imphal respectivey. Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia made an announcement to this effect on November 28. He stated that flights from Imphal to Mandalay and from Agartala to Chittagong will be started soon as part of enhancing international air connectivity in the region. It will be undoubtedly a landmark stride in the aviation history of not only the region but the entire country if the region is connected by air with the two countries. Connectivity between India including the North East region and Bangladesh is already well established. Nonetheless, introduction of flight service between Agartala and Chittagong would definitely add a new chapter to the regional connectivity. Imphal-Mandalay flight service would be a new beginning totally. Apart from enhancing connectivity, the proposed flight service would foster people to people contact and open a host of opportunities. Once Imphal-Mandalay flight service is launched, Imphal can definitely become a gateway for not only the North East but the entire country to South East Asia and beyond. This is something guaranteed by the geographical location of Manipur and the North East region. But the region was marginalised and neglected for too long and the result is there for everyone to see. The region still remains landlocked, locked, underdeveloped and quite backward as compared to other regions of the country despite its strategic location. Even though the Government of India is talking about enhancing air connectivity in the region and beyond, the region’s highway infrastructure paints a very dismal picture. No doubt, many networks of highways are being constructed across the region, but they are too late. As of now, road connectivity among the Northeastern States is as bad as it can be.
Apart from opening air connectivity, the Government must focus on road connectivity between the North East region and the neighbouring countries. Notwithstanding all the advantages commanded by air connectivity or flight service, it is always restricted to a limited number of passengers. Flight service has never served as a reliable mode of transporting trading commodities in any part of the world. If the strategic location of the North East region must be exploited to its full potential, road connectivity is simply indispensable. The Government may start with Imphal-Mandalay bus service. An MoU was already signed between Yangon-based Shwemandalar Express Company Limited and Imphal-based M/s Seven Sisters Holiday on February 14, 2020 for commencement of bus service between the two neighbouring countries within three months. However, following the Covid-19 pandemic and the military coup in Myanmar, the project has been grounded. No doubt, geo-political and security considerations often determine the nature of bilateral relationship shared between any two countries but no country can dare overlook the aspect of economic cooperation. However, it appears that geo-political and security concerns override all other aspects of bilateral relationship as far as India and Myanmar are concerned. Perhaps, that is why there is limited engagement between the two countries despite being immediate neighbours. 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. Improving highway networks is not necessarily in the interest of the region alone. The much talked about Act East Policy would never fructify without standard surface transport infrastructure in the region.