A conclave on ‘India’s Act East Connect: Prospects and Challenges’ was held at Guwahati on December 21 under the aegis of act east policy affairs department in collaboration with Asian Confluence, Shillong.
Addressing the gathering, act east policy affairs minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said that before independence the Northeast region used to have multi-modal transportation networks through roadways, railways and riverine waterways through the territories which are now Bangladesh and Myanmar to several ports like Chittagong, Sittwe and Yangoon (then Rangoon). Tea and petroleum used to reach the Chittagong and Kolkata (then Calcutta) ports through the Brahmaputra-Padma-Meghna riverine waterway, as well as through railway lines passing through present-day Bangladesh. The then undivided Assam had a per-capita income higher than the national average upto 1950. With the onset of freedom and the simultaneous partition, the trade routes and transportation linkages were suddenly snapped rendering it land-locked.
“Lately, things have improved in a significant manner,” he said and mentioned about the initiatives of Government of Assam to remove the old notion of Northeast India as the “periphery of the country” to that of the “centre of South East Asia”.
The Assam minister specially referred to the completion of projects like Asian trilateral highway, Sittwe and Kaladan Port, etc. which aims to transform these boundaries into trade, business, and people-to-people corridors.
“Projects like developing roads, inland waterways, rails, air, power and digital linkages on the one hand and border hats on the other are underway as part of India’s Act East Neighbourhood First policies. Several integrated check posts and initiatives on easier trade facilitation are in progress. Being the centre of ASEAN, Northeast is the most potential destination for investment and Assam is be the best destination due to its locational advantage,” Patwary said.
Assam chief secretary Jishnu Barua delved into the historical and socio-cultural relationship of Northeast region with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Barua said that India needs to spread its footprints in Myanmar in infrastructure development and pursue the expeditious completion of Kaladan project. He added that India also needs to foster strong relationship with Bangladesh and plan out its strategies vis-à-vis the ever-evolving Chinese influence.
Principal secretary of the department, KK Dwivedi, elaborated the history of the vibrant trade and connectivity that previously existed and the need to leverage the geographical locations, increase connectivity, logistics and infrastructure. “This requires adoption of a multi-ministerial approach and one can foresee the result it may yield for growth and prosperity of the region,” he said.