Prime Minister Modi was in Itanagar last week to celebrate the Arunachal Pradesh’s Statehood day. His government’s continued focus in the North-East region was further buttressed by this visit. Having declared early in his tenure that the NE region will get a higher priority in terms of development, the onus remains on him to deliver on this promise. That this would come with enormous hurdles was a foregone conclusion – not only due to continued periods of previous Central government inaction, but also due to complicated foreign policy terrains.
Apart from few instances in the newspapers, the mainstream television media has completely ignored this focus by the Modi government.
Here I try to highlight the key decisions that are likely to have a big positive impact in the North-East development. Not only the decisions that are financially beneficial to the region, but also the symbolic decisions are also mentioned. Remember, these are the decisions made in the first 9+ months of his tenure.
- Approval of implementation of “the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan” for the NE region, with a planned expenditure of Rs. 5,336.18 Cr. This is to give increased reliability in 2G connectivity, by providing optical fiber networks.
- Approval of “the Comprehensive Scheme for Strengthening of Transmission & Distribution (T&D) Systems (CSST&DS)” in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim at an estimated cost of Rs.4,754.42 Cr. Prior to this, only 5 of the 20 districts or Arunachal Pradesh had transmission network. This project will expand to cover all of Arunachal.
- Approval of “North Eastern Region Power System Improvement Project (NERPSIP)” for strengthening of the Intra-State Transmission and Distribution System at an estimated cost of Rs.5,111.33 Cr. The project is planned to be completed in 48 months. This is in-line with the poll promise of 365 days of power in the region.
- Announced that the Center will provide Rs. 28,000 Cr for laying 14 new railway lines in NE region and to establish the region as a touristic destination.
- Approval for the setting up of Food Processing Units in NE region at a cost of Rs 16,840 Cr. This project is to improve the shelf life of horticulture products from the region.
- Approval of construction of Airport hangars in the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport (LGBI), Guwahati. This is envisaged to meet the Airport’s increased demands of growing air traffic in the region.
- Moving away from the comforts of Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi, the Modi government for the first time organized the All India Conference of DGPs and IGPs in Guwahati.
- A minister from the Central government has been regularly visiting the region. In fact, in early January, it was decided that at least one Union minister will visit the region (including Sikkim) every fortnight. Chemical Minister Ananth Kumar has been given the responsibility to coordinate and to ensure the regular visit of ministers. Detailed list of ministers traveling to the region can be seen here.
- At the risk of angering his vote base, PM Modi had implicitly endorsed the UPA decision of redrawing the India-Bangladesh border. Though the final act needs to play out here, it is now his responsibility to take this to ratification.
- To boost organic farming in the region, announced setting up of six new agriculture colleges in the region, with the aim of making the region “the capital of organic farming”.
Notwithstanding the above decisions, there are some areas where the Modi government has to act more decisively.
- PM Modi needs to decisively convey a message one way or the other regarding the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. During his visit to the region late last year, there was silence regarding the issue.
- PM Modi had mentioned that he would like to create an economic corridor between India, Myanmar and South-East Asian countries. If implemented, this would give an impetus to the NE region. However, with the continued unrest in Myanmar, it will be a challenge to get this up and running.
- The Arunachal Pradesh-China border issue will need a quick resolution. This will ensure unwanted distraction and enhance Arunachal as a tourist destination in the long term.
- Establishing closer ties between India and Bangladesh will also go a long way in promoting peace and development in the NE region.
PM Modi’s focus on trade and economy to improve ties with the eastern neighbors, if fructified, will lead to a positive outcome for the region. Not only will it lead to upward economic mobility, but it will also create new opportunities in the insurgency torn areas of NE region. In this regard, PM Modi’s participation in the Sainthood commemoration event in Delhi a few days back, assumes significance (if the news reaches them). With the areas dominated by tribals, who are converted Christians, a sense of re-assurance will help them identify with the government’s intentions and participate in the growth story.
Even with these decisions and initiatives, the complete integration of the NE region is going to be a hard-lift during PM Modi’s first tenure. Various complexities have historically plagued the region viz., insurgencies, tensions in the region with many ethnicities, unresolved international borders and more importantly, as a notorious journalist put it – “the tyranny of distance” from the confines of New Delhi. How PM Modi will manoeuvre through these issues will determine his legacy in the region.
Source: Most government information available at: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/mainpage.aspx