Every time I travel to the north eastern region, I often slide down the memory lane, reminiscing my earlier visits with my fellow yuva morcha karyakartas from across India. Those days, paying little heed to the lack of connectivity, the looming security threat, the inconvenience of bandhs and chakkaa jams and absence of basic infrastructure, we treasured the opportunity to interact with our brothers and sisters from the region, experiencing their culture and discussing challenges and solutions.
However, our unwavering enthusiasm and the indefatigable spirit to initiate change encountered significant obstacles due to political neglect, glaring injustices, and a palpable disconnect from the rest of India. Regrettably, the north eastern states, an integral part of our nation, were often referred to as the "step sisters." However, a few years down the line, today, when I revisit these same locations, I am filled with a profound sense of satisfaction and relief. Our north eastern states, or more aptly referred to as the "Ashtalakshmi," are finally receiving the attention and support that they rightfully deserve. Nine years ago, the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi ji, unequivocally proclaimed, "India cannot progress unless the north east region of India develops."With that visionary belief, the strategic interventions undertaken in the past 9 years have established a solid groundwork for enabling unimpeded development in the future.
With over 5 lakh crores spent in the last 9 and half years, the Government of India gave a massive financial thrust to the development of region. There is an increase of around 233% in total gross budgetary allocation of 54 Central Ministries to NER between 2014 and 2023. The newly sanctioned Rs 6,600 crore PM-Devine Scheme will create livelihood and growth opportunities for the people of north east. Financial impetus coupled with prudent and targeted investment, allowed the government to confront the biggest challenges facing the region such as connectivity and infrastructure.
The Bhupen Hazarika Setu, India’s longest bridge over water, stalled since 2003, was inaugurated in May 2017. It has reduced the travel time between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh from 6 hours to 1 hour. India’s longest rail bridge Bogibeel inaugurated on 25thDecember, 2018, had reduced the travel time between Delhi and Dibrugarh by 3 hours. Interestingly, the work on the bridge started in 2002 under Bharat Ratna Atal ji but got stalled when UPA came to power in 2004. The work only gained pace in 2014, when Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji took the reins.
Similarly, prior to 2014, only Guwahati was connected by rail, but today, under the capital connectivity project, Arunachal, Tripura and Manipur have since been connected and work on remaining 5 states will be completed soon. We are overriding the topographical constraints by using state-of-art technology for instance; it is in north east that we broke the world record and constructed the world’s tallest pier bridge on the Jiribam-Imphal rail line.
Further, giving a massive boost to tourism and economic potential, air connectivity has improved by leaps and bounds in the last 9 years. From just 9 airports in 2014, today we have 17 airports. The first greenfield airport of Arunachal Pradesh, Donyi Polo airport or the state of the art integrated terminal of the Maharaja Bir Bikram (MBB) airport at Agratala inaugurated by the PM in 2022, are shining examples of rapid progress in air connectivity.
Challenging the long-standing excuse of previous governments that the development deficit is inevitable in the landlocked north east, the Narendra Modi Government is working to unlock the waterways potential of the region. Before 2014 there was only 1 national waterway and now there are 20 national waterways in NER, unlocking the immense navigational potential of the Brahmaputra and Barak River.
Forging closer Economic and Cultural ties with the South East Asia, North Eastern region is being developed as the focal point of the act east policy, by giving the much-needed connectivity boost. The 2,904 crore Kaladan multimodal project with Myanmar, the Rs 1,100 crore Agartala-Akhaura railway project with Bangladesh, the Rs 1,548 crore India-Myanmar-Thailand-trilateral highway are major projects which place north east at the centre of India’s ‘neighbourhood first’ and ‘act east policy’. The renewal of India Bangladesh protocol on inland water transit and trade in 2015 for the first time since 1972 and access to the use of Chhatogram and Mongla Ports of Bangladesh have been significant achievements of the act east policy.
There have been consistent efforts to promote peace and stability in the region. Between 2014 and 2022, insurgency has declined by 76%. 90% reduction in security forces casualties and civilian deaths have decreased by 97%. Over 8,000 militants have surrendered since. There has been a 75% reduction in the periphery of AFSPA. Moving towards lasting solutions several accords have been signed with rebel groups and rehabilitation packages have been provided to help their reintegration with the mainstream.
Giving development and peace in the north east region the highest priority, Prime Minister has himself visited the north east region more than 60 times in the last 9 and half years reiterating the political will and determination to bring about a dawn of development in the NER.
With commitment, resilience, and empowerment at its core, the north east now stands on the threshold of Amrit Kaal. The last 9 years have been decisive; the next 25 will unfurl the magic of the paradise on earth called north East India.
(The Author is Union Minister for Ministry of Development of North East Region, Government of India)