Connect North East 2016: Emergence of a new paradigm for connectivity and development in North East India

Connect North East 2016: Emergence of a new paradigm for connectivity and development in North East India
The North East is at an inflexionpoint of time with the focus on connecting northeast being echoed by leaders, policy makers and industry members from across India and abroad. The idea of Connectivity led development was the central theme at the recently concluded three day international conference CONNECT NORTHEAST 2016.

Thanking FICCI for arranging the Summit in Agartala, Mr. Manik Sarkar, Chief Minister of Tripura urged FICCI to take up the connectivity issues with the Union Govt and help the NE States in becoming an engine of growth. He appreciated the role of the Govt of India in improving bi-lateral relation with Bangladesh and Myanmar. While agreeing with the central message, and the need for physical connectivity Nagaland ChiefMinister, T R Zeliang stressed upon the importance of People-to-people connectivity. Zeliang further added “given the unique land holding system among the nagas, the Government of India shouldshould consider a fencing less border with Myanmar in Nagaland. He further said, rail and road connectivity with rest of the country and South East Asian countries must be upgraded to international level to end the isolation of NER States. He also focused upon lack of electricity and internet connectivity in the region.Ranjit Barthakur, Chairman of FICCI North East Advisory Council said the commitment of the Government is evident from the extremely pragmatic yet motivating speeches made by the Chief Ministers. He stressed on the need to bring about the level of economic and cultural integration that existed before 1947 if the North East is to graduate to ahigher growth trajectory.

The Northeastern part of India has been at a great disadvantage, being virtually disconnected from the Mainland India except forthe narrow Chicken’s Neck corridor which connects the region with West Bengal. A once prosperous region with a GDP that exceeded many other regions of India and probably the world, the north east has had to bear the brunt of an unfortunate chain of events that started with partition of the country in 1947.The region was a leading producer of tea and with the discovery of crude oil the region was one of the key revenue sources for British India.
The people of the region historically and traditionally had close ties with the people of the neighboring countries. The strategic positioning of the region was jeopardized with the attention shifting from the remote North East after partition.

Dr. A Didar Singh
“For business, the single most important factor is connectivity, India already looses some 15% on logistics cost, and when you come to the North East, the situation is worse” said Dr. A Didar Singh, Secretary General of FICCI while delivering the welcome address at the inaugural session of Connect North East 2016 in Agartala.The North East Connectivity Summit was conceptualized on the premise that better connectivity would lead to faster and more inclusive development in 2014, focusing on core connectivity issues of surface and air connectivity. The attempt was to bring forth a convergence of efforts and intellectual output into a common platform which could highlight the needs of the north east region and catalyze action for reenabling it as an economic and strategic area of interest for the sub-region.With more than 5300 kms of international borders,strengthening and expansion of connectivity network with the neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar etc has been a long standing demand in the region.
Dr. BibekDebroy, Member of NITI Aayog
The North East Connectivity Summits, since 2014 have been trying to gather data and crucial analysis about these issues through several reports to substantiate the viability of connectivity led development and catalyze investment in critical connectivity infrastructure. Multilaterals like World Bank, UNESCAP etc have also joined hands with FICCI, the State Governments of the region and industry members in order harness the expandingpossibilities that the region represents.

Connect North East 2016, the thirdNorth East Connectivity Summit was organized in Tripura which shares more 850 kms of international borders with Bangladesh and is undoubtedly a strategic point for trade and commerce with Bangladesh and even SE Asia through the Chittagong portTripura has important resources like Rubber, Bamboo, Gas, Agrihorti Resources and many importantlocations for Tourism.With a long border with Bangladesh the state has the potential to become a major hub of commercial activity and manufacturing. Unfortunately the state has been severely constrained by a huge gap in connectivity with mainland India, with the rest of North East and with neighboring Bangladesh, though in recent times the conditions have begun to improve. “Dhaka is just 150 km from Tripura’s capital Agartala, Chittagong port is just 75 km from Tripura’s border and Ashuganj river port is very near (50 km)” saidDr. BibekDebroy, Member of NITI Aayog who was one of the speakers at the Summit. He also said that Agartala-Akhaura rail link is being set up to connect north-east with Bangladesh and Akhaura check post is beingmodernized and many border haats (markets) are being set up to enhance trade with Bangladesh.

Mr Manik Sarkar
Connect North East 2016 was organized with Border Trade and expansion of cross border marketing linkages with Bangladesh and otherSouth East Asian region as a central theme. The Government of Tripura joined the initiative as the host state. The private sector and multilateral agencies were invited to look at Tripura as a region with immense potential for widening business reach offering access to not only thepeople of Tripura and North Eastern states but also to a base of more than 3.2 billionpeople in BBIN and South Asian RegionThe summit saw many perspectives converge at one single platform. Mr Manik Sarkar, Chief Minister of Tripura was joined by his counterpart from Nagaland, Mr T R Zeliang, Chief Minister of Nagland.

Dr BibekDebroy, Member NitiAayog, Tapan Chakraborty, Minister of Indiustries, Tripura and Amir Hossain Amu, Minister of Industries from Bangladesh were some of the important leaders who helped set the stage for a wider dialogue at Connect North East 2016. Several MPs and senior officials from Tripura and other North Eastern States also presented their viewpoints on the issues of connectivity. Ms. Sushmita Deb, MP from Assam said that the issue being deliberated uponwas very important and beyond narrowness of politics, which is why the summit was successful for the third time.

There was a visible interest from the international community with the representatives and delegations from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Japan, Russia, and the United Statesetc taking active part in the deliberations at Agartala. “These are all positive developments to build connectivity and boost trade relations, we must work towards an action oriented agenda. Chairman of FICCI NE advisory Council, Ranjit Barthakur said, the summit was organized by FICCI with support from the Tripura government to present a glimpse of the emerging opportunities for business in the state and connectivity was one of the core issues impacting economic development in the region.