The World Bank latest report on Assessment of State Implementation of Business Reforms of Indian States listed Gujarat on top with 71.14 %. And even Gujarat is rated only as an Aspiring leader and not a leader yet since it was short of the required 75%. Among the last five, four are from North East India that includes Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Even the biggest state in North East, Assam reached only 14. 84%. The methodology used includes eight areas. Setting up business ; allotment of land and obtaining construction permit; complying with environment procedures ; complying with labor regulations; obtaining infrastructure related utilities ; Registering and complying with tax procedures ; carrying out inspections ; enforcing contracts . The report is a reflection on how far the States in Northeast have to go to be able to reach anywhere near the Joneses.  And the Government of India has to think seriously if it is serious about the success of the Act East Policy.

It is about 25 years since the launching of the Look East Policy. Prime Minister Modi is now calling it an Act East Policy.  By whatever name it is called the urgency is the need of implementation or early operationalization of projects:-

  1. Indian Budget 2015:
  2. Emphasis on digital linkages with ASEAN besides roads and infrastructure connectivity announced by PM Modi at the India – ASEAN Summit in Myanmar in August 2014.
  3. Early implementation of all these projects to facilitate movement of goods, services and tourists. Modernization of border trading framework. Soft infrastructure for transit & transportation like customs and immigration.
  4. Road and railway connectivity within NE itself.
  5. Road link between Mizoram and Chin states in Myanmar.
  6. India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway is a proposed strategic road that will connect Moreh, India to Mae Sot, Thailand
    • The Myawaddy-Thinggan Nyenaung-Kawkareik section of the highway (in Myanmar) became operational in August 2015. The Myawaddy-Thinggan Kawkareik section of the Asian Superhighway, starting from Manipur is set to open later in November 2015.
    • The road’s construction began in 2012 which runs from Moreh in India to Thailand’s Maesot via Myanmar’s Tamu, Mandalay and Myawaddy along with sharing the border with Myanmar.
    • There is also talk about introducing a bus service between India and Myanmar. If introduced, the service will ply between Imphal, Manipur, and Mandalay.
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) trilateral highway, a 3,200-km road which entails linking India to Myanmar and then further to Southeast Asia, as priority. The government is set to ink a strategic agreement to operationalize the highway to enhance regional co-operation.
  7. The Kaladan Multi Modal Transit project. It began in 2008. It was supposed to have been completed since November 2014. The project has several sections/legs:
    • A project development company will set up manufacturing hubs in Cambodia , Myanmar , Laos and Vietnam through separate special purposes vehicles(SPVs): To catalyze investments from Indian private sector and boost trade and commerce between NE India and SE Asia.
    • An All India Institute of Medical Science Assam.
    • An Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research in Nagaland.
    • Centre of Film production, Animation and Gaming in Arunachal Pradesh.
  8. Industry expecting fiscal package of NE Industrial & Investment Promotion policy kept in abeyance by Government of India has to become clearer as quickly as possible.
  9. DONER Minister Dr. Jitendra Singh has announced “Make in North East” initiative inspired by the “Make in India” concept of PM Modi.
  10. To promote exclusive NE expertise like tea processing, organic farming, food processing, exploitation of wind power, AYUSH, Wellness therapies etc.
  11. Film industry from Mumbai to come for shooting in NE.
  12. Settling the security and insurgency situation and Building mutual confidence and trust. The signing of the Framework Agreement for Peace Accord in August 2015 between The Government of India and the NSCN (IM) is a step in the right direction for the success of the AEP.

Two Angles of Act East Policy:

  • External Angle : Essentially, concerning relations of India as a whole with ASEAN & East Asia
  • Internal Angle : Development of North East India that makes it a viable gate way for the rest of India to ASEAN & East Asia

The fact is one cannot succeed without other.  The question that arises is how can then the AEP succeeds without first completing the projects mentioned above.  The reasons for the tardiness have been attributed to various factors. Among the non-security related factors the biggest hurdle appears to be multiplicity of agencies.  There is Government  of India Line Ministries like Roads and Surface Transports , Railways ,  Commerce and Industry , etc  ; State Governments in North East ; Ministry of Development of North East Region (DONER) ; North Eastern Council (NEC ); Public Sector Undertakings ; Private Sector , etc. Then on security related there is the Defense Ministry, Home Ministry, External Affairs Ministry, Cabinet Secretariat and the supreme Prime Minister’s Office.     

Sometime ago I had traveled by road from Imphal to Kohima. It took me four hours in an SUV covering 140 Kms. There was hardly any traffic.  And this is supposed to be a National Highway. This is the only road link to Moreh border of the State of Manipur and connects with Myanmar, Thailand etc. How can there be a regular bus service in the condition leave alone heavy Lorries carrying goods and merchandize without any obstacles. 

Given that there are complexities especially on the security related front, the fact is at least on the non-security related areas the whole job of implementation could be entrusted to one single authority. My submission that perhaps there is a need for an Act East Policy through North East Implementation Authority (AEP-NEIA) at the earliest.  Otherwise the Act East Policy will meet the same fate as the Look East Policy.

Rudi Warjri, Director, Amalgamated Plantation