Changing Landscape of North East Region

Ashok Ogra
There is more to the North East states than the world boxing champion Mary Kom or the world famous multi-genre Shillong Chamber Choir or Assam tea, known for its malty flavour. Or Kaziranga national park, known for one-horn rhinoceros. The region is more than just Assam, and comprises seven other states: Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim.
The region shares 96 percent of its land border with China, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“This is Asia in miniature, where the brown and yellow races meet and mingle, where communities and oral histories span national boundaries as seamlessly and the mountains and the forests which run across them, writes noted journalist and author Sanjoy Hazarika.
Prior to the partition, the system of river, rail and road transport was highly efficient and there was vigorous commercial sector in which British and Indian firms operated on a competitive and cooperative basis. All this changed dramatically with the exit of the British and the partition of India in 1947. It disrupted key transport and trade routes, and effectively landlocked the entire North Eastern Region.
The post-partition sea port is located in Chittagong in Bangladesh, and the old Calcutta port can be reached only via a long land route along the perimeter of Bangladesh and passing through a small corridor , the so-called ‘Chicken Neck’ which links the main territory of India with the North Eastern States (NES). Since then, the region has remained one of the most backward regions of the country, receiving little attention from the Centre. It remained largely neglected, inaccessible with poor road and rail infrastructure. In the 2020 Vision document for the eight states of the North East, this situation is termed as ‘structural regression.’ However, when the BJP government came to power at the Centre in 2014, the region started receiving lots of attention in terms of budgetary support and other financial grants.
The initiatives taken by the central government since 2014 to uplift the economies of the eight north-eastern states and bridge the gap between the region and the rest of the country, is best captured in a book titled TRANSFORMING NORTH EAST INDIA. Written by civil servant Ajeet Kumar Jha who has worked for the region in various capacities provides decent background material to the region’s economic potential and details of various schemes launched – from hospital to roads, railways to airports, waterways to tourism, agriculture to power. Calling the initiatives taken as a step in the right direction towards ATMINIRBHAR BHARAT, the author narrates the entire growth story of the region with proper data and explanatory notes.
” The region possesses several comparative advantages, like fertile soils, favourable climate conditions, rich biodiversity, forest wealth, educated manpower, as well as a geographically strategic location acting as a gateway to the south-east Asian countries and China. Given these advantages, NER has all the potential to actively contribute to the betterment of farm income, reduce poverty and speed up the overall economic growth of the region,” Ajeet writes.
The North Eastern 2020 Vision Document provides an overarching framework for the development of the entire region. The purpose of this document is to ensure the entire region reclaims the position of national economic eminence it held a few decades ago.
Ajeet Jha quotes Dr.Jitendra Singh, Minister of State (independent charge) of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER), Minster of State in the Prime Minister’s office, Ministry of Personnel and Department of Atomic Energy and Space: ” the region has emerged as a role model in many forms…. due priority and protection given to the North East Region received a lot from Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in the last seven years.”
It must be mentioned that attempts to reach out to the North East were made as far back as 1991 when India announced the Look East Policy initiative. However, nothing much came out of it. It was Act East Policy enunciated by the government in 2015 that positioned NER as the bridge between the burgeoning South East Asian countries and emerging Eastern South Asia (along with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal). The 4Cs of this policy include Commerce, Connectivity, Capacity Building and Culture.
According to Sanjoy “North East is a magnificent and tragic tapestry of people, events and nature. You can be touched by its rivers, rain and mist, overwhelmed by the seeming gentleness of its people and stirred by its powerful and evocative history.”
It is hoped that with a budgetary allocation of a whopping Rs. 68,020 crores in the budget, the region will see a huge improvement in social infrastructure – health, connectivity, education -and achieve a growth trajectory necessary to regain economic vitality. The eight sister states yearn to emerge out of isolation and become part of the growth story taking place in a few other states of the country.
Published by Alokparv, the book in the form of a compendium, written by Ajeet Kumar Jha is a valuable addition for those interested in knowing about the region that has a total population of plus 5 crores and a total area of 262,179 sq km. The book details the initiatives and schemes announced by the government since the last few years, aimed at addressing the socio – economic concerns of the people of seven sister states and a younger brother – Sikkim- that is separated from the ‘sisters’ by Bhutan.
(The author was Director, Doordarshan, Shillong in 1992, and currently works for reputed Apeejay Education Society.)