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Time for a dedicated think tank for the North Eastern Region (NER) at the Central Government level;

May 16, 2018
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Time for a dedicated think tank for the North Eastern Region (NER) at the Central Government level;

Need for thrust on Water and Waterways Strength in the Region, Improving Economic Corridors, Digital Technology as the Future of Connectivity, Addressing Infrastructure Deficit as per Local Demand and Needs, Encouraging Grassroots R&D Facilities, Strengthening Regional Value Chains, and Focusing on Clean and Green Energy among others : Outcome of the two day Regional Conference organized by the Ministry of Finance in Guwahati

“Instead of connecting different cities and urban centers in the remote and less-developed areas, the ideal approach should be to develop it in the framework of corridors for regional development. The time has come that there should be a dedicated think tank for the North Eastern Region (NER) at the Central Government level”, said Prof. Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), today on the final day of the two day Regional Conference on the theme of “Physical and Social Infrastructure for Regional Development” being organized by the Ministry of Finance, Government of India in Guwahati, Assam. 

Discussing on the salient takeaways from the consultation of the two day, Prof. Chaturvedi said, “There were several important recommendations discussed in the two day Conference which are essential for physical and social infrastructure in the North Eastern Region (NER)”.

The First Point was low integration due to the land-locked nature of the Region. Historically, the North East had strong trade linkages with the countries in South-East Asia and was a prosperous region. Post-Independence, the connectivity links were broken due to the creation of independent nations in the South Asian region. As a result, the NER became land-locked which stalled the pace of development. However, with fresh initiatives there is a greater recognition of opening of the arteries of connectivity both within NER and with neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, etc.

Secondly, the NITI Aayog has recently launched the ‘NITI Forum for the North East’ which envisages that development projects in the NER will be based on the concept of “HIRA” (Highways, Inland Waterways, Railways and Airways) as spelled-out by the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi. Emphasis will also be made on Education, Health and Skill Development in the region. Assam 2030 is a case in point. In addition, Horticulture, Tourism, Food Processing, use of Bamboo and Made in North-East will be developed through Five Mission Mode Projects in a time-bound manner. There is a need to revive and restore maximum routes, including air strips, for better connectivity. Focus is also on connecting with Bangladesh (4 projects), Nepal (2 projects) apart from Trans Asians Railway line on which three projects are being undertaken and for two lines survey is on. 

Water is a great strength in NER and should be leveraged in the most optimum manner. India has around 111 waterways. Out of 20 waterways in NER, nearly 15 are in Assam. Waterway would significantly lower transportation cost and promote trade. Dredging and maintenance of dredging is required to develop the waterways. Moreover, Inland Waterways (IWT) projects could able to mop up financial resources from the market through issue of bonds. Three ‘I’s are important: Institutions; Information and Infrastructure.

       Digital connectivity is the biggest challenge for the NER because of mountain terrain. Hence, special attention needs to be paid for extending digital connectivity across the region especially digital solutions for remote areas.

Apparently, supply-driven approach to infrastructure development has overlooked the local developmental aspirations in NER. Besides mega infrastructure projects, micro-interventions like e.g. storage facilities could help optimize the utilization of local resources for promoting entrepreneurship and job creation. In this regard, the important point is to have a bottom-up approach rather than the top-down approach for developing the required infrastructure. Maximum vale addition at the doorstep is required. For example, single-crop agriculture in lower Assam restricts the choice of reaping the benefits of regional value chains.

Keeping in view the special geographical dimensions of the region, there is need to have in place grass root R&D facilities at par with global standards. Local engagement is the key.

Local industries in NER are losing their competitiveness due to global competition, poor infrastructure and unfavorable government rules and regulations. Proper pricing, efficient supply of raw materials and product diversification can support the local industries to catch-up. Agri-based value chains have higher prospects in the NER.

NER has great potential for developing Green and Clean Energy based on generating Solar Energy.

MDBs like World Bank, ADB, etc fund projects in developed States like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and so on whereas the States like Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim those need resources for infrastructure development continue to face the problem of low resource mobilization. There should be provisions for addressing the specific financing requirements of the aspirational areas so as to ensure balanced regional development in the NER.

Prof. Chaturvedi also added, “The time has come that there should be a dedicated think tank for the NER at the Central Government level. The recent initiative of NITI to establish a special forum for NER is a step in the right direction. However, I would like to add that RIS is also taking initiative to put in place a special institutional mechanism of the experts from the NER to articulate what NER needs for ensuring its holistic economic and social growth”.

The Valedictory Session of the concluding day was chaired by Prof. Bhupen Sarmah, Director, Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development. Shri P R Jaishankar, Chief General Manager, Indian Infrastructure Finance Company Limited (IIFCL), Shri Dipok Kumar Barthakur, Vice-Chairman, State Innovation & Transformation Aayog and many other dignitaries were present in the occasion.

Before the Valedictory Session, there was Session on “Creating Social Infrastructure for Inclusive Growth” which was chaired by Shri Dinesh Sharma, Former Special Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs. Shri Shyam Jagannathan, Commissioner & Secretary, Finance Department, Shri A. K. Yadav, Chief Administrative Officer, Northeast Frontier Railway, Mr. Halla Maher Qaddumi, Senior Water Economist, The World Bank, Shri Sabyasachi Dutta, Executive Director, Asian Confluence and Dr. Otojit Kshetrimayum, Associate Fellow and Coordinator, Centre for North East India, V. V. Giri National Labour Institute were present on the occasion as panellists.

The two day Regional Conference was organized by the Ministry of Finance, Government of India in collaboration with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) and the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).  This was 5thsuch Conference in a build-up to the 3rd Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of AIIB which is going to be hosted by the Government of India in Mumbai on 25th and 26th June, 2018. Three more such Regional Conferences are going to be held at Bhopal, Pune and Mumbai leading to the final culmination to the 3rd Annual Conference.

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