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Central seal on NE expressway project

Guwahati, Sept. 14: The Centre has cleared an ambitious project to interlink the capitals of the seven states of the Northeast and Sikkim through a network of multi-lane expressways.

The proposed express highway project is not just about building good roads. There will be dedicated emergency relief and trauma care services, SOS call boxes and emergency helpline booths along the entire route.

The plan, drawn up by the North Eastern Council (NEC), envisages constructing highways with four lanes each in the plains and two lanes with paved shoulders in the hilly areas.

The proposed road network, to be called the Northeast Express Highway, will span 6,907 km, including 4,464 km of national highways, 2,050 km of newly-declared national highways and 393 km of NEC roads.

The proposal has been included in the roadmap for development of the region, which was placed before the governors and chief ministers of the region at the 48th NEC meeting in Gangtok on Thursday. The meeting decided to take up the Northeast Express Highway project on a priority basis.

Making a presentation on the roadmap at the Gangtok meeting, NEC secretary P.L. Thanga said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave his seal of approval on the highway blueprint at the behest of the Union ministry for development of the Northeast.

The Centre’s clearance is big news for the six states — Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura — that have been left out of the four-lane highway project launched under the Prime Minister’s National Highway Development Programme. Assam and Meghalaya are the only two states of the region to be included in the project.

The total length of roads in the landlocked region is about 79,241 km. Of this, 7.8 per cent are national highways, 6.2 per cent are state highways, 15.8 per cent are major district roads and the remaining 50.2 per cent are district roads. Most of these roads are in a dilapidated condition, hampering industrialisation of the region.

Because of the absence of rail networks in all northeastern states barring Assam, roads are considered part of the basic infrastructure required for economic development. At Thursday’s NEC meeting, all the chief ministers of the region underscored the need to improve road connectivity to accelerate the pace of development.

Highlighting the problem faced by his government in implementation of ongoing NEC road projects, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said these had been delayed by irregular release of funds. He pointed out that during the last fiscal, the NEC released Rs 64.40 crore to the public works department for road projects, as against the requirement of Rs 106 crore. Gogoi said Assam could not maintain NEC roads properly because of the continuing financial crisis.

He said the proposed express highway network should benefit all the states of the region equally.

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