New Delhi, Nov. 16: Delhi may have just taken the first step towards bridging the great divide — mentally and geographically — between the Northeast and the rest of the country.
The draft approach paper to the 11th Plan that was discussed by the cabinet today focuses on “interconnecting” all northeastern states over the next five years by road, rail, water and air. In effect, interconnection will directly link each state of the region to the rest of the country.
In an equally significant development, the external affairs ministry has decided to open a branch in the region soon. Foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon today made a detailed presentation on the region’s proximity to the Southeast Asian countries during a review meeting of the North Eastern Council.
Union DoNER minister Mani Shankar Aiyar put the importance of the Northeast in perspective during a media briefing after the meeting. “The Look East policy has two components. One is to recognise that the Northeast of India is where Southeast Asia begins,” he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also the chairman of the Planning Commission, has been critical of the states of the region for their laxity in utilising sanctioned funds. However, that has not stopped Delhi from drawing up an extensive development plan with the theme “Bridging divides: including the excluded”.
One of the salient features of the five-year plan is multi-pronged action to upgrade all modes of transport. The broad gauge rail network will cover all states by the end of the Plan period.
“Meghalaya and Sikkim will have rail links and almost the entire metre-gauge network in the region will be converted to broad gauge,” a highly-placed source said.
Delhi also plans to expedite work on greenfield airports at Pakyong in Sikkim, Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh and Cheithu near the Nagaland capital of Kohima. A greenfield airport is one that is built in a brand new location – literally on a green field. It is built from scratch and not as an extension of an existing airport. A greenfield airport is sanctioned when an existing airport is unable to meet the projected requirements of traffic or a new focal point of traffic emerges with sufficient viability.
The airports in Guwahati, Dimapur, Agartala and Imphal are to be upgraded under the national modernisation plan.
The Brahmaputra national waterway number two, which provides trunk route connectivity to the region, will be made fully functional by the end of the 11th Plan.
Inland water transportation is seen as the ideal mode of transport for both low-value and high-value commodities.
The theme of “bridging divides” highlights the need for balanced regional development and focuses on specific problems of the region arising out of remoteness, hilly and inhospitable terrain, a weak resource base, inadequate administrative capacity and a law and order situation “often threatened by insurgency”.
These factors have resulted in low economic activity and, consequently, in fiscal vulnerability, the approach paper states.
Recognising the “criticality” of development of the vast road network in the region, the paper harps on the need to “accelerate” the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme.