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N-E guest list grows longer
- Coming next: Australians, Russians & Norwegians

New Delhi, June 26: After hosting a delegation of business-savvy Thais last week, the northeastern states are getting ready for the Russians, Norwegians and Australians.

The minister for development of the northeastern region, Mani Shankar Aiyar, said in Shillong last weekend that the Russian ambassador has planned a “detailed visit” to Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Manipur. He will cover the remaining states of the region later.

The objective of organising such visits is to showcase the Northeast as an investor-friendly destination in the light of the new Northeast Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy and Delhi’s focus on infrastructure development in the Eleventh Five Year Plan.

“I am opening the eyes of the world to the Northeast and opening the eyes of the Northeast to the world,” Aiyar said in the Meghalaya capital.

Thai commerce minister Krirk-Krai Jirapaet, who led a delegation to three states last week, ended his trip with the promise of “building a relationship”, one that could begin by diverting tourist traffic from his country to the region.

The Australian high commissioner will follow the Russian ambassador, and both are expected to be as serious about assessing the potential for business in the Northeast as the Thais were. Visits by diplomats to the verdant hills and wildlife havens of the Northeast are common, but the Thai commerce minister made the trip to Agartala, Guwahati and Shillong strictly with business on his mind.

Aiyar, a former foreign service officer who has given the hitherto lustreless DoNER ministry a profile, expects to hear from the Norwegian ambassador shortly about a Scandinavian business delegation’s plan to visit the region.

But for all the enthusiasm shown by the DoNER minister, there are doubts about whether trips by foreign delegations will translate into long-term business for the investment-starved region. Most of the delegates in the group of Indian businessmen who accompanied the Thai commerce minister said they were unimpressed by the presentations of various states.

“It was pathetic,” said a top official of a public sector financing corporation after presentations by Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh at the North Eastern Council headquarters. He said the presentations lacked solid proposals to attract a commitment for investment. During one of the presentations in Guwahati, Union minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh had to cut short an official when he kept harping on the region’s topography and illustrated his statements with boring statistics.

The lone exception was Assam industry minister Pradyut Bordoloi, who made a professional presentation with the accent on sectors where investment is feasible.

Some Indian businessmen interested in the tourism sector were disappointed when they learnt about land acquisition problems in states like Meghalaya and Nagaland. “Outsiders” cannot buy land belonging to the people of these states, which rules out investment in projects that necessitate acquisition of plots.

Aiyar sounded cautious, too. “We have set the ball rolling. It is now upto the state governments and the local entrepreneurs,” he said,

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