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Focus on roads, industry disappointed

Feb. 28: P. Chidambaram’s 2013-14 Budget has given a big boost to the road sector in the Northeast by tapping the multilateral institutions while increased allocations in other social sectors will benefit the region equally.

In fact, the finance minister has tapped the multilateral institutions in helping to build roads in the states of the Northeast and connect them to Myanmar. “Multilateral development banks are keen to assist in efforts to promote regional connectivity. Combining the ‘Look East’ policy and the interests of the northeastern states, I propose to seek the assistance of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to build roads in the northeastern states and connect them to Myanmar,” Chidambaram said in his budget speech.

Both the World Bank and ADB have allocated a good amount of money for the road sector in the Northeast. While the World Bank has sanctioned $400 million till now, the ADB has approved $200 million under the programme.

Projects in the World Bank pipeline include another $320 million for Assam Roads Project and another $150 million in Meghalaya as part of Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana.

Sources said construction of a total of 4,585km of roads besides had been proposed on the Indo-Myanmar border, which is exclusively in the Northeast, of which 1,417km roads and other facilities would be constructed in the first phase, costing Rs 3,302 crore. Inter-ministerial consultations are going on.

The Confederation of Indian Industry has welcomed the announcement of building roads to Myanmar with World Bank/ADB assistance under the Look East Policy.

“Increase in allocation for infrastructure and other social sectors spending is good for the Northeast and notwithstanding the fact that the region has not been frequently mentioned in the budget speech, it would certainly benefit from the increased outflow of budget allocation, provided we are smart enough to garner our due share and put the resources meant for development to a logical use,” Finer chairman R.S. Joshi said.

Chidambaram also announced an allocation of Rs 1,000 crore to Assam and Bihar, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal under the “bringing the green revolution to eastern India” scheme as rice production has increased.

“The proposal to extend agricultural credit of Rs 7 lakh crore is a step in the right direction, which together with the budget of Rs 1,000 crore to the eastern states for agricultural sector should benefit the farmers of Assam, provided sufficient number of Kisan Credit Cards are issued on time,” Abhijit Barooah, co-chairman, CII, North East Council, said.

Chidambaram announced that a bill would be moved in Parliament shortly to declare the Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch of river Barak in Assam as the sixth national waterway.

A source said Rs 123 crore had been approved for preparation of projects/schemes for development of infrastructure facilities on the 121km stretch of the Barak river which would result in unified development of the waterways for shipping and navigation and transportation of cargo to the Northeast, particularly in Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.

Finer has expressed happiness on the importance given by the finance minister to the micro small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector as with incentives have been continued for three more years in case the sector graduates to the next level from micro to small, and small to medium.

However, apart from the increased allocation to social sectors, there is nothing to cheer the industry in the Northeast.

“We are disappointed that the union finance minister has not acceded to the request of Finer and all chief ministers of the region to restore the spirit of the North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy (NEIIPP) 2007 by doing away with unilateral and arbitrary dilutions made in the implementation of the policy,” Joshi said.

“There is nothing for the industry in the Northeast. We are disappointed,” Sarat Kumar Jain, managing director of the Rs 800-crore SM Group, told The Telegraph.

“What has disappointed us is the lack of focus on infrastructure. For the North Eastern region, CII believes that infrastructure creation should be a priority for the government and earmarking of funds should have been announced,” Abhijit Barooah said.

On the proposal of setting up the country’s first women’s bank as a public sector bank, Lakhimi Baruah, managing director of Konoklata Urban Cooperative Bank Limited — the only women’s bank in the cooperative sector — said a women’s bank in the public sector is a move in the right direction to further socio-economic empowerment of women.