Monday, 3 February 2014

Infrastructure Bonanza: Policy Initiatives for India’s Northeast

Photo Credit: The Economic Times
Infrastructure and connectivity deficit have always remained a perpetual challenge for India’s Northeast. Due to harsh geographical terrain, it almost remained isolated and only a stress of 28 km long road through Siliguri corridor, popularly known as chicken neck connected this entire mass of land with rest of India. The railway link was established during colonial period for interest and expansion of colonial economy in this remote region. Though Northeast shares 98 percent of its boundary with international neighbours, but for geo-strategic reasons, many of its organic cross-border routes were closed in post-Independent period. Intra-regional accessibility also has been difficult, making NER cut-off from all sides. Attempts to connect the region has gained momentum in post 1990s with Look East Policy and was reiterated in 2008 in 2020 NER Vision document. In the recent past, the 12th plan once again ensures UPA government initiatives on infrastructure and connectivity in Northeast as a key development strategy, which focuses on following areas.

Major expansion in railways is charted out with 20 projects of which 10 are national projects. Additional financial resources of Rs 314 crore in the current year expects to complete railway routes like Rangiya-Rangpura (Tezpur), Rangpura- North-Lakhimpur and North-Lakhimpur- Murkongselek. Lumding – Silchar gauge conversion for main and branch lines also are suppose to be completed between March 2015and June 2016. Two most remote states like Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are going to be connected through rails with new broad gauge lines Dudhnoi - Mendipathar and Harmuti-Naharlagun by March 2014. The seven national projects to be completed in the Twelfth Plan period are Rangiya-Murkongselek (Assam), Lumding- Silchar including branch lines (Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura), Tetelia- Byrnihat (Meghalaya), Jiribam-Tupul-Imphal (Manipur), Bogibeel bridge (Assam), Kumarghat-Agartala (Tripura), Agartala-Subroom (Tripura).

500 km East -West Corridor of the National Highways in Northeast is expected to be completed in December 2014. Another mega project on Special Accelerated Road Development is targeted to be completed by June 2015, which involves development of 4099 km of roads. Trans Arunachal Highway programme involving a length of 2319 km is likely to be over by June 2016 and March 2018.

Air connectivity has increased considerably in the region and average departures per week have more than doubled from 226 in 2001 to 497 in 2012. However more initiatives like creating new airport at Pakyong, Sikkim are taken. For completion by 2014, the issue of land acquisition needs to be resolved and State Government has to construct the approach road from Gangtok to Pakyong. Similarly the new airport at Itanagar also needs to resolve land acquisition issues, approach road, electricity and water issues. Several existing airports are being expanded/modernized like in Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Shillong, Imphal, and Agartala.
Guwahati will be a regional hub to improve connectivity.

National Waterway 2 on Brahmaputra stressing 891 km can provide scope for eco-friendly and cheap transport for both commodities and people. It is planned to ensure 2 to 2.5 metre depth with navigation aids and ten floating terminals maintained by IWAI.
16 floating terminals for passengers being set up by Ministry of Shipping are expected to be operational by March 2014, four are already operational. IWAI is developing a Roll on Roll off facility at Dubri and Hatsingimari to reduce travel time of vehicles between Meghalaya and Dhubri in Assam which now have to go over Jogigopa bridge adding 220 km.

Northeast currently has 4080 MW of generation capacity and another 6810 MW are under development. Untapped hydro potential is 55,561 MW can generate surplus power, meeting the energy needs of the nation and also generating resources for the region. There is need for expeditious clearance on environmental, forest and land acquisition. The Cabinet Committee on Investment cleared the Dibang project in AP though its Lower Subansiri project is facing some implementation problems. Intra-state Transmission line network for Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim is being taken up under NLCPR (Central). For states other than Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim Power grid has prepared a project for evacuation of power being funded by World Bank and GOI. 

Teledensity in the Northeast has improved but still remains below national average. Twelfth Plan envisages a Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for the Northeast which includes mobile coverage in uncovered sub-divisional district headquarters and villages. This is undertaken by Northeast Space Application Centre and DoT. Mobile coverage would extend to uncovered portions like National Highways and all District Headquarters with optical fibre cable (OFC) connectivity or satellite media. Such OFC aims to connect District to Block to Panchayat/Village Council by 2015.

Appropriate cooperation from region can make such significant step a reality and helps Northeast to break its barrier of isolation.  

Rakhee Bhattacharya

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