Without much fanfare the much awaited Sittwe Port in Myanmar was inaugurated earlier this month creating immense hope of boosting trade and the economy in the northeastern region of India as well as South East Asia.
Union Ports, Shipping and Waterways Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, along with the Deputy Prime Minister of Myanmar Admiral Tin Aung San, on May 9 jointly inaugurated the Sittwe Port in Myanmar.
On May 4, Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Shantanu Thakur flagged off a ship carrying 20,000 bags containing 1,000 metric tonnes of cement from Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port in Kolkata as the inaugural shipment to operationalise the Sittwe Port in Rakhine State of Myanmar.
The port has been built under grant assistance from India as part of the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP).
The Sittwe Port was built as an alternative route to the 20-km Siliguri corridor, also known as the Chicken's Neck corridor. It is a stretch of land around the city of Siliguri in West Bengal, connecting Assam and northeast India to the rest of the country.
Once fully operationalised, the port would link the East coast of India to the northeastern states, resulting in considerable savings in cost and time as well as providing an alternative route for the northeast region to access the international sea route via the Sittwe port.
India's four states -- Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur -- share a 1,643 km border with Myanmar and people on both sides have familial ties due to the ethnic affiliations, similar language and lifestyle.
Besides, India-Myanmar have a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.
The Rs 1,000 crore Agartala-Akhaura (Bangladesh) railway project, which is likely to be completed this year end or early next year, would be another connecting link between the hilly northeast and the rest of the country and abroad via Bangladesh.
Being implemented with an Indian grant, once the Agartala-Akhaura railway project is commissioned, people of the northeastern states, especially Tripura, and the southern part of Assam and Mizoram, can go to Kolkata by rail saving 22 hours of travel time.
Of the total length of 12.24 km, 6.78 km falls in Bangladesh and the remaining 5.46 km is in Tripura.
As much as 90 per cent work on the 110-km-long Jiribam (along southern Assam)-Imphal new railway line has been completed and the Manipur capital is expected to come onto the Indian Railway map by December 2023, making it the fourth capital city in the northeastern region to have a rail link.
Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) Chief Public Relations Officer Sabyasachi De told IANS that the Rs 14,322 crore railway project is targeted to be completed by December 2023.
Assam's main city of Guwahati (adjoining capital Dispur), Tripura capital Agartala and Arunachal Pradesh's Naharlagun (adjacent to capital city Itanagar) are already on the railway network.
Not only through waterway and railway, connectivity was developed in the northeastern region as part of the government's mission to bring the region at par with the other states of the country. Air connectivity has also been developed a lot.
Many of the airports in northeast India have been connected with many cities of the country under the UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik)-RCS (Regional Connectivity) scheme, launched in 2017.
Currently there are 17 operational airports in the northeast region -- Guwahati, Silchar, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tezpur, Lilalabari and Rupsi (Assam), Tezu, Pasighat, Ziro and Donyi Polo Airport (Arunachal Pradesh), Agartala (Tripura), Imphal (Manipur), Shillong (Meghalaya), Dimapur (Nagaland), Lengpui (Mizoram) and Pakyong (Sikkim).
Agartala's Maharaja Bir Bikram airport became ready to operate international flights after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new integrated terminal building on January 4 last year.
Airports Authority of India (AAI) officials said that Guwahati and Imphal airports are currently the two international airports in the northeast.
An official document said that terming the northeastern region as "Ashtalakshmi", Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has visited the region more than 60 times since 2014, created a viable environment for companies to invest there.
A region with a rich cultural heritage, an abundance of natural resources, and beautiful landscapes, hills and valleys, it has emerged as the "Growth Engine of New India" under the leadership of Modi during the past nine years, it said.
The document said that infrastructure, education, healthcare, and popularising the rich culture of each state in the northeast, have been prioritized under the people-centric policies envisioned by the Central government.
"Northeastern India is now experiencing an era of growth, development and prosperity under the leadership of Modi," it said.
Minister of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), Tourism, and Culture, G Kishan Reddy said that rapid strides in surface transport is the key to the accelerated development of any region and Indian Railways is playing a pivotal role in the northeast.
Overcoming decades of neglect and underdevelopment, the government has given an unprecedented impetus to connectivity in the region, Reddy had said during his recent visit to Tripura.
"Spearheading the efforts, Indian Railways, in the last 9 years has spent over Rs 50,000 crore in the region on building new railway lines, bridges, tunnels etc. and has sanctioned new projects costing close to Rs 80,000 crore."
He said that in comparison to the expenditure of Rs 2,122 crore per year between 2009 and 2014, there has been a 370 per cent increase in the average annual budget allocation which now stands at Rs 9,970 crore for the financial year 2022-23.
Noting that the northeast is the gateway to India's 'Act East Policy', he said that the 21st century is often referred to as the Asian Century because of the rise of Asia as a global epicentre of economy, trade and power. India is the engine of this rise.
In 2014, India's "Look East Policy" that focused on forging better economic relations with India's eastern neighbours was transformed into a more robust, result oriented and geo strategically important "Act East Policy".
In various fora Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mentioned that the northeast region would be the gateway to implementing a vibrant Act East Policy, the DoNER minister said.
During his recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had said: "In the last nine years, a sea change of development has been made in the northeastern region by the Modi government.
"Under the government's Look-East policy, all kinds of development including expansion of infrastructure has been undertaken after Modi ji became Prime Minister and turned the region from problematic area to a prospective and potential region. Inter-state border disputes are also being solved on a fast track basis."
Shah during his recent Mizoram visit had said that connectivity projects comprising road, rail and air worth Rs 1.76 lakh crore would be completed by 2025 in the northeastern region.
The Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project is said to be the most significant project that India has undertaken in Myanmar.
Shah had said that budgetary allocation under PM-DevINE (Prime Minister's Development Initiative for North East Region) has been increased by 276 per cent.
"Modi is the first Prime Minister in India who visited 60 times in the northeastern region in the past nine years while the central ministers visited 432 times in the region to take forward the development of the region," the Home Minister said adding that development of the region is one of the Modi government's priority sectors.
He had said that with the surrender of 8,000 militants of different extremist outfits and signing of various accords, violent activities have been reduced to a large extent in the region.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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