Guest Post by Hemant Chandak
India hosted the three day Raisina Dialogue – 2016, in the first week of March. The event focus was for better connectivity of India with Asian countries. Issues of regional connectivity and issues including maritime trade and security that India was working towards was also discussed. The foreign secretary S. Jaishankar highlighted the AGAR (Security and Growth for All in Region), IONS (Indian Ocean Naval Symposium), SOMS and Joint Strategic Vision for Asia in his speech. Connectivity, as both a driver and outcome of national economic growth, and as a yardstick to measure influence was repeatedly highlighted.
As a ‘significantly under connected nation’, India’s ability to use its breadth, diversity and strategic location has been significantly undermined. Central to the lack of reach has been the Indian government’s inability to put together a concrete and working plan to connect to the north east. THe centrality of north east as a gateway to East asia is critical. The current NLD government, inspite of recasting the north east issue in a different light and making attempts to change the narrative on India’s east asia policy, hasn’t succeeded significantly.
The 15,000 crore NE connectivity project, an agreement that India signed with Japan to develop the region as a manufacturing base, hasn’t kicked off, except on paper. In what is seen as a three phase project to connect nearly 1,200 km, there are challenges and disagreements even on the first phase with an estimated cost of around Rs 5,000 crore. The first phase will connect two highways (380 km of NH54 in Mizoram and 50 km of NH51 in Meghalaya). It was to be funded as a loan at a concessional rate by the Japanese government-owned development agency JICA. However, differences between JICA and the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL) have emerged. And differences are not only around the costs involved, but even the technology that is to be used in building roads. Furthermore, how to carry assessments around environmental and social impact assessments remains a bone of contention too.
Things moved post Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s visit to India, but if significant progress has to be made over the next 3-4 years, projects such as this will need to work much more efficiently than they have. The second phase comprises improvement of NH 127B, NH40, NH53 and NH 39 in the region as well as construction of two bridges, while the third phase comprises improvement in NH62, NH 102A and NH 44 with two more bridges. We have seen bridges in NE remaining in construction phase for nearly 5-7 years during the last government, but if this government is serious about its commitment, lethargy and corruption has to be checked.
If India is able to work through these plans quickly, sort out its differences and stick to the timeliness of construction, NE region would move away from a subsidy dependent region to become a significant contributor to overall India’s growth story. North East will play a significant role ones the infrastructure is in place to become key part in Bangladesh, India, China and Myanmar-Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC). This proposed corridor will originate from Kunming in China’s Yunan province and pass through Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar, Chittagong-Dhaka-Sylhet in Bangladesh before entering North Eastern states, Bengal and ending in Kolkata. This is part of reviving the old Silk Route by the entire four nations’ involved. We will have to pull our act together to build the infrastructure in our geographic belt of the corridor to build credible reputation among the other nations involved, some of who are working at rapid pace to develop the same at their end.
Hemant Chandak works for CISCO systems. He is presently doing GCPP 13 and tweets @hemantchandak