Economic Freeway

The consultative meeting held at Shillong, with the Planning Commission seeking the views of Chief Ministers of North Eastern states before finalizing the 11th five year plan should be seen as a step in the right direction. The sensibility of having a separate consultative meeting will now hopefully give proper direction for the economic development of the northeast region more so because it has largely remained as a military watchtower with security related issues virtually stalling the economic growth potential of the region. More importantly, the establishment in Delhi is starting to view the region as a whole and this can only mean policy changes that allow a single window mechanism for planning and implementation of economic development programmes. The presence of the Northeast Council (NEC) with its fully functional secretariat at Shillong and the coming into existence of a separate Ministry for Development of Northeast Region (DONER) should all be seen as a process towards economic integration of the northeast. In terms of trade and business, it makes sense to have a single economic bloc for the region.

Against this backdrop, the positive response of the Planning Commission to adopt a separate approach in the 11th plan period with a thrust on infrastructure as was suggested by Chief Minister’s of the eight representative State, besides the assurance to incorporate the Look East Policy in the plan document are all therefore a welcoming sign that the Centre is after all serious in its intention to have such a consultative meeting with the NE States in the first place. While the Centre is serious enough to persuade neighboring countries to initiate border trade with the NE states, New Delhi should also keep in mind the huge infrastructure bottleneck that the region suffers from. Unless massive investment is put into the infrastructure sector, the region in particular and the country as a whole cannot hope to benefit from the opening up of trade with neighboring countries. To talk about the benefits accruing from the Look East Policy without drastically improving infrastructure in the region will amount to putting the cart before the horse.

The eight States of the region should also sit down together more often for serious deliberation on the possibility of the North East emerging as a regional market and a single economic Zone and how best to draw a road map for deeper engagement with economies of South East Asian countries. Besides, they should also work to put together a framework that allows for greater cooperation in all forms and manifestations which will in the long run lead to socio-economic and cultural upliftment of the people. Therefore, cooperation among the NE States is a matter of economic necessity and survival. The conflicts and differences makes it more imperative for the NE States to together work on less contentious but common agenda so that the economic opportunities is used in such a way as to promote the well being of people and improve standards of living in the region as a whole. Struggle against poverty, environmental challenges, women, children and girl child, terrorism and drug and human trafficking and pushing for economic growth through trade and investment both within and outside the NE region are some of the key issues that must be addressed upfront. 

While the latest deliberations may result in the formulation of concrete policies and action-plans to develop North East region as a regional market and feasible economic zone, the more important thing would be to keep the issue itself alive and take ground level measures to bring the ideas into reality.