NEW DELHI, May 4: Ahead of her two-day visit from May 10 to Myanmar, the gateway to ASEAN, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday interacted with the chief ministers of the eight states of the Northeastern region on India’s Act East policy.
Speaking at the meeting state chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put development of Northeast region at the heart of the Act East Policy which has greatly increased people to people contact, trade and other relations with the ASEAN countries.
Sonowal in his speech elaborated on the positional advantage of the region to become the new growth hub of trade, tourism and cultural exchange taking advantage of over 4500 km of international boundary it shares with neighbouring countries.
Pitching strongly for improved connectivity and communication infrastructure for furthering relations with the South East Asian region, Sonowal called for improved airways, roadways, waterways, railways and information ways in this region.
He also stated that starting of direct flights connecting the region with the capitals of South East Asian countries would play a vital role in making the region a lucrative destination for potential investors and he urged External Affairs Ministry to contribute an amount of Rs 100 crore from ASEAN India Fund for viability gap funding to start flights from Guwahati to Singapore, Dhaka, Bangkok, Mandalay or Yangon in addition to the 100 crore committed by Assam Government for the purpose.
The chief minister also spoke about the urgent need for early completion of the Asian Trilateral Highway as well as the reopening of the Stillwell Road upto Kunming in China and importance of connecting the waterways of Barak, Brahmaputra and Kushiyara rivers with Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh through dredging at an early date.
“Improved connectivity and infrastructure will lead to exponential growth in the tourism sector in the region in the days to come as North East India has a lot to offer on the tourism front. The region can also expect increased flow of patients from Southeast Asian countries to medical centres in Northeast like Guwahati and Imphal which will give fillip to employment as well as medical infrastructure in the region” the chief minister opined.
Thanking Swaraj for taking personal initiative in setting up consulates of Bangladesh and Bhutan in Guwahati, the chief minister suggested that Ministry of External Affairs may think of hosting a festival of North East in each of the ASEAN countries to project the rich heritage, culture, handloom & handicrafts, industrial and tourism potential of all the North Eastern states.
Conrad on Act East policy
Meanwhile, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K. Sangma on Friday said that there were challenges in implementation of Act East Policy and continuous engagement with other North Eastern States and Centre is required to take the Act East Policy forward, which would boost trade and cultural relations with Asia – Pacific countries.
Speaking at an interactive session, Sangma pushed the idea of state level planning and action to chart out road map for effective implementation of Act East Policy. “Though North East has been clubbed as one region. However, every policy will not suit each other. Hence, a suitable approach was required, which can be arrived at with State level consultation and combined consultation amongst states which shares border with its neighbouring South Asian countries”, the chief minister said.
During the interactive session, Conrad Sangma urged the Central government to enhance road connectivity in North East with four-lane route amongst all the eight states of the region as well as with the neighbouring countries.
Talking about upgrading of Land Customs Stations (LCS) in Meghalaya, the chief minister suggested that if the LCS in the state were equipped with better infrastructure, it would facilitate export of products to the neighbouring nations, which will help the farmers of the state, who are largely dependent on agriculture and allied sectors.
‘Moreh could emerge as support centre’
On the other hand, Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh said the border town Moreh could emerge as a support centre for trade promotion activities by having commodity exchanges, logistics servicing and warehousing facilities.
The chief minister said that Moreh town should be developed with multi-speciality hospitals, diagnostic centres, educational institutions etc. catering the needs of Upper Myanmar.
He informed that making available banking facilities, easy payment modalities, quick food safety checks, single window clearances for transaction and bringing transactional costs to the minimum would facilitate to boost the trade.
The chief minister also called for upgradation of the 110 km Imphal-Moreh highway (NH39) to full double lane/four lane highway standards with paved shoulders should also be given priority to enhance the trade connectivity between the two countries.
Dr Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman, Niti Aayog and Gen (Dr) VK Singh (Retd), minister of state for external affairs, foreign secretary, secretary (East) from the Ministry of External Affairs as well as secretaries from the Ministry of DoNER, Tourism and North Eastern Council also participated in the discussions.