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Development In Northeast: String Of Road And Connectivity Projects Under NDA Govt

Road construction in the Northeast more than doubled under the NDA government, rising from just 0.6 km of national highway being laid per day under the UPA government to 1.5 km per day between 2014-19, an all-time high

Speed of highway construction at an all time high in the north east
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Northeast India has shared a strained relationship with the rest of country. One of the primary reasons for the culturally and political alienation between the Northeast and the “mainland” India is the physical and territorial inaccessibility of the remote northeastern states. In recent years, however, the Narendra Modi-led NDA government has been making efforts to enhance connectivity between the northeast and other Indian states. And yet, much needs to be done it terms of increasing connectivity in the true sense.

During the 75th Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed on the “new history of connectivity” that was being scripted in the northeast region, and linked it to the economic growth of the region. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways in recent time has initiated/undertaken many major National Highway development projects in the northeastern region. 

According to a report in The Print, road construction in the northeast more than doubled under the NDA government, rising from just 0.6 km of national highway being laid per day under the UPA government to 1.5 km per day between 2014-19, an all-time high. In the same period, multiple central agencies such as the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) have built a total of 2,731 km of national highways across the eight northeastern states. Between 2009 and 2014, the UPA had built 1,079.25 km of roads. 

With a BJP government in place since 2016, Assam got the highest share of the pie with 1,011 km of the 2,731 km stretches laid out since PM Modi came to power. As of 2019, 815 km of roads were constructed in Arunachal Pradesh, the state with the second highest construction. In 2017, PM Modi inaugurated the Dhola Sadiya bride, the country’s longest bridge over the Lohit river in Assam on the third anniversary of his government and said the NDA dispensation was working to make the Northeast region a trade hub for southeast Asia.

The government is also developing the NW-1 on the Ganges, NW-2 on Brahmaputra and NW-16 on Barak and a multimodal hub on the Brahmaputra in Guwahati, which includes a ship repairing port at Pandu, four tourist jetties as well as 11 floating terminals.

Developing the region also falls in line with the country’s ‘Act East Policy’, a rejig of the ‘Look East Policy’ of the UPA era aimed at better connectivity and cooperation between South Asian nations. In recent years, there has been a push to develop the entire NER as a gateway for South East Asia to the northeast. Last year, India called for the speeding up of regional connectivity projects with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), including the trilateral highway with Myanmar and Thailand and the Kaladan transit transport project. The highway will connect Manipur to Thailand via road. 

The Centre has also announced that it is implementing various rail, road and air connectivity projects in Northeast India worth Rs 1,34,200 crore to promote infrastructural connectivity. 

In June, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said that the government is carrying out 20 rail projects for 2,011 kilometres, worth an amount of Rs 74,000 crore, which are spread across the Northeast region. The central government is also developing 4,000 kilometres of roads in the region at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore. Sitharaman also informed that at present, there are 15 ongoing projects for air connectivity in the Northeastern region, costing nearly Rs 2,200 crore. 

The Eastern Waterways Connectivity Transport Grid project, which is currently underway,  is projected to offer seamless connectivity not only between the Northeast and rest of the country but also in the sub-continent, upon completion, offering nearly 5,000 kilometres of navigable waterways to and from the region. 

In 2020, the World Bank-funded Meghalaya Integrated Transport Project was initiated to “improve and modernize the transport sector and help Meghalaya to harness its vast growth potential for high-value agriculture and tourism”. The initiative includes 13 projects amounting to Rs 547 crore including the construction of three major bridges.

The Meghalaya government under Chief Minister Conrad Sangma announced the completion of 1,800 km of road connectivity in the state by March 2022 under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). In March this year,  Meghalaya governor Satya Pal Malik announced that over 34 road projects under the Meghalaya plan schemes had been sanctioned for Rs 85.5 crore covering a total length of 70.08 km during 2021-22. 

In 2021, Sikkim Governor Ganga Prasad unveiled a road linking Tsomgo lake and Nathula border pass with Gangtok. The road was christened as ‘Narendra Modi Marg’, The older route’s name was “Jawaharlal Nehru Road’. Sikkim also got its first airport in 2018 when PM Modi inaugurated the Pakyong airport. 

Development, however, has been slow. Reports suggest that out of the 187 development projects sanctioned under the Ministry of Development of Northeast Region, only 45 have been completed in the last eight years. Some of the key ongoing road projects inlcude the four-laning of the 62.9 km long Dimapur-Kohima Road in Nagaland. 

The Indian Railways has also been making efforts to strengthen its network in the region and enhance connectivity. Earlier this month, Nagaland got its second railway station after a gap of more than 100 years with the commissioning of new terminal at Shokhuvi. The Donyi Polo Express was extended up to Shokhuvi Railway station, connecting Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh via Guwahati, Assam. The train will reduce the dependence on road transportation to reach Nagaland, one of the most repost states in India, and provide rail connectivity between Nagaland and other Indian states and cities. Increase in rail connectivity is important for promoting tourism and trade. Work is also underway on a new broad gauge railway line project connecting Dimapur to Kohima. The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) zone is executing the 82.50 km new rail line project at a cost of around Rs 6,648 crore.

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In January this year, Manipur got freight train connectivity for the first time in 75 years. In 2021, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari inaugurated 16 National Highway (NH) projects in the state. 

In a bid to expand its tracts in Mizoram, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) is executing the 51.38 Km long Bhairabi – Sairang railway line project at an anticipated cost of Rs. 6,527 crores. Aimed at providing better connectivity and network for boosting economic activities, the project is aimed for completion by March 2023.

(With inputs from PTI)

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