The connectivity of states in the North East region of the country with the rest of India, barring Assam is a real barrier when it comes to cutting down transportation cost of people and resources. While the highways in the region are not in the best of conditions, the real issue is that owing to the hilly terrain they fork out over longer distances which put to rest those who need to travel as fast as possible to reach another state. Rail connectivity is a distant dream for most parts of the North East except Assam, which is extensively connected on the rail map. However, it can still be pointed out that even with all the parts of Assam which are on the rail map of the country, any journey that starts or ends at these points to major cities and towns take days on end. In this situation, it is air connectivity that would be the best option that cuts down on the time spent on connecting the region with the rest of the country. It is no surprise that over the years, there has been a growing tendency for people to take to air travel co-relating with the number of people from the region venturing outside for their studies and to establish themselves far away from home in pursuit of their careers. The presence of private low cost airlines operating in the country that has places in the north east region on their flight destinations have made it easier and economical for people to travel. Compared to a decade ago, the frequency of flights, the points of connectivity in the region and the number of airlines operating in the region have been on the increase.
At one point of time, there was only Indian Airlines operating its flights with travel agents making the most of it by hiking ticket fares at will. Now of course, the role played by ticketing agents in terms of fare rates, have waned down since people can check directly with agencies for ticket fares and even look for discounted rates and bargains. Having said this, private low costs airlines still take the liberty of hiking fare rates on short notice hiding behind ‘fuel costs’ while keeping their base fare rates at the minimum. Also, even as there are discounts given on major city connections in the country, none of the destination points in the region get the advantage of discounts.
Which is why the announcement of a budget carrier stating its plan with an eye on expanding in North East as ‘the next big destination for air travel’ is good news considering how this private airlines has made a killing with its competitive rates that are well below the existing fare rates of other airlines. Considering that this airlines has a major and very popular recall among air travelers in Asia because of its ticket rates, there may well be a time when it begins to think of connecting the region to South East Asia where it has a huge presence. For now though, we will have to be content with the tag of ‘international airport’ appended to Imphal’s Tulihal Airport that has not had any international flights operating in or out of it save for a chartered flight between Imphal and Myanmar.
For all these long years, the state of the highways have always been talked about with no real change on the ground while with the rail connection, there is still a long way to go for constructions to wrap up. The nature of connectivity and costs involved in transportation of goods will decrease once rail connectivity becomes a reality. But for all practical purposes, the air connectivity of the region and the state to more states and cities in the rest of the country and at affordable is what is important in light of the sheer volume of travel from the region. This does not mean having to do away with the idea of better road connectivity since the volume of traffic even on the national highways are on the increase but to keep the option of affordable air connectivity open since our Highways are often held on ransom by various agencies.
Leader Writer: Chitra Ahanthem