Railway network and highways in landlocked NE

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It is long overdue. Of course, we are talking about improving transport infrastructure and connectivity in the North East region. For too long, the North East region has been isolated not because of its mountainous terrain but on account of geo-political considerations. Policy planners and decision makers sitting in the power corridors of New Delhi seem to have little synergy with the socio-economic reality of the North East region. As far as the region is concerned, we already have Kiren Rijiju as Minister of State (Home) and now Rajen Gohain as Minister of State for Railways. We dont think Mr Kiren Rijiju is influencial enough to make any impact on the policy orientation of the Ministry of Home Affairs vis-a-vis the North East region. Now we have Mr Rajen Gohain, another man from the region, in the Ministry of Railways. He has already identified certain priority areas such as safety of passengers, improving amenities and expansion of rail connectivity in the entire North East. It appears that Rajen Gohain has identified one crucial issue of the region; i.e poor connectivity and the need to improve it. Being a landlocked region, it is heavily dependent on rail and road transport but the region does not figure prominently in the countrys railway map and the highway networks are not up to the mark. Poor connectivity is one fundamental factor for the regions economic underdevelopment. However, Indian policy makers and political leaders more often than not attributed economic underdevelopment of the region to its disadvantageous geographical location and landlockedness. This argument is rather interesting. Merits and demerits of a regions location are relative terms which cannot be defined in any absolute parameters. This debate revolving around geographical location, geopolitics and economic development or backwardness can be contextualized in the North East region and its surrounding countries. Yes, the region is remote from all directions but in terms of distance, the region is comparatively quite near to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan and even China and Thailand than most other main Indian cities with the exception of Kolkata. It is simply bewildering that those at the helm of affairs at New Delhi cannot make a standard, all-weather highway between Imphal and Silchar. A landlocked State like Manipur needs not just one or two highway(s) but at least half a dozen which would connect the State with the outside world in different directions. Today, highways are road to survival. In future, they can be roads to prosperity. This is all the more undeniable in the absence of access to sea routes or maritime trade. We hope, the new Railway Minister of State would put the entire North East region in the railway map of the country but a good highway network is also essential if the region should realize economic progress. Improving highway networks is not necessarily in the interest of the region alone. The much talked about Act East Policy (earlier Look East Policy) would never fructify without standard surface transport infrastructure in the region. The Northeast occupies a key position in the overall scheme of the Government of Indias ambitious project called Act East Policy on account of its highly strategic location. The Delhi Mandarins should acknowledge at least this fact and act accordingly.

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