Make Guwahati the ‘New York’ of NE and Manipur ‘Gateway’ to ASEAN

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Dr Bishanjit Loitongbam

The Northeast of India has not seen “balanced development” since independence. Most of the economic activities in the Northeast states of India are government dependent and these have made our economy dormant. It has been postulated that landlocked, poor infrastructure, poor governance, corruption, lack of investment, small market size, law and order (both external and internal), etc. engender the North Eastern (NE) States of India one of the most economically backward region in this country. It is believed that lack of connectivity within the region has hindered more significantly on the region’s economic growth than the isolation from the rest of the country. To end the region’s geo-political isolation and to enhance social and economic mobility and market integration, improving connectivity is an important precondition. Connectivity infrastructure in Manipur is the worst among the NE states. Shipping link (private and public line) is necessary. Trilateral roads has not exploited into economic exploitation and need to update infrastructure. There is no holistic approach of how to use this trilateral in order to promote economic development of this region.

Here comes the importance and significance of Guwahati. Assam is the largest State in the region contributing around 60 per cent of the regional GSDP and over 68 per cent of the population of the region lives in Assam. The density of population is also comparatively high. Thus, Guwahati is a perfect place to make it the heart of the region instead of Kolkata. Making Kolkata regional hub of this region means wasting our resources and efforts. The lacuna of our regional development approach is the integration of local markets into a single economic unit by linking value chains among the eight neighboring states. Therefore, Guwahati should be made the ‘New York’ of the region by converting it into a business hub. To make Guwahati a regional hub, it is very much important to connect it with other parts of the region as well as mainland India and other neighboring countries to expand markets especially for the local products. Guwahati should be developed as a labor-intensive manufacturing industry hub.

Why do we need to pull economic activities into Guwahati? The region is trapped in ‘peripheralism’ and its population size, main towns and regional district hubs are very small. What kind of benefits will we get from this economic agglomeration? First, many workers and firms from other parts of the region will come to Guwahati. It will increase competition and lower wages. Second, larger portion of the workers’ income will spend in manufacturing goods and this allows firms to pay higher nominal wages. It will make Guwahati an attractive place both for workers and firms. As such, Guwahati becomes an exporter of manufacturing goods. Third, it will enable us to use local resources which are both underutilized and unutilized thereby creating more demand for local resources. It will enhance mutual cooperation and collective efforts to develop our region. Fourth, more varieties of products can be produced and prices of the commodities will be cheaper because there are no trade costs since most firms produce locally. Finally, since firms cannot benefit from increasing returns by concentrating production in a single location (in our case Guwahati), they will decide to produce in all locations where consumers are. Thus, it tends to spread economic activity to other parts of this region.

Unfortunately, Brahmaputra-Barak river systems and their tributaries have not been used as a means to connect with other regions and to do business transaction among the states. It should be made operational by creating necessary infrastructure through the use of systematic scientific approaches and techniques. The traditional transportation routes through inland waterways and land route have to be reinstated. For example access to the Chittagong port, the land route through Myanmar and China, the railway network between Dibrugarh and Chittagong should be revived. Imphal is a strategic place to connect the region with Southeast Asian markets. Connectivity of this region with ASEAN will open up markets for goods and services produced in the region and attract private investment in order to expand the market. For that, we need a gateway. As Union Minister of State for Industries and Commerce, Nirmala Sitharaman recently said that Manipur will be the gateway for the entire South-East Asia and her ministry has launched Trade Infrastructure for Export Scheme (TIES) for exporting industrial goods outside the country and a sum of Rs. 9 crore will be given for infrastructure development at Imphal airport under this scheme. It implies that Imphal will become the ‘gateway’ of India to ASEAN markets.

However, on January 6, 2016, she also, on the eve of inaugurating multi-facility ‘Integrated Development Complex (IDC) at Srimantapur (Tripura), made the same statement that Tripura will be the India’s ‘Gateway’ with all South-east Asian countries. (The IDC will facilitate smooth passage of citizens of India and Bangladesh and improve border trade with the neighboring nations and is expected to improve legal trade between Tripura and Bangladesh.) She further said that with construction of bridge over river Feni, opening up of the Chittagong Port of Bangladesh and establishing pre-partition river linkage via Tripura’s Gomuti with Meghna in Bangladesh, Tripura will not only be India’s gateway to South-East Asia but also corridor for the Northeast India and through Tripura supplied to all states. Given the lackadaisical nature and problems faced in Manipur, there is high possibility of either shifting the ‘Gateway’ to Tripura or two ‘Gateways’ to South-East Asia. Making Guwahati the ‘New York’ and Imphal the ‘Gateway’ of the region is not automatic. It requires collective, sincere efforts and accountability of the concerned State government particularly for Manipur.
It indicates that Manipur could not be a ‘Gateway’ if she didn’t take up necessary actions in time. For example, she needs to build up facilities like weigh bridge, warehouse, computerized immigration system, bank with currency exchange facility, etc. Establishment of ‘trade promotion office’ in Moreh is mandatory. Borrowing from PM Modi’s words, to make ‘Manipur’ a ‘Gateway’ to Southeast Asia, the dream would not be fulfilled if the gateway is dirty. So, the Government, people and NGOs should join hands in the cleanliness campaign to make every city a clean city.

(The writer is a PhD scholar from University of International Business and Economics, Beijing)

Source: The Sangai Express

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