The north-eastern states of India are somewhat detached from the rest of the country. Dense forests, mountainous terrains, heavy rains, floods, absence of big cities, all these features make the north-east alienated from the rest of the country through the Siliguri corridor, also called “Chicken’s neck”. However, the north-east has tremendous potential to become the powerhouse of economy in India. It is the leading producer of tea, silk, mineral oil, hydro-electric power, and most importantly human resources in India. Thus, increasing the connectivity of the north-east with the rest of the country is much needed in independent India.
During British rule, the north-eastern parts of India gained much attention due to its untapped resources. The connectivity was also at par with the rest of the country. The British laid railway lines criss-crossing Assam, and also touching Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. However, with the independence of India, most of the connectivity links were broken as the previous links were mainly through Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan.
In independent India, Assam and the north-east have not prospered to its fullest due to the transportation cost. Nor the tourism industry, which has very high potential in the picturesque region has flourished. However, things are looking to take a different turn due to the Indian Government’s new Look East policy. With China developing its infrastructure near the border in Arunachal Pradesh, and Myanmar’s Junta regime starting its second spell, the north-east connectivity is also very important in India’s defence.
After independence, the railway and network in Assam was connected to the rest of the Indian railway’s network through the Maynaguri-Fakiragram railway line and the Cooch Behar-Golakganj railway line. The Maynaguri-Fakiragram line connected Guwahati, the state capital of Assam, with the Indian railway’s network. Bridges have also been built over the mighty Brahmaputra river at Saraighat, Tezpur and Jogighopa. However, that was not sufficient enough until the recent push for connectivity through the Look East policy.
The Cooch Behar-Golakganj line has recently been extended up to Guwahati, providing an alternative route to the busy main NJP-New Bongaigaon line. The Bhupen Hazarika Setu and the Bogibeel bridge are recently inaugurated upstream the mighty Brahmaputra, which are the longest road and road-cum-rail bridge respectively in the country. The entire railway line in the north-east has been converted to broad gauge from meter gauge. Recently, there has been a push to connect all the state capitals in the north-east with the railway network. Notably, rail has been extended to Tripura’s capital, Agartala, and Arunachal’s capital, Itanagar. Construction of rail lines to Kohima, Aizawl, Imphal and Gangtok are underway. 4-laning of NH10 connecting Sikkim capital, Gangtok is underway and also there are plans to revive the old silk route, by-passing NH10, as well.
The air transport has also not fallen behind. Recently, the greenfield Pakyong Airport was inaugurated in Sikkim near its capital, Gangtok. Another greenfield airport is coming up soon at Itanagar, providing much-needed air connectivity to the Himalayan state. Water connectivity has also gained ground in Brahmaputra and Barak rivers, both of which have been designated as national waterways. The absence of any coastline in the north-east region will be soon compensated once the Indian Government strikes a deal with Bangladesh for the use of the Chittagong and Mongla ports for export and import from the north-east.
What we can conclude is that, despite physical and political geography, north-east India is coming closer to the rest of the country, and is going to rise to at par with the economically prosperous regions of India. But it is up to the rest of the country to make the initial investments and bring the best of north-east India forward. We have come a long way these 75 years in integrating the north-east with the rest of India, but we also have a long way to go in the next 25 years.
Written by – Himadri Paul