Connectivity and Infrastructure: Pillars of Growth for NER

Infrastructure and connectivity have been a major focus area for the current administration. In its pursuit to achieve relevant infrastructural facilities and seamless connectivity among the states of India, several efforts have been made. A majority of these projects have been implemented, keeping the country's Northeast region (NER) in mind. 

The north-eastern states have remained isolated from the mainland country. Due to rugged terrain and an inefficient connectivity landscape, the region faces significant transit times to markets of the other states in the country. At the same time, connectivity to neighbouring countries remains suboptimal, slow, and relatively costly. This has impeded the socioeconomic development in these states and thus positioned them at the forefront of several policy discourses in the country over the past few years. Evidence suggests NER states could benefit extensively from leveraging connectivity to exploit the existing opportunities that Bangladesh and Myanmar offer, in addition to exploring different markets. This enhancement among the states NER and the neighbouring countries will require investments in interoperable infrastructure and services, reforms to regulatory programs, and incentives to the private sector to offer new and higher-quality services. Under this context, the region has received immense support to enhance infrastructure, connectivity and logistics. For instance, the 'PM Development Initiative for North East' has been announced. The plan's primary focus is to develop robust infrastructure in the region to create livelihood opportunities for the women and youth and provide for other development needs of the region. Furthermore, to combat the connectivity challenges in the region, the central and state governments have made several efforts to establish efficient infrastructure, including the flagship PM GatiShakti National Master plan for multimodal and last-mile connectivity, the border villages scheme, and focused government investments in laying down an optical fibre and the recent proposal to build an underwater channel to provide year-long connectivity between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, among others. These have resulted in extensive air, road, rail, waterways, and telecom connectivity improvements. 

Moreover, in a recent announcement at the Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence (NADI) conclave, the central government highlighted the development of 4,000 km of roads, 20 railway projects in the region and 15 ongoing air connectivity projects at a total cost of INR 1,34,200 crore. In the context of waterways, the government is developing the National Waterways (NW)-1 on the Ganges, NW-2 on Brahmaputra and NW-16 on Barak. In addition to this, establishing a multimodal hub on the Brahmaputra in Guwahati, including a ship repairing port at Pandu, four tourist jetties, and 11 floating terminals have been iterated. The emphasis on boosting water connectivity in this region is the foundational step to leveraging the fifty riverine systems between India and Bangladesh. These can be utilised for various reasons for travel between these countries at relatively low transit and transaction costs. 

There has been much attention to developing internet connectivity and better transmission networks across these states, given the increasing reliance on virtual interactions in the economies. Several projects focusing on power transmission and distribution, mobile networks, 4G connectivity, and broadband connectivity in the north-eastern region have been implemented in the past two years. 

However, all the interventions for the continued development of the states in the region have remained at the national and state level. As such, the national government and the authorities in the states should undertake specific reforms, mainly to maximise impact; the focused contribution of the private sector in the country, as a direct beneficiary, is crucial.

In the continuously transitioning geopolitical scenario in the global economy, better facilities and connectivity with judicial use of natural resources are pertinent to ensure the overall sustainable prosperity of the north-eastern states. These will offer seamless connectivity between the northeast and the rest of India and the sub-continent. These efforts ensure product diversification in domestic production, enhance business channels, and enable transportation networks for better livelihood, trade and commerce outcomes in the region, within the country, and other pivotal markets. 

This is co-authored by Bhakti Jain and Srijata Deb.