The North Eastern Region (NER) of the country is rich in natural resources, culture and biodiversity, making it a pivotal source for domestic and global production. The region, thus, holds severe potential in terms of enhancing trade and commerce with mainland India and the neighbouring countries. However, there have been several persisting barriers to fulfilling this potential. Rugged terrain and challenging climatic conditions have led to the eight Indian states of this region being isolated from the mainland country. Owing to this, the North East has historically suffered from poor transport connectivity within and between the seven states and the rest of India and neighbouring countries. This has hindered the everyday life and livelihoods of the residents and regional development and international trade prospects. These issues have been flagged as a significant obstruction to the holistic development of India and thus has been at the forefront of several development and policy discourse in the country over the past few years. Experts urge the establishment of robust infrastructure and connectivity frameworks in this region for better livelihoods. In light of the recent geopolitical developments in the region and the strategic location of the North East, better connectivity and infrastructural facilities can be instrumental in driving economic and social development in these states. Much progress has been made in this direction. The region has received immense policy support in this respect. Focussed initiatives to enhance infrastructure, connectivity and logistics continue to be implemented in the region.

In particular, to combat the connectivity challenges in the region, the centre and state governments have made several efforts to establish new and improve the existing infrastructure in the north-eastern states. These have resulted in concerted air, road, rail, waterways, and telecom connectivity enhancement. The country aims to enhance its logistics sector performance by building a robust multi-modal transport network. In continuation of this pursuit, the plan to establish the country's first underwater channel tunnel has been announced. The road and railway ministries and the Border Road Organisation (BRO) have accepted constructing the country's first underwater road-cum-rail tunnels across the mighty Brahmaputra in Assam. There will be three comprising parallel tunnels of this project, viz, (i) road, (ii) rail and (iii) emergency. The tunnel will be 9.8 km each, and this will be the first project where integrated tunnel construction will be undertaken. These tunnels will be connected with cross passages for evacuation in an emergency.

Moreover, special attention will be given to safeguarding water leakage in the tunnel and ensuring that proper ventilation supports fresh airflow. In addition to this, the tunnel is aimed to have an emergency exit and drainage system. It is also equipped with a crash barrier system to guarantee safe and secure transportation of goods and passengers. According to the estimate, the government would spend around INR 7,000 Cr for these tunnels.

The underwater tunnel project is expected to be of prime importance, strategically reducing travel time between the two landlocked north-eastern states, namely, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, throughout the year. The strategic multi-modal transportation system aims to integrate the rail and highway network through the Jamugurihat-Silghat axis towards North Assam, Tawang, and Arunachal Pradesh. This can be used for both passenger and trade purposes. It has been highlighted that the tunnel connecting the north and south banks of Brahmaputra can serve as an effective means of logistical movement.

Multi-modal connectivity has gained extensive traction in various policy and academic discourses over the last couple of years. This has become a significant catalyst in ensuring efficient logistical performance and reducing the time and cost of transporting goods and people. Focussed efforts in this regard can establish robust transport frameworks that enable enhanced trade relations and people-to-people connectivity within the country and with our neighbours. The proposed tunnel is anticipated to achieve seamless connectivity between the country's north-eastern states and showcase the rich culture and diversity the region possesses to key global markets. This is crucial to ensure the integration of these landlocked and isolated states within themselves and the rest of the country.

This blog has been co-authored by Srijata Deb and Bhakti Jain.

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