Why northeast India is a huge focus area of the Modi Govt and how BJP is transforming northeast.-from improving connectivity, building roads, bridges, infrastructure to hospital, higher institutions of learning and more.
NorthEast which meant “Non- Existent” for almost all ruling parties since independence, having faced a step-motherly treatment, is surprisingly a priority for the current ruling dispensation, the BJP government. This government defines NorthEast (NE) as the “New Engine”, the devINE new engine of India, and has prioritised its focus towards investing, developing and advancing northeast, it to set it at par with the rest of the country.
Considering how NE has always been neglected in the past, this is indeed a blessed change, paving the way for a revolutionary transformation of the region that will definitely have its multiplier ripple effect and play a big role on how India gets shaped- from relations to revenue generation. As NE is the one and only link to all Southeast and East Asia countries it serves as a natural bridge, a gateway for connectivity. It not only has an advantageous strategic location in terms of economic significance, trade and tourism potential, but also opens up an array of newer scope in multiple areas, like education and medical tourism. Significantly, NE also has an ancient cultural connect. The region has similarity in traditional indigenous enterprises, geographical landscape, ethnicity and lifestyle with many of these SE Asian countries and thus, opens a new horizon of exploring different relationships. The development of NE is therefore significant not only for business but also for bonding. The more developed this region the better is India’s reach and relation with the SE Asia. And in addition, also serves to balance the aggressive expansionist policy of China to control the region via loans and debt that ultimately poses a threat to the safety, security and independence of many of these countries.
With a double engine BJP government, both at the centre and in many NE states, focus on NE, what we are witnessing is revolutionary transformation of the region and so it is not far that the Act East Policy will finally see the light at the other end of the tunnel. Under the rightly named PM-devINE (development initiative for NE), investment for speedy development of the NE has seen the Modi government raising the budget allocation every year, this year (2022-23) to Rs 77,540 crores from the (2014-15) budget of Rs 36,107 crores. In the last eight years, this government spent Rs 265766.67 crores in the NE region. The result, as we see, are one after another historic steps being taken.
The recent inauguration of 7 cancer hospitals on 28th April, 2022 in Dibrugarh, Kokrajhar, Barpeta, Darrang, Tezpur, Lakhimpur, and Jorhat district of Assam and the foundation laying of another 7 more cancer centres that will be established in Sivasagar, Dhubri, Tinsukia, Goalpara, Golaghat, Nagaon and Nalbari districts of Assam is a new historic event. The foresightedness to address this issue that has long been neglected inspite of the fact that northeast has the highest cancer incidence rates and a continuous high percentage of patients travel to other parts of the country for treatment, enduring tremendous difficulties.
According to data released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), NE has the highest incidence of cancer in India and the number of cancer cases is projected to increase in the region by 13.5% by 2025. The region is witnessing an alarming rise in the number of cancer patients and a corresponding high fatality rate in recent years. Cancer cases in Assam have also increased rapidly and around 32,949 people are affected with cancer every year. As the available infrastructure for cancer care is inadequate, patients are compelled to seek treatment outside the NE. For example, a good proportion of people from the region visit Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) every year for diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Study shows that nearly 4% of the cancer cases detected in TMH are in patients from the NE. Travelling for medical treatment involves a burden of challenges, from huge cash requirement, supportive caregivers and their time, affecting work and roles at home, in many cases, loss of working days for the earning members of the family. The opening of cancer care centres in the region is not only a blessing to citizens that shall help reduce many of the associated problems, but will also help our neighbouring countries, like Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, etc. to quicker and easier access to NE for world class medical treatment at lesser expenses[i].
Apart from these, an AllMS at Changsari, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Assam Campus at Gogamukh (Dhemaji) and a Multi-Modal Logistic Park at Jogighopa are on pipeline to be set up.
Another historic event for the entire Northeast was the first Janshatabdi express train connecting Manipur and Tripura via Assam that started its journey on 8th January 2022. During the same month (29th January 2022), for the first time in NE, a first leased Parcel Cargo Express Train (PCET) was commenced from Azara near Guwahati in Assam connecting to Vasco – da- Gama in Goa, covering a distance of 3358 km (one way) with loading/unloading facilities.
Similarly, the 2018 Advantage Assam summit was the first global investors’ meet in the region that saw Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, ambassadors and high commissioners of 16 countries being present. India’s top corporates and industrialist from the Tata Group, Reliance Industries, Sun Pharma, Patanjali, ONGC, OIL, Spicejet, ITC Limited, etc. participated in the summit and 176 MoUs with 160 companies amounting to ₹65,186 crore was signed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi attending this biggest-ever investment promotion and facilitation initiative stated that the region is at the heart of India’s Act East policy.
For a region, which has suffered from a lack of connectivity and amenities for decades, the concoction of infrastructure projects and welfare under the BJP government in centre in the last 7+ years is significant and tangible, from thousands of kilometres of roads to big bridges, medical colleges, hospitals and other complexes.
If we talk of Assam, which has, like much of the NE, suffered from political, social discrimination and neglect since ages, today has India’s longest rail-cum-road bridge, the Bogibeel bridge, which was inaugurated in 2018 by PM Modi, which though sanctioned in 1997-98 by the United Front government never saw the light of the day under any of the previous government. The bridge today is a prominent landmark and significant because it helps connect the southern bank of the Brahmaputra river in Dibrugarh to Silapathar in Dhemaji, bordering Arunachal Pradesh. Before that, the Dhola-Sadiya bridge across river Lohit, construction of which started in 2011 when the Congress was in power at both the Centre and state, never managed to happen but was ultimately speeded up and completed by the Modi government and was inaugurated in 2017.
This has been a big gift to the people of Assam as it helped reduce the commuting time for people on both banks of the river by at least eight hours. Close to 4,000 km of national highways have been constructed in the state. These highways include around over 21 two-lane projects. Under the State BJP government, about 1,000 wooden bridges were replaced by RCC bridges under schemes dedicated in the name of Mahabir Lachit and Bishwabir Chilarai, 26000 kilometers of roads were black-topped, a total of 841 timber bridges have been sanctioned for conversion to RCC (reinforced cement concrete) of which around 475 have been completed.
Medical colleges and hospitals, education institutes and other big projects have been the party’s focus. New universities have been set up exclusively for sports, culture and skill development. Assam Judicial Academy and National Law School has been constructed in Amingaon, there are new engineering colleges that have come up in different parts of the state, including Nirala and Karimganj.
Taking the negative perception of NE being land locked and a border state under enormous security threat that need not be developed, head on, the current BJP government since 2014 has been aggressively pushing for advancement of NE and overcoming all challenges. What we see today is NE coming up as a safe secure tourism hotspot, with promotion of indigenous culture, historical, religious sites, quality infrastructure and the imbibing of respect and harmony for the region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi once said that unless the Northeast is developed, the whole country would not develop. And hence the story of NE’s success will also define India’s success.
(The Writer is a Researcher on Policy and Governance, Entrepreneurship and Livelihood Clusters of NE. She is also a member of the Assam Youth Commission. The views expressed are her own.)
[i] Cancer is one of the most dreaded diseases in today’s time. It ranks as a leading cause of death and is an important barrier to increasing life expectancy in every country of the world. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, worldwide, an estimated 19.3 million new cancer cases and almost 10.0 million cancer deaths occurred in 2020. The global cancer burden is expected to be 28.4 million cases in 2040, a 47% rise from 2020 and in order to control global cancer, efforts to build a sustainable infrastructure for the dissemination of cancer prevention measures and provision of cancer is critical and necessity of the time.