The Budget Boost For North East That Mainstream Media Won’t Tell You About

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Feb 2, 2018 04:11 PM +05:30 IST
The Budget Boost For North East That Mainstream Media Won’t Tell You AboutThe Sela Pass in Arunachal Pradesh, where a new tunnel has been planned for. (Saurabhgupta8/Wikimedia Commons)
  • The North East region has received a substantial budgetary allocation for infrastructure projects that will boost its connectivity and unlock its economic potential.

    Safe to say, you won’t hear much about this positive development in the mainstream media.

Obsessed with the perceived middle-class disappointment over Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s failure to grant tax concessions, the media has ignored the large budgetary allocations for infrastructure projects in North East India that will boost connectivity to and within the region and, thus, unlock its economic potential. This budget is also not only about providing relief to farmers and healthcare to millions, but also accelerating the growth of the long-neglected and backward North East.

The total budgetary allocation for the region for 2018-19 is Rs 47,994.88 crore, up from Rs 40,971.69 crore in 2017-18. Significantly, this increase of Rs 7,023.19 crore is the highest since the country’s independence. Apart from this, the Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Ministry’s budget has also been hiked from Rs 2,737 crore (in 2017-18) to Rs 3,060 crore (2018-19). The direct grants-in-aid to the North Eastern states has also increased from Rs 1,449.83 crore to Rs 1,638.27 crore in this budget. Capital outlay for the region has gone up to Rs 700 crore from Rs 420 crore.

After partition of the country and arbitrary drawing of boundaries in 1947, the seven states of North East India and Sikkim became land-locked and lost access to markets and sea ports while vital trade links also got snapped. As a result, the region slipped into a steep economic decline that triggered strife and militancy. It was only much later that New Delhi realised that boosting connectivity to and within the region was the only way to bring about economic development there and, consequently, solve the problem of militancy plaguing the region.

Despite the formulation of the Look East Policy by prime minister Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s, it remained mostly on paper. The two United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regimes did little in real terms and it was only when Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 that the policy was reoriented and given a sharp focus as the ‘Act East Policy’. Since then, a flurry of mega infrastructure projects – roads, bridges, tunnels, railway lines, construction of new airports and heliports and expansion of existing ones – as well as hydro power, housing and other projects have been undertaken in the region.

In the budget presented on Thursday (1 February), Rs 1,292 crore has been set aside for ongoing power projects in the North East and capital outlay for the power sector has been increased to Rs 267.45 crore. This is in addition to the roughly Rs 54,000 crore that has been invested in various hydro-power projects in the region, especially in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Another Rs 234 crore has been allotted for developing solar power plants in the region over the past two years.

This budget also provides Rs 1,014.09 crore for construction of new and expansion of present and revival of defunct airports, heliports and advanced landing grounds and viability gap funding under the UDAN (Udey Desh ke Aam Nagrik) scheme. The allocation on this head in 2017-18 was Rs 200 crore. “Air connectivity to remote areas of the Northeast will boost tourism and result in greater flow of investments to the region, while also enhancing trade and commerce. By next year, most of these mega projects will start yielding results and we expect to see and experience a new North East very soon,” said Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju.

A total of 20 major railway projects involving the laying of 13 new rail lines, gauge conversions, laying double tracks and construction of other paraphernalia like new stations and expansion of existing ones have been sanctioned. Arunachal Pradesh will be a major beneficiary with three new rail lines being extended to the Indo-China border through steep mountainous and treacherous terrain. All the states will soon be connected with rail lines, something that could not even be imagined till 2014. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has committed a whopping Rs 5,886 crore over the past four years for rail connectivity in the region and this figure is expected to rise to Rs 40,000 crore (including investments from Japan and by private players) by 2019.

The emphasis on connectivity by the present NDA government will result, by 2019, in about 10,500 km of new roads in the region having come up since 2014. According to Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, the investment in construction of new roads, bridges and related paraphernalia and improving as well as expanding the existing ones in the North East would come to a staggering Rs 2 lakh crore from 2014 till 2019. This includes the Rs 40,000-crore, 1,300km-long Express Highway along the Brahmaputra and the Rs 55,000 crore trans-Arunachal Highway projects.

“Successive Congress governments, both in the Centre and in the North Eastern states, have paid zero attention to developing road, rail and air connectivity to and within the North East and to the economic development of the region. The present government at the Centre has ushered in unprecedented development and the fruits are already beginning to show. Within a few years, the economy of this region will take off, thanks to Modi’s vision,” Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal told Swarajya.

Budget 2018 provides the proper traction to the ‘Act East’ policy. “Connectivity is the key to unlocking the North East and that is happening. Investments to this region, once just a pipe dream, have started trickling in and we expect it to turn into a flow within a couple of years. Enhanced links between the North East and the rest of India and between the North East and South East Asia will be a game-changer for this region. The latest budget proposals are a boon for the North East,” said Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu.

But this is something that the mainstream media will not tell you about.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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