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Infra push in the Northeast

Infra push in the Northeast

The government's focus on developing vital infrastructure in India's Northeast region has started bearing fruits. On September 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the first airport in Sikkim at Pakyong, whose commercial operation will start on October 4. Billed as the country's 100th airport, Pakyong Aiport is one of the five highest airports in India. The new facility will cut the travel time to various locations in the Northeast region from other important locations such as Guwahati and Kolkata. Situated near Sikkim's capital Gangtok, Pakyong Airport has been constructed by Airport Authority of India (AAI) from the scratch as a greenfield project. The new airport will also serve as an important facility for the Indian security forces as it lies only 60 km from the India-China border. The government's push to develop transport infrastructure as part of its overall efforts to boost the economy in the Northeastern states has seen some new infrastructure projects coming up in the region. In May last year, the country's longest bridge on the Brahmaputra river in Assam between Dhola and Sadiya close to the border of Arunachal Pradesh was inaugurated. Later this year, Bogibeel bridge, India's longest rail-cum-road bridge on the Brahmaputra connecting Dibrugarh on the south bank to Dehamji in the north which will be opened. Besides reducing the travel time, the bridge is expected to boost defence preparedness along the China border. Apart from these three important infrastructure project, a large number of smaller road and highway projects are going on in different parts of the region as part of the renewed focus there. In view of massive infrastructure development in the border areas by China, the pressure on developing similar infrastructure on the Indian side was being felt for a long time. The government is eyeing to develop the Northeast as India's gateway to enhanced cooperation with countries in the South-Asian region and development of necessary infrastructure is part of that policy.

For a long time, infrastructure development in the Northeastern region was a neglected area of government intervention with a consequent bearing on the region's economy and overall connectivity. The fact that India can approach a number of prospering nations more cost-effectively through the Northeast was never utilised for the benefit of the country or the region. A major reason why India chose to ignore infrastructure development in there was the perceived threat from China. Indian security establishment was of the view that China may use the infrastructure in the Northeastern region to launch an offensive against India in case relations between the two rival nations deteriorated beyond a point. But as India has augmented its defence preparedness along the borders with China, besides ramping up business relations to new a high, the threat perception has changed drastically. The opening of new road and rail bridges, the extension of rail links to new areas and setting up of new airports have improved connectivity in the region and promises to usher the region in a new era of development and prosperity. Recently, the Bangladesh government has approved the use of its port for shipment to and from India's Northeastern region. This would further aid Northeast's connectivity to overseas markets, reducing its dependence on Kolkata port. As the economic activities intensify with the launch of major infrastructure projects and improved connectivity with South-East Asian markets, the region is expected to introduce fresh dynamism in the overall economic scenario in the country.

As the Northeastern region is mostly hilly and mountainous, aerial connectivity is of vital significance. In this context, the launch of Pakyong Airport is an important development. This shows that the government is committed to upgrading the connectivity landscape in the region. With more airports and helipads there, the Northeast has the potential to become one of the most happening places in the country, benefitting from both tourism and industry. Currently, most of the Northeastern region is under BJP rule. After a long time, a new political entity is ruling the hearts and minds of the people in there which was otherwise notorious for ethnic violence and political unrest. For BJP, its performance in the region would add to its list of achievements that it can cite during the election campaigns. Development of better infrastructure in the region is also of vital significance for the security forces, who are deployed in large numbers along the border with China. The new infrastructures would help and resolve logistical problems faced by the armed forces and keep them in readiness for any eventuality. As this is just the beginning, the Northeastern region can well expect more similar projects to come its way, lifting its towns and cities from obscurity to the national mainstream.

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