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From ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’: India focuses on development agenda for its northeastern region

India's first international multi-modal logistic park comes up in Assam as Centre pushes infrastructure projects in the Northeast

From the “Look East” policy earlier the thrust now is on “Act East” as Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a host of infrastructure projects in northeastern states of Manipur and Tripura. From a geopolitical and strategic prism, the importance of the northeast is unparalleled for India. This region borders several countries such as China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal besides Tibet and more importantly it is connected with the rest of India primarily through a narrow stretch of land – the Chicken neck in Siliguri. Therefore, it has huge implications on political and security dynamics and until the region is well developed and thoroughly integrated into the mainstream, uncertainties will prevail.

The Centre is pushing for greater connectivity in the region with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal as the geopolitical contours in that region have changed in the last one year. “It is not only of extreme importance for India from a security point of view but also from the economic point of view,” an analyst said.

Also read: PM Modi unveils Rs 4,800 crore worth development projects in Manipur as part of Centre’s Act East Policy

The Australian Institute of International Affairs in a study noted that although the states of Northeast India are small—physically, numerically and economically—they are increasingly gaining a significant strategic value. “With ASEAN engagement becoming a central pillar of India’s foreign policy direction, these states play an important role as the physical bridge between India and Southeast Asia,” it said.

Push for economic growth and development

The Prime Minister added in his address that the Northeast will become the “new gate of development.”

Ashish Nath, Professor, Department of Economics, Tripura University told India Narrative that the Centre must further push investments to boost the manufacturing sector in the region. “Several projects are coming up. The focus must be on developing the region and boost connectivity. Tripura can even serve as the gateway to the southeast Asia.,” Nath told India Narrative.

Nath pointed out that the thrust must be to boost jobs. “Jobs can only be boosted if the manufacturing sector flourishes. It is imperative to provide jobs for the youth here and once that happens the socio-economic structure will change,” he said.

Also read: With the northeast in mind, India urges Myanmar's military to keep the borders calm

According to a Ficci report earlier, this region is rich in oil and gas, agro-horticultural resources, mineral deposits with immense hydro-electric potential. “However, despite the abundance of resources, the region has lagged behind many Indian states in vital development indicators,” it said.

The Centre-assisted North East Industrial Development Scheme (NEIDS) is already underway. It aims to boost infrastructure development and employment in the region. “Now we need to fast-track all development projects, boost investments and employment in this region,” an analyst said.