As part of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision on Act East, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal is taking a number of path breaking initiatives to implement the Act East Policy.
Last year, the Global Investors’ Summit was organized by the State Government with the tagline, ‘Assam – India’s expressway to ASEAN’.
Ministers from six ASEAN and BBN countries, with an exclusive session on integration of Assam and the Northeast, with ASEAN and BBN were the highlights of the Global Investors’ Summit.
Following this, the State Government at the initiative of the chief minister took up the matter of formulating a special scheme on the patterns of UDAN for connecting Guwahati with country capitals of ASEAN and BBN.
The Civil Aviation Ministry responded favourably and along with the State Government, a new scheme named International UDAN was drafted.
The chief minister immediately announced a viability gap funding of Rs 100 crores for three years to make this dream a reality.
Accordingly, Ministry of Civil Aviation and State Government decided to open six sectors namely, Guwahati-Dhaka, Guwahati-Bangkok, Guwahati-Kuala Lumpur, Guwahati-Kathmandu, Guwahati-Hanoi and Guwahati-Yangon.
The first flight to Dhaka has already taken off and the remaining flights are expected to take off this financial year.
Historically, Assam has been a rich and prosperous region with its resources namely, oil, tea, timber and coal.
The British understood the business importance of these commodities and traded these to the outside world through the Stilwell Road, Tamu-Moreh-Mandalay Road, train route from Makum to Chittagong, the river route from Brahmaputra via ferries to Calcutta Port and Chittagong Port and the road routes from Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura to Bangladesh.
The chief minister has taken upon himself to restore all these trade routes and has taken up the matter with the concerned ministries of Shipping, Surface Transport and Railways to expedite the various projects like the Asian Trilateral Highway, the Kaladan Project, opening of the Chittagong Port to north-eastern India, dredging of the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers to make them navigable through the entire year and early completion of the Akhaura-Agartala missing railway link.
In this connection, the legislators and senior government officials, embarked upon a bus journey from Guwahati to Sylhet and from Imphal to Manadalay and Yangon, to understand the various issues, problems and opportunities which trade routes offer in these two countries, and also beyond these two countries with ASEAN.
The delegation from Assam had a fruitful discussion on how to resume trade.
The delegation had a discussion with senior functionaries of Government of Bangladesh and divisional and local administration of Sylhet.
Further, a detailed meeting was held with Sylhet Chambers of Commerce. During the deliberation, issues relating to bilateral trade and investment between Assam and Bangladesh and issues relating to infrastructure, connectivity and tourism, both at the north-eastern India regional level and at the state level were discussed.
One of the highlights of the visit was to sensitize and appraise the delegation members on the status of the Government of India’s funded connectivity initiative, i.e., progress of work in the India-Myanmar Friendship Highway and the stretch of the Trilateral Highway.
The team from Assam had a high level delegation meeting with the Government of Myanmar on exploring greater ‘Economic Cooperation and Connectivity’, where the Chief Minister of Mandalay Region Government, Dr Zaw Myint Maung along with his cabinet ministers were present.
In addition, the team also engaged in a meeting on ‘Enhancing Bilateral Commercial Relations’ with Vice President of Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry at Yangon.
To operationalize all the above schemes, Assam Government in conjunction with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, is organizing a two-day ‘India-Bangladesh Stakeholders’ Meet’ on July 19-20 in Guwahati.
Representatives from the Ministry of Shipping, Surface Transport, regulatory bodies like customs, port authorities and business bodies like freight forwarders and transporters will participate to discuss the finer details of commerce and resuming the actual physical movement of goods in these routes and to highlight the pending and administrative interventions required from both sides – India and Bangladesh.
Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, Piyush Goyal and Minister of Commerce, Government of Bangladesh, Tipu Munshi; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of Bangladesh, Dr A K Abdul Momen; Adviser to Prime Minister, Bangladesh, International Affairs, Gowher Rizvi, have consented to inaugurate the meeting.
Besides, a high level 60 members’ delegation of leaders and officials from Bangladesh and a similar contingent from various ministries of Government of India is expected to attend the two-day stakeholders’ meet.
It is the firm conviction of the government, that the future growths of Assam and entire Northeast lies in its re-integration with this region, as both have a large amount of commonalities in terms of the DNA, food, social and cultural fabric.
The geo-strategic location of North-East and Assam should be leveraged in this region to catapult India’s presence in the ASEAN and BBN regions.