Union foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Saturday said India’s foreign policy initiatives for the development of the Northeast are not limited to neighbouring countries but it extends further to the east.
“We have been collaborating with Japan for the economic development of the Northeast. We have set up the India-Japan Act East Forum, which I co-chair with Japan’s Ambassador to India, to take up projects for economic modernization of the Northeast,” said Shringla.
Shringla said this in his virtual address at the inaugural session of the 8th edition North East Festival.
“The range of projects taken up is quite diverse and includes improvement of National Highways in Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura; hydropower in Meghalaya; biodiversity conservation and forest management in Sikkim, Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya, and water supply and sanitation in Assam,” he said.
“Upskilling of human resources in the Northeast is also a part of the initiative,” Shringla further said.
He said the states in Northeast India can be seen as the link between two fundamental pillars of the country’s foreign policy, Neighbourhood First and Act East.
“From this perspective, the Northeast is a gateway and a portal. It binds us with some of our most important neighbours. It also connects us, and our neighbours, to one of the most economically dynamic and politically significant geographies of the world – the ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
Shringla said a lot of work has been done in recent years to enhance connectivity with Bangladesh.
“A railway that links Akhaura in Bangladesh to Agartala is under construction and will be ready by 2022 when India will commemorate the 75th anniversary of its independence. Passenger trains such as Maitree and Bandhan Express link India and Bangladesh,” said Shringla.
He said Bangladesh is importing 1160 MW of power through adjoining states in India.
“The hydro-power of Himalayas has been used for the joint benefit of the Northeast and its neighbours through hydroelectric projects in Bhutan. We are also looking at exporting the surplus hydropower potential of the North East to Bangladesh and Myanmar,” said Shringla.
He said the Ministry of External Affairs intends to further study how these linkages and connections can be further harmonised to give effect to the Prime Minister’s vision.
“We will involve think tanks and local stakeholders in these studies. We will also support public diplomacy events in the Northeast that connect stakeholders in the region with interlocutors in neighbouring countries and South East Asia,” Shringla said.
Asserting that the Northeast is also a storehouse of Indian talent, Shringla said the young men and women from the states of the Northeast have made their presence felt across India and internationally.
“I am confident that their efforts will lead to a transformation of the region. I would like to leave you with a thought. Only 10 percent of India’s trade goes through land borders,” he said.
“If we are able to even double this number, the effects on the Northeast would be transformative and would unlock even further value,” Shringla further said.