India Foundation in collaboration with Government of Manipur and Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India organised the North East Development Summit at Imphal, Manipur from 21-22 November, 2017. The Summit was an effort to highlight and explore the potential of North East India in further establishing itself as a land hub of India’s Act East Policy. Key focus areas of the summit centred around themes of trade & investment, connectivity & infrastructure development, tourism development, agri-business & sports in North-East region, skill development, capacity building and entrepreneurship. States of the region with visuals showcased each of their resource potential and capacity in a special session.
The President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, inaugurated the Northeast Development Summit. Speaking on the occasion, the President said that the Northeast is an amazing social and cultural ecosystem. Few regions of the world have such a wealth of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity packed into such a small area. This variety is an inspiration for all of us. The President said that the Northeast’s geographical location makes it the obvious gateway to India, linking the vast economies of the Indian subcontinent and of today’s ASEAN countries. This is the potential we have to tap. And this is the idea that must inspire this Summit.
The President said that central to the Government of India’s approach to the development of the Northeast is an urgent and speedy enhancement of connectivity. This is a multi-modal programme, across land, water and air. And it refers both to connectivity within India as well as to connectivity between India and its eastern and Southeast Asian neighbours. The President emphasised that in the development of the Northeast is both the development of India – as well the true measure of the India-ASEAN partnership. He stated that the opportunity is before us and we should grab it.
Shri Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, also addressed the gathering in the inaugural session and said that the North East Development Summit was aimed to boost trade and investment in underdeveloped region of North East and at building confidence and altering perception among visiting delegates and investors.
Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Shri Jayant Sinha announced at the summit that to provide a major boost to air connectivity in the Northeast, 92 new routes will be opened in the region in the second round of the government’s ‘Udaan’ scheme. Shri Sinha also announced a direct bi-weekly Air India flight from Delhi to Imphal from January next year, which he said would be made a daily service when the demand picks up.
Assam Chief Minister Shri Sarbananda Sonowal also spoke in the Inaugural session and said that “the Central Government has made a huge effort in developing the infrastructure” in the region with “new highways having been declared and constructed and existing highways have been widened”. He also echoed that connectivity will provide economic prosperity for the country and not just Northeast region.
While addressing the gathering at the Summit in the inaugural session, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Shri Pema Khandu said that “Nehruvian policy of ‘Panchsheel’ had become a barrier for economic development. The decades of 80s and the 90s saw tremendous development in the rest of the country. But sadly, for the northeast people, these were decades of opportunity lost.” He welcomed investors in the region, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, in hydroelectricity, social infrastructure, agro-processing, farming, and research and development, pharmaceutical and information technology.
Nagaland Chief Minister T R Zeliang in his remarks at the Inaugural session said that “Centre should indulge in improving air and road connectivity” so as to improve the geographical remoteness and remove the feeling of alienation which has made the region backward compared to mainland states. He urged for a “right policy” for promoting investment in the region as the region serves as a gateway to the South East Asian Nations.
Mr Yutaka Kikuta, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Japan, spoke in the session on Trade and Investment in the summit and said that North East region of India is a place where Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy and India’s Act East Policy converge.
The two-day North East Development Summit concluded on a positive note with the Manipur government signing 39 Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with various firms, primarily in healthcare, infrastructure, skill development and agriculture. The state forest department of Manipur signed four MoUs - two with the HSMM Group of Laos for agarwood plantation and production of essential oil and commercial production of orchids, one with NLR of Netherland for production of biofuels from bamboo and one with the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India for minimum support prices for minor forest produces. Manipur State’s higher education department signed an MoU with UNESCO Centre, the UK, for setting up a private university in Manipur. The finance department of Manipur Government signed an MoU with the Indo-Swiss Centre, Switzerland, for facilitating and attracting investment in trade and tourism. The agriculture department of Manipur Government signed an MoU with MSTC, a government of India undertaking, for e-marketing of agricultural produce from Manipur.
The State tourism department of Government of Manipur signed an MoU with the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic for development of tourism and another with Star Track Business House Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, for a Rs 50-crore infrastructure development project. The Manipur Police Housing Corporation signed an MoU with Fitzroy Salai Holdings, Calcutta, for a cable car project in
In the Valedictory Session, rounding off the summit, Chief Minister of Manipur Shri N. Biren Singh said that the North East Development Summit was an effort to showcase and explore the potential of the Northeast in establishing itself as the “hub” of India’s Act East Policy. He said the summit marked the beginning of his govt’s and private companies’ commitment towards building a partnership to address the aspirations of the people by unlocking the full potential of the state. He hoped that the positive outcome of the summit would transform the business and development environment of the region in general and Manipur in particular.
(This report is carried in the print edition of January-February 2018 issue of India Foundation Journal.)