G Kishan Reddy
(The writer is the Minister for Development of Northeastern Region, Tourism and Culture and represents Secunderabad Constituency)
As early as November 2014, while flagging off the first passenger train into Meghalaya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the eight states of India's North-Eastern Region as the "Ashtalakshmi" states. The Prime Minister felt that the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura had immense potential to develop and would further help develop other parts of India. Since then, we have seen an acceleration of development works in the North-eastern region. Apart from tangible infrastructures such as rail, road, air and network connectivity, the North-Eastern region has seen significant improvements in peace efforts with a significant reduction in insurgency incidents and the complete removal or partial withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Provisions Act (AFSPA) in various states. While previous governments have even refused to look at the potential of the northeast, the Prime Minister has acted decisively on it over the last seven years.
The Ashtalakshmi states have immense natural resources, accounting for 34% of the country's water resources and almost 40% of India's hydropower potential. The region is strategically located with access to the traditional domestic market of eastern India, along with proximity to the major states in the east and adjacent countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar. The region is also a vantage entry point for the Southeast Asian markets. This resource-rich region, with its vast expanse of fertile farmland and huge untapped human capital, has the potential to be India's most prosperous region.
North East India has seen an incredible transformational journey in the past seven years. The Indian Government has upgraded the 'Look East Policy' into a more result-oriented 'Act East Policy. From being the neglected region of the country, the eight states have witnessed a paradigm shift in the way the Government has approached its development agenda. Before 2014, the previous government enjoyed a significant political presence in the region. However, the policy of negligence and isolation, and non-cognisance of developmental issues within the region kept the north-eastern region only at the periphery. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office, he once again directed policy attention towards the region across various dimensions of development including economy, infrastructure, employment, industry, and culture. During his tenure, the Prime Minister has visited the region on several occasions and has visited these states more than any other past Prime Minister of the country and several Prime Ministers combined. He is also the first Prime Minister in four decades to attend the North Eastern Council meeting.
The Prime Minister never misses an opportunity to promote the culture, heritage and beauty of the north-eastern region and speaks about it from the most influential of platforms. During the Prime Minister's 75th Independence Day address, he spoke about the importance of developing tourism in the region. He said that the northeast states have massive potential when it comes to tourism, and adventure sports and it is important to harness this potential. Taking this vision forward, the Ministry of Tourism is focusing on exploiting the full potential of tourism in the North East. The Ministry is also planning to launch Visit India Year from 15th August 2022 to invite tourists from all over the world to come to India to see India's unique cultural and natural heritage and be part of India's 75th-anniversary celebrations of its independence.
Each of the northeastern states has a wealth of tourist destinations. The Ashtalakshmi states are often compared to countries such as Scotland, New Zealand and other countries that offer beautiful natural landscapes. The ministry is making every effort to ensure that the rest of the world is aware of the Northeast region's natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. This will be done in a sensitive, responsible and sustainable manner so that the ethos, and spirit of the region is retained. Several north-east specific tourism themes such as green tourism, ecotourism, rural tourism and tea garden tourism will be launched by the Ministry of Tourism with a focus on developing in the northeastern states.
India is now having conversations about a return to normalcy in a post-COVID-19 era. These conversations are possible only because of the speed and scale of our vaccination drive. As of today, we have administered more than 85 crore vaccine doses against COVID-19. This has been made possible only due to the relentless efforts of our Prime Minister. This is a huge confidence booster to the tourism sector and builds a strong case to open up the tourism sector for domestic travellers from January 2022 onwards. Our focus will be to build Tourism as a tool to deliver welfare and prosperity to communities in the North Eastern Region. (PIB)