Turning a neglected Northeast into a veritable Ashtalakshmi
The north-eastern region has been in the news for the wrong reasons—a hotbed of insurgency, violence, unrest, and agitations—following which the region, though bestowed with nature’s bounty and mineral resources, lagged behind in terms of development on all fronts.
However, the gloomy situation in the region transformed into that of a region full of opportunities and possibilities under the able and dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the past almost ten years.
The major transformation has been brought about owing to the tenacious and relentless endeavour of Prime Minister Modi, who not only visited the region around 60 times (a record of sorts as no Prime Minister visited the region the way Modi did) but also ensured that his ministerial colleagues too make fortnightly visits to the region to get a clear perspective about the region so unique in itself unlike other parts of the country and to get things moving on the right track.
The region, plagued with insurgency and turmoil spanning several decades, has turned into an oasis of peace and stability, with investments pouring in. There has been a 74 percent reduction in insurgency-related incidents, a 60 percent reduction in incidents of attacks on security forces, and an 89 percent reduction in civilian deaths.
As many as nine militant outfits bade farewell to arms and returned to the mainstream with the signing of peace agreements with the Central Government. In Assam alone, militant outfits like the Dimasa National Liberation Army/Dimasa Peoples’ Supreme Council (DNLA/DPSC), Bodo, Karbi, Adivasi, and ULFA (pro-talks faction) have disbanded their organisations following peace pacts with the Centre and state government since 2020. About 9,200 armed cadres have surrendered (out of which 8,200 are from Assam alone) and have joined the mainstream in the last nine years.
Further, peace agreements were signed with the National Liberation Front (NLFT) of Tripura in 2019, the Bru Agreement in 2020, and with the Manipur-based insurgent group, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF). On decades-old inter-state boundary issues, the Assam-Meghalaya and Assam-Arunachal Pradesh governments had signed agreements and were inching towards permanently resolving them. Assam is also holding talks with Mizoram in this direction. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has been completely removed from Tripura and Meghalaya and withdrawn from most parts of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh, barring some areas.
The law-and-order situation has drastically improved, as there has been a reduction of 63% in the number of incidents from 8,700 cases during the period 2006–2014 under the UPA regime to only 3,195 cases during the period 2014–2022, during the NDA rule.
Peace and development went hand-in-hand during the Modi dispensation. Several lakh crores of rupees were pumped in to catapult the region from backwardness to that of a region on a roll now. The days of agitation are past, with the youth coming forward and contributing to nation-building.
Today, Assam, or, for that matter, the entire North East region, has turned into a development model.
Let us now have a close look into the slew of development initiatives of the Modi government in the past almost ten years to make a proper assessment as to how the region, which was hitherto neglected all along by the earlier regimes (mostly during the long Congress rule of 60 years), has come closer to the rest of the country and turned into a veritable Ashtalakshmi.
The road network in the region saw a big leap with the construction of new infrastructure. A total of 261 road projects under different schemes of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways with a total sanctioned cost of Rs. 1,02,594 crore are under implementation through the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (NHIDCL), and state Public Works Departments (PWDs) in the North East States.
In the last eight years (2014–2022), as many as 1,350 projects worth Rs. 15,867 crore have been sanctioned under the schemes of the Ministry of DoNER and the North Eastern Council (NEC) in the North East States. For the financial year 2023–24, the total Budget Estimates (BE) allocation is Rs. 5,892 crore, which is a whopping 114% higher than the Revised Estimates (RE) 2022–23 allocation of Rs. 2,755.05 crore and 223% higher than the Revised Estimates (RE) 2014–15 allocation of Rs. 1,825.5 crore. As per Union Budget 2023–24, the 10% Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) share (BE) for the region has increased to Rs. 94,679.53 crore, which is 31% higher than the RE 2022–23 allocation of Rs. 72,540.28 crore and 246% higher than the RE 2014–15 allocation of Rs. 27,359.17 crore.
In addition, under the erstwhile North East Road Sector Development Scheme (NERSDS) and the present North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (NESIDS), a total of 77 road projects have been sanctioned, amounting to Rs 3,372.58 crore.
Moreover, under NEC 51 projects worth Rs. 4,345.16 crore have been sanctioned in connection with improving rail, air, and road connectivity in the region.
Construction of roads in the region has more than doubled from a meagre 0.6 km of national highway being laid per day under the UPA government to 1.5 km per day between 2014 and 2019 under the present NDA dispensation.
A number of new bridges have come up in Assam in particular and the Northeast in general, including the second Saraighat bridge, the Dhola-Sadiya bridge, and the country’s longest rail-road bridge, Bogibeel over the Brahmaputra. Work on India’s longest river bridge connecting Dhubri in Assam and Phulbari in Meghalaya is going on in full steam.
Till 2013–14, the total length of national highways in the region was only 8,480 km, which increased to 15,735 km in 2022–23 under the Modi government, thus showcasing an unprecedented growth of 85.55%. Since 2014–15, the government has spent Rs. 19,855 crore on the development of new tracks and doubling the existing railway lines in the region. The number of airports and waterways in the region was 9 and 1, respectively, until 2014, which has risen to 17 and 18, respectively, under the PM Modi-led NDA government.
On rail connectivity, a total of 19 railway infrastructure projects, falling fully or partially in the North East States and covering a total length of 1,909 km at a cost of Rs. 81,941 crore, have been undertaken and are at different stages of planning, approval, and execution. Out of these, 482 km of length have been commissioned at an expenditure of Rs. 37,713 crore up to March 2023.
Among the major completed railway projects are Assam’s Barak Valley, which got connected to the broad gauge network in November 2015 due to the completion of gauge conversion work for the Lumding-Silchar section, and the capitals of Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, which got connected in 2015 and 2016. Manipur got connected with the broad gauge at Jiribam for passenger train services in May 2016.
The Agartala (Tripura) Cross-Border Rail Link project was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart, Sheikh Hasina. The project has been executed under the Government of India grant assistance of Rs. 392.52 crore extended to Bangladesh.
On air connectivity in the region, among the major achievements were Greenfield Airport at Pakyong in Sikkim (September 2018) and Donyi Polo Airport in Hollongi near Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh (November 2022). The number of airports in the region jumped to 17 from the previous nine under the BJP regime. The government is also making all efforts to develop the waterways.
Before 2014, there was only one national waterway in the region. Now, 20 waterways have been declared national waterways in the region.
That is not all. The Modi government has spent about 3.37 lakh crore in the North East Region from 2014–15 to 2021–22 under 10% GBS. And it is expected to reach Rs. 5 lakh crore with the allocated expenditure for 2022–23 and 2023–24. The Modi government has initiated the PM-DevINE scheme in the budget 2022–23 as a 100% central sector scheme with a total outlay of Rs. 6,600 crore for the period from 2022–23 to 2025–26 for the holistic development of the North East Region. As far as telecom connectivity in the region is concerned, since 2014, Rs. 3,466 crore has been spent under 10% Gross Budgetary Support (GBS). Moreover, upgrading work to 4G connectivity in 4,525 villages in the region is going on in full swing. Over 26.14 lakh households in the North Rast Region have been electrified as of March 31, 2021.
On the power sector front, as many as four power projects and 239 power projects worth Rs. 3,200 crore have been sanctioned in the region under the NESIDS and NLCPR schemes, respectively. Of this, 211 projects to the tune of Rs. 2,031.79 crore have been completed.
The region is also deriving benefits from schemes such as Swadesh Darshan and Prashad, which have given the tourism sector a major boost with the sanctioning of a staggering Rs. 1,502.48 crore under both schemes. As of March 2022, a total of 208 product development and processing units have been set up under the National Bamboo Mission (NBM) in the region. 14 hi-tech, 95 big, and 53 small nurseries have been established under the restructured National Bamboo Mission (NBM) in the region as of March 2022.
With a view to promoting palm produce in the region, the Mission on Edible Oils—Oil Palm was approved for the period 2021-2022 to 2025-2026, in which the budget allocation for the North East region and Andaman and Nicobar Islands together is to the tune of Rs. 5,850 crore. The region also witnessed an 85.34% growth in the export of agricultural products from 2016, registering a quantum jump from USD 2.52 million in 2016–2017 to USD 17.2 million in 2021–2022.
In the healthcare sector, a total of Rs. 31,793.86 crore since 2014–15 has been allocated for providing better and more efficient healthcare services in the region. Under Ayushman Bharat Abhiyaan, more than 5,600 healthcare and wellness centres have been opened in the region.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, more than 10.7 lakh hospital admissions have been authorised during the period 2018–2019 to 2021–2022, thus playing a pivotal role in providing financial support to the people. As of March 28, 2022, more than 27 lakh health IDs (ABHA numbers) under the Ayushman Bharat Digital Health Mission have been generated in the region.
The Modi government has given added thrust to the education sector. From 2014 until now, it has spent Rs. 14,009 crore to promote higher education in the region. Altogether, 191 new institutes of higher education have come up. There has been a 39% increase in the number of universities since 2014 and a 40% increase in central institutions of higher education since 2014–2015. Under the ‘Ishan Uday’ Special Scholarship Scheme, more than 44,000 freshmen were selected for the scholarship from 2015–2016 to 2019–2020. Total expenditure under the scheme for fresh and renewal of the scholarship from 2015–2016 to 2020–2021 was Rs. 661.1 crore.
Under the Khelo India scheme launched by the Modi Government in 2018, 62 sports infrastructure projects of various categories were sanctioned in the region in 2021 at a cost of Rs. 423.01 crore.
To provide food security, Rs. 10,415 crore has been incurred in the region till November 2021 under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKY). Rs. 64,684 crore has been incurred in the region by way of subsidies under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). Under the Jan Dhan Yojana, a total of 2.44 crore accounts have been opened in the region till May 2023. Under MGNREGA, Rs. 36,000 crore has been utilised from 2016 to 2023, generating 163 crore of mandays of employment. A total of 94 lakh households got tap water connections under the Jal Jeevan Mission since its launch in 2019 up to February 2023.
With a paradigm shift in development and the dawning of a new era of peace and prosperity, the North East Region is truly becoming India’s growth engine, with hopes and promises aplenty.