'Goal is to make Assam expressway to ASEAN bloc'
GUWAHATI: The State Government is striving to position Assam as the 'expressway and gateway' to the Association of Southeast Asian Countries (ASEAN) bloc, said Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma while delivering the keynote address at the 'Conclave on Act East Through Northeast' in the city on Friday.
The Chief Minister said, "Considering its civilizational and cultural links, the North-East is crucial for the success of the Act East Policy. The North-East is emerging as the vital link between the rest of India and the Southeast Asian countries."
He said that development of infrastructure in the North-East has witnessed an unprecedented boom during the last few years. "Prime Minister Modi's thrust on Act East Policy through fast-paced growth has brought a paradigm shift to the development narrative in the North-East and given new hope to the people of the region."
Sarma mentioned that the conclave is a part of several initiatives of the State Government's Act East Policy Affairs Department to brainstorm on various aspects of the Act East Policy and strengthen the roadmap for leveraging the opportunity of Assam's geo-strategic location to use the State as a springboard for economic cooperation, enhancing connectivity and addressing various issues for seamless movement of trade and investment. The Government is also working hard to make Assam an industrial hub which can serve not only the region, but also the population of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) and ASEAN countries, the Chief Minister Sarma added.
In the context of Assam, Sarma said that the State has witnessed an era of peace since 2014. Most militants have returned to the mainstream during this period, connectivity has improved by leaps and bounds and digital infrastructure has developed considerably, he said.
"The biggest achievement is that the mindset of the people has changed. They now want to be stakeholders in the development process. As a result, the number of ongoing Externally Aided Projects (EAPs) has increased in the State."
Sarma welcomed the keenness displayed by the High Commissioner of Singapore to participate in projects such as the Guwahati Master Plan. He, however, said that while the thrust is on expanding Guwahati city in all spheres, "We can dream a little more." The Chief Minister said this in reference to two Singaporean firms' involvement in developing Andhra Pradesh's new capital city, Amravati. The Chief Minister said that the State Government, too, is planning to expand Guwahati city by connecting it with North Guwahati. Apart from the existing Saraighat Bridge, another bridge is being built over the river Brahmaputra to link Guwahati with North Guwahati while a third one has also been accorded approval.
The Chief Minister informed the gathering that the State Government has already started work on the Skill University with funds from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Speaking on the occasion, Sanjeev Sanyal, member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, said that the link between the North-East region and Southeast Asia is very deep and ancient. Many Indian traditions originated in various Southeast Asian countries, he said, citing the example of offering areca nut and betel leaf while extending marriage invitations.
Sanyal said that the Government of India will provide all necessary support if any ASEAN country comes forward to invest in the North-East, be it sorting out any diplomatic difficulty or fulfilling any specific requirement.
Chandra Mohan Patowary, Minister of Act East Policy Affairs, in his address thanked the Ministry of External Affairs for organizing the conclave in Guwahati and expressed the hope that the event will strengthen ties between the North-East region and Southeast Asian countries.
Geetika Srivatava, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, also dwelt on the age-old ties between the North-East region and Southeast Asian countries and said that the Government of India is laying emphasis on boosting land, air and waterway connectivity between the two.
Earlier, delivering the welcome address, Assam's Chief Secretary Jishnu Barua said, "We are celebrating the year 2022 as the ASEAN-Indian Friendship Year, marking the completion of 30 years of our country's special relationship with the ASEAN bloc. What started as a small seedling under the Look East Policy way back in 1992 has gradually grown into a large tree under the proactive and result-oriented Act East Policy of Prime Minister Modi."
Barua further said "The journey has just started, but we have a long distance to cover. We must have realistic and implementable plans in place for linking our region with ASEAN countries through expressways, railways, inland waterways and, indeed, airways."
Other dignitaries who attended the conclave included Ung Sean, Ambassador of Cambodia; Nadiah Binti Ahmed Rafie, High Commissioner of Brunei; Ina Krishnamurthi, Ambassador of Indonesia; Bounneme Chouanghom, Ambassador of Lao PDR; Dato' Hidayat Bin Abdul Hamid, High Commissioner of Malaysia; and Thirapath Mongkolnavin, Minister and Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Thailand.
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