North East best placed to implement Neighbourhood First, Act East policies: Jaishankar


Noting that North East is best platform to get maximum mileage from the Act East and Neighbourhood First policies, the Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar said the impact of both will go beyond South Asia and even make a difference on Quad.

“The coming together of the Act East and the Neighbourhood First policies have an enormous reinforcing impact. And it is one that extends beyond the confines of South Asia,” Jaishankar said while speaking at river enclave ‘Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence (NADI)’ organised by Asian Confluence, a think tank focusing on the North East and the neighbouring countries.

Enumerating the progress made in trade relations with neighbourhood countries, the minister said the realization of the potential of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) is one example that will change the Bay of Bengal.

“But think what happens if land connectivity through Myanmar and a sea connectivity through Bangladesh become viable. On a commercial scale, a world all the way to Vietnam and Philippines, from Haiphong to Hazira and from Manila to Mundra will open up, creating an east-west lateral with sweeping consequences for the continent. It will not only build on the partnerships that we have with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and Japan, but would actually make a difference to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that is now in the making,” the minister said.

He said it was definitely within the region’s ability to overcome geography and rewrite near history “if only we can get the policies and the economics right.” One can draw strength from the far history in this regard.

The starting point, he said, is enhancing connectivity with the Bangladesh, especially with the North East. The restoration of six historical cross-border rail links, dormant since 1965 is one major step.

Once operational, the Shahabazpur (Bangladesh) to Mahishasan (Assam) link will be extended within Bangladesh and connected to the Kuluara-Shahbazpur rail line currently being modernised using an Indian line of credit (LoC). Inaugurated in December 2020, the Chilahati-Haldibari (West Bengal) line will further enhance Assam’s connectivity to Bangladesh through New Jalpaiguri, including passenger traffic.

A new rail link from Akhaura (Bangladesh) to Agartala (Tripura) too is being developed under grant assistance and we all know that this is already increasing trade between India and Bangladesh.

Inside Bangladesh, India is collaborating on a series of road projects, including improving the Ashuganj River Port-Akhaura Land Port Road under an LoC of more than US$ 400 million. The road project connecting Baruerhat to Ramgarh on the India-Bangladesh border, which will increase Tripura’s road connectivity with Bangladesh, is also being implemented under another LoC of US$ 80.06 million.

The intricate and intertwined cross-border geography is being synergised by agreements on movement of goods from Indian ports through Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh, and from there overland to Tripura and other parts of the Northeast. The Protocol on Inland Waterways Transit and Trade, offers similar potential, using 10 specific routes along shared and intersecting river systems.

“On February 5 this year, a cargo vessel carrying 200 metric tonnes of food grains sailed from Patna in Bihar to Pandu in Assam using the inland waterways of India and Bangladesh. So remember, transits benefit not only the two ends, but the middle even more as it would see an economic activity that could not be envisaged earlier,” Jaishankar pointed out.

” Given the prioritisation of the North East by the Modi government, it is only obvious that we should work with our most trusted global partners. In 2017, we launched the India-Japan Act East Forum as a platform to bring together all stakeholders and coordinate planning and implementation of projects being undertaken with Japanese assistance. These cover projects in domains as diverse as road and highway connectivity, renewable energy, forest management, urban amenities and strengthening healthcare systems,” Jaishankar added.