North East India gearing up for better connectivity, increased economic activity

Not long ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized on transforming the North East Region (NER) of India into a Natural Economic Zone considering the diverse natural resources and biodiversity that the region is host to. The Indian NER includes eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim. The last decade has seen a phenomenal change in the trading patterns of the region with an increase in demand for internet connectivity and then e-commerce. In fact, e-commerce giants like Amazon and Flipkart have reported a spectacular growth in orders from the NER and equivalent engagement with the north-eastern artisans, tea growers, organic cultivators etc. The NER is also situated in prudent proximity to East Asia and South-East Asia – two fast-growing economic regions – which bestows the opportunity of operating on a significant international trade corridor with Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

With an abundance of trade opportunities on the domestic as well as international front, it is imperative to develop a strong and efficient logistics network in the NER, that should be backed up by modern infrastructure technologies along with a wide network of warehouses.

Taking the road

Road transport is an indispensable mode of transportation in the NER as other modes are either too expensive or too difficult to construct and maintain in the mountainous terrain. The Bharatmala Project and Gati Shakti Yojna will provide the much-anticipated road connectivity throughout the NER for the movement of cargo.

The Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for North East (SARDP-NE) was initiated as a 3 phase programme for the improvement and construction of roads and targets completion of highways, state roads and strategic roads by 2023-24.

The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna has also added a length of 23,093.39 km roads in the NER.

Tracking the NER

Though a highly cost-effective mode of transport, Railways is difficult to set up and operate in NER due to the terrain. While most of the NER states have scarce railway connectivity, there has been railway routes set up in the plain areas of Assam, Nagaland and Tripura which is a part of the 2600 km railway network in the region. Proposed railway connectivity projects aim to add another 880 km to the small network which will, in turn, increase the transport efficiency of commodities from the region. The NER shares its borders with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal and the development of railways, with support of strong road connectivity, is sure to bring a much-needed boost in the economic and logistics growth of the NER.

Flying through

Speed, safety, flexibility, cost and adaptability are the qualitative and quantitative essentials of an effective transportation system, and airways meet most of these parameters. Airports may be the answer to upheave NER’s trade connectivity, domestic and international, especially for areas that can be penetrated with roads or railways due to their terrain. Last year, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) Cargo Logistics and Allied Services Ltd. (AAICLAS) came up with separate cargo terminals at Guwahati, Imphal, Silchar and Agartala with dedicated freighter services. Developments like these are a welcomed initiative to promote and open wider scope for local produce of the NER.

Gushing along the banks

The NER has an abundance of inland waterways that can be exploited as a practical as well as a cost-effective mode of cargo movement in the region when supported by infrastructural developments like night navigation, mechanical cargo handling and construction of terminals. Waterways can also give a solid thrust to the cross-border trade with our neighbours in the northeast. Dhubri (in Assam) is now well connected with Narayanganj (in Bangladesh) through inland waterways transport and there has been regular sailing of cargo vessels.

Earlier this week, Union Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Sarbananda Sonowal visited the site of the proposed Cargo Terminal, Tourist Jetty and River Front Development projects near Bogibeel Bridge in Dibrugarh to discuss initiatives to make Dibrugarh a major river port in the country.

The opportunities provided by PM Narendra Modi in developing the National Waterway (NW) 2 (on Brahmaputra) and NW 16 (on Barak) is leveraging our connectivity with Bangladesh and giving us the route to reach markets of the world. Act East Policy has transformed the North East into a connectivity hub. Led by the PM’s Gati Shakti – National Master Plan, an integrated plan for speeding up cargo movement on the river Brahmaputra is being envisaged. It will open up employment avenues and provide global market access to local products.”

~ Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways

Modern logistics have become pivotal to improving the efficiency of material flow and reducing costs and the giant leap towards e-commerce in the recent times has furthered the development of existing logistics market. Tapping the NER’s potential for logistics can prove to be a game-changer along with an unhinged focus on warehouse and infrastructure development in the region.

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