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NE States contemplate ‘Look South Policy’
Published on 19 Aug. 2008 11:25 PM IST
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On the line of India’s proposed “Look East Policy”, three north-eastern States - Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura - have suggested a “Look South policy”, to tap the potential of trade and commerce with Bangladesh and other Southeast Asian countries. Officials of the Union Ministry of Development of Northeastern Region (DoNER) informed that all the three States had placed separate proposals for setting up of international business hubs in these states and demanded adequate funds from the Centre. Tripura Commerce Minister Jitendra Choudhury told UNI here today that the state government had already forwarded its demand to the Centre, stating that Tripura was the ideal location in the Northeastern region to set up road, rail, and waterways connection with Bangladesh for better commerce and business transactions. Tripura, surrounded from three sides by Bangladesh, provides an easy and short-distance accessibility to almost all parts of the neighbouring country, Choudhury said. He added that the distance between important industrial and trade hubs in Bangladesh and Agartala was shorter than the distance between the other important towns and cities of the region. “The straight-line distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is only about 350 km while the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, better referred to as the Vishwa Road in Bangladesh, could easily be connected with Tripura through a short road of five km from the southern town of Sabroom,” he informed. He also pointed out that this highway in turn links Chittagong port, one of the biggest seaports in Southeast Asia, which is only 75 km away from Sabroom, at the end point of NH 44. The year-round inland water transport port Ashuganj is also only 25 km from Agartala and the distance between Akhaura railway station and the newly-constructed Agartala railway station is less than 10 km, he underlined. DoNER Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar had also appreciated Tripura’s demand and assured that the bilateral trade and communication could be easily improved by enhancing the business transaction between north-eastern States and Bangladesh, he stated. Aiyar also mentioned that the current internal trade, involving movement of goods to the north-eastern region from Eastern India, also offers opportunity for Bangladesh trade and commerce and goods traffic flows currently via Siliguri. Presently, the trade and commerce gets disrupted owing to the difficult terrain and natural calamities, Choudhury added. He also claimed that development of transit and trans-shipment facilities via plains in Bangladesh to the Northeast East through different entries can help Bangladesh access and derive further economic advantages from a market that is estimated to be Rs 20,000 crore. Meanwhile, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar expressed displeasure over the attitude of the Centre on the issue. and said the eventual expansion of potential trade and commerce opportunities would require improved infrastructure on both sides of the international border, which had not yet been done. Sarkar further said that even for Bangladesh, it would be most effective and economic to improve links which require less investment. He also termed the Centre’s approach as “negative towards the North-east” and stated, “We are hearing about the ‘Look East’ policy for the past 20 years, which is primarily meant for enhancing business transaction with the Southeast Asian countries through the North-east, but it has not yielded satisfactory results due to inadequate road and rail links.” The much-hyped “Look East” policy would fail to bring positive results in the NE, if the connectivity was not improved, he said, while urging his counterparts in the region to exert pressure on the Centre to convert the metre gauge rail line to broad gauge as soon as possible, besides expansion of rail links to all other state capitals of the region.

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