India has the second largest population in the world just behind China. While China is worried about aging of its nation, India’s major population is youth accounting to 64% for the total population. When British India was divided, India and Pakistan were the two partitions done of the larger part of the Indian Subcontinent. East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) created a hurdle to gain access to the North East leaving only a 27 km wide connect to the North East from West Bengal. In this post we will discuss the natural resources and Man-power of the North East and some shrewd ideas to develop the region with the help of Bangladesh and Myanmar and even Thailand if needed.
What isolated North-East from India
There are various reasons which contributed to the isolation of the North-East of Mainland India.
The U Bend
The India-Bangladesh border is the 4th largest land border in the world. To gain access by road to the North-East regions, it must take a complete U-turn along the borders of Bangladesh. It wastes a lot of energy, time and infrastructure to reach the Northeastern cities. The farthest city by road (the U Bend) from Kolkata is the 2nd largest city by population in the North East (Agartala – Capital of Tripura) at 1500 km. Geographically it is located very close to Kolkata but the Bangladesh borders restrict its time-restrained access to these North-east cities.
The Geographical isolation
The North-East is isolated not only politically, but geographically too. It has the mighty Himalayan Mountains in the North, the rough inaccessible Indo-Myanmar mountain belt (despite a friendly border) and Bangladesh in the South-West region. Bangladesh is accessible if a corridor is opened between the Mainland India to the Northeast region. Brahmaputra River is a natural threat as it floods every year, causing losses to life and property.
Chicken Neck and insurgencies
The Chicken Neck (Siliguri Corridor) is the only land-link to the North-East region. The 27 km wide corridor is a curse to the development of the North-East. The corridor is endangered by various elements like
- Terror attacks and rebels constitute the major problems in this region and this being the only land-access to the North-East, if blocked is a cut-down of the North-East from various basic amenities.
- China has set up its base in the Chumbi Valley, which acts like a dragger to divide the North-East of India. If China approaches 80 km from the Chumbi Valley, we will end up losing the only land corridor to the North-East.
India is covered with water on three sides of its geographical boundaries. This makes it the most ready country to develop a new port for better business. Unlike China, where most of the ports are located on the East coast, India has ports on both the sides of the peninsula thereby making it easy to trade with all the nations in the world. But the nearest Indian port from the North-East is Kolkata around 1300 km away from the largest North-Eastern city. North-East being land-locked hasn’t got much advantage of trade unlike other regions in India, thereby increasing insurgencies in the area.
North-East: Natural Resources, Manpower and Eastern Gateway
North-East region of India is a heaven of resources for India. All the seven states have large reserves of various important metals. In this context, I have segregated the resources state-wise
- Petroleum Oil — Regions of Tuensanj, Mokokchung and Longleng
- Sandstone, Shale and Coal seam — Barail Range
- Quartzite — Pulibagan to Parkup from the Western to the Eastern end
- Glass Sand — Jiyajuri – Chapanala regions
- Quartzite and Granite rocks — Shillong Basin and East Khasi – Jaintia hills
- Other metals like Phosphates, Kaolin, China Clay, Dolomite, Silimanite, Carborundum and Uranium is suspected in this region still unexplored.
- Sedimentary rocks — Ngopu, Khazawl, Champhai, Sercchip
- Platinum Group elements have a large presence in this region which can be used for various electrical and laboratory purposes.
- Some of the namely metals are Copper, Umphrynai and Pomlakrai with some areas having traces of gold too.
North-East can become a power-house for man-power. With a better HDI (Human Development Index) comparison to all states in India, it can become a model region for major population stricken states in India.
- Mizoram and Tripura have a literacy rate of over 90%.
- The population density in this region is around 180/sqkm.
- The population is well-educated to communicate in English.
It has the mighty Brahmaputra flows through the region, which can generate around 50,000MW of power. With coal reserves (900 million tons), Oil reserves (500 million tons) and natural gas (190 billion cubic meters) it has the potential to become the India’s powerhouse not relying on imports of fossil fuels from the Middle East and Central Asian nations.
This region has the potential to develop itself away from the Mainland. Due to a good friendship with Myanmar and Thailand, India can become a leading exporter of products grown in the North-East. With metals like Platinum and Copper in abundance, this can act as an Eastern Gateway for the growth of India as a superpower.
Rice, Maize, Millets, Sugarcane, Jute, Cotton, Rubber, Tea, Coffee, Walnuts, Coconuts and a vast range of fruits (apples, pineapples, grapes, guava) and vegetables; which can be traded with the East Asian nations. Being strategically located, it can tap investors from East Asian nations to develop products exclusively for them developing better rail-road-ship transport system.
What has India done and can do to develop North-East as the most prosperous state in India.
Insurgency is the term used for any development in the Northeast by any Central Government. Assam was a leading oil producer in the initial independence days of India. But the Government didn’t pay heed to this region earlier, which led to the development of anti-Indian forces in the North-East. They feel that they were always neglected, due to the Centre’s lack of infrastructure investments in the region. If exploited now, India must take care of the royalties to be given to the region and improve the infrastructure in this region to not make it hostile. The only rail network reaches three stations in Assam for the entire region shows the neglect the region has experienced.
North-East should have been the biggest asset for India. With good friendly neighbors and similar cultural distinctions (Myanmar) and trade friendly Thailand, India can get direct access to the Strait of Malacca. Strait of Malacca is the gateway for any commodity transport to the Eastern nations. Majority of the oil exports to China, Japan, Korea, etc… has to pass through the Strait of Malacca. India is gaining its influence in the South China Sea which is very beneficial for improving trade. Agro-products and minerals from the North-East can be exported to the Eastern nations (including Singapore and Malaysia) through this gateway. I would name the Golden Eastern Gateway for India’s prosperity.
China is building the international port Chittagong in Bangladesh. But it isn’t developing the port like Gwadar thereby making room for Indian investments in the port. Land-locked Tripura’s capital Agartala is 211 km away from the port, making it the closest North-East City to the Bangladesh port. India is constructing a highway about 70 km from Sabroom in Tripura to Chittagong in Bangladesh to allow transportation of goods within an hour of travel.
The Indian Railways Construction Company (IRCON) is constructing a cross-border railway line from Agartala to Akhaura. Akhaura is a part of the railway network in Bangladesh, being on the Indian border is of great economic potential. The 14 km railway line from Agartala to Akhaura would get India instant access to the Akhaura-Laksam-Chittagong railway line, thereby ensuring a smooth transition of goods to the sea for exports.
A bus service from Dhaka to Agartala is opened in 2011 to enable a better transport system for the land-locked region. A bus from Kolkata to Agartala is in talks. This will reduce the travel time by 5 times, unlike the existing U-Bend transport system.
For people who think India is the only benefactor in a deal with Bangladesh, here some information for you. Bangladesh is the major exporter of goods (cash, food, services) to Tripura standing close to 400 crores and imported less than a crore from Tripura in the last fiscal year.
India can develop a new port in Myanmar near the Indian border. Though constructing a new port would be quite expensive for the Indian government, but it would prove beneficial rather depending only on the Strait of Malacca or Chittagong. Maybe a port development in Ma Gyi Chaung or Sittwe which is at a 430 km distance from Agartala can help development in the region.
With no Chinese rail in the Myanmar region, only neighbor for Bangladesh being India, a cultural unity between Bangladesh and Myanmar, a trade friendly Thailand would help India in its Look East policy.
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