What if I tell you to go from SJT to TT via the outdoor stadium? Ever wondered what an arbitrary line on the map could do to lives on the ground? This is what happened to North-Eastern India in 1947. West Garo Hills in Assam (now Meghalaya) and Hili in Bengal (now West Bengal) were just 80 kilometers apart, but today the distance between the two is more than 1500 kilometers. After the partition, India lost its railway and road infrastructure to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Most of the NE states are still not connected adequately by the railways, and some places can only be accessed by a helicopter. This makes daily life very expensive in the region. Similar to transport, network connectivity is not excellent either. This further isolates the area from the mainstream nation. But with time, things are changing, and lives are getting better in the region.
The strategic angle
The Siliguri Corridor in West Bengal connects the North East to the rest of India. The corridor is as narrow as 22 kilometers, which is a big hurdle to connectivity. It is called “the chicken neck corridor,” a strategic choke-point, and could be attacked by enemy forces to cut the rest of India and North Eastern India apart in case of escalation in the future. North-Eastern states have been fighting the Chinese sponsored insurgency for a long time now. The separatists in Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur, and Mizoram have cooled down and joined the leading stream society as things get better day by day. But some extreme elements still exist on the Chinese payroll to destabilize the region.
While there was slow development in the region for decades, the area witnessed a rapid development boost in logistic and industrial infrastructure in recent years. Indian Railways has stated that by 2023 all the North-Eastern states would be well connected by the Railway, and many more projects are underway.
Previously, India adopted the “Look East” policy, which has now been upgraded to “Act East.” Under this, India is set to take rigorous steps to trade with ASEAN nations at a higher level. There are many big projects underway to boost development in NE. One of the most anticipated projects is the “Kaladan Multi-Modal Project.” A multi-billion dollar project to connect Kolkata and Mizoram. Under this project, India has taken Sittwe port on lease from Myanmar. From there, Mizoram is going to be joined by road and inland water transport from Sittwe. This new multi-mode project would reduce our dependency on the chicken neck corridor and open an alternate route to NE in case of war. India is heading to develop a Special Economic Corridor for Myanmar, which connects Mizoram and Manipur to Myanmar, and eventually connects them to Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.
This October, a riverine transport system was started between Tripura and Bangladesh, and a railway project connecting Tripura and West Bengal via Bangladesh is under progress. Another similar road project is proposed to enhance the connectivity between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, via Bhutan.
Things are going to change soon. The Seven sisters will soon have a new gateway to the rest of India.