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India’s North East – Looking At Its Pressing Issues, Challenges And Future Road Map

Picture : Representational Purpose Only
Picture : Representational Purpose Only

The north east emerged as a distinct geo strategic region of great importance first during the Second World war in the Burma campaign of the Allied forces against Japan and the I.N.A.and second after Partition which turned North East vulnerable being connected with the rest of the country only by a narrow 22km Siliguri land corridor- chicken’s neck in strategic parlance. Following the reorganization of the region under the North East Areas Reorganization Act 1971there are now seven states characterized by great diversities.

The scheduled tribes hold an unique strategic position in the region because though they constitute only about 30% of the population administratively the y control roughly 70% of the geographical area of the region covering 4 States,( MeghalayaArunachal, Mizoram, and Nagaland ) 4 Autonomous district councils in Assam and Tripura under the sixth schedule and 6 autonomous district councils in Manipur Hill Areas ;and the entire eastern border of India with Bhutan,Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh except small segments of Indo Bangladesh border in Assam and Tripura sectors. The more numorous tribes of central India don’t have this strategic importance.

The other feature of the north east and especially Assam,its anchor state is that its demography changed drastically following introduction of the colonial mode of production based on Tea plantations, extraction of oil,coal and other minerals and timber which led to induction of migrant labor from outside the region as experienced in Malaysia and Srilanka in the same period of time.(1830- 1900). This has been a major cause of political unrest.

Though North Eastern Council was created in 1970 by the government of India to carry out a regional Development plan and significant development of infrastructure and connectivity had since taken place, there are large gaps in infrastructure and consequent ” development lags” in many sectors.

The major development and security challenges are as follows:

1. Unending identity politics and violent identity assertion by several groups the number of which is increasing every year and thereby creating a permanent security problem obstructing economic development and progress of the region as the insurgency spills over to the neighbourhood.

2. Effective participation in the Act East policy by skill and entrepreneurship development by capitalising on the region’s strength in English language skills, higher education infrastructure, health, tourism, agri horticultural plantations, agro-ased industries, sericulture and weaving, organic farming for production of value added goods and services for export to the Asean and Bangladesh markets.

3. Restoration of old link to Chittagong Port of Bangladesh and early completion of the Kaladan Multi nodal transport project for linking north east to the Myanmarese Sea Port at Sittwee.

4. Providing an effective regional planning mechanism by strengthening the NEC and other Central agencies in cooperation and support of the states for improvement in project management and implementation capacity.

5. Need for a synergy in the central state and regional initiatives keeping in view the BBIN – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India Nepal and China Myanmar economic corridor( CMEC) initiatives designed to revamp the regional economy.


( The writer is a retired IAS officer of the Assam – Meghalaya cadre and has served as Scientific Consultant in the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India)

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