North East in BCIM-EC: Challenges and Prospects
In order to boost regional connectivity, the member nations decided to build multi-modal transport—road, rail, water ways and air ways, infrastructure. They also felt the necessity of cooperation in the energy and power sectors to tap local resources. Moreover, the development of telecommunication network along the corridor was emphasised. In an effort to facilitate intra-regional investment, the member nations agreed to broaden participation of both public and private sectors. To improve the livelihood of people and reduce poverty along the corridor, the member nations sought cooperation in agriculture and environment-friendly industries to create a basis for sustainable development. They agreed to enhance exchanges and cooperation in areas such as education, science and technology, culture, healthcare, sports as well as human resource development.
Furthermore, infrastructure facilities would be upgraded and the tourism potential of the region would be explored to create a BCIM tourism circle. To ensure that no country assumes the role of a big brother, the four nations pledged in the joint statement that the modusoprandi of the corridor would be the “principles of mutual trust and respect, mutual interest and equitable sharing of mutual benefits”. The BCIM members also intend to address some of the persisting problems like trans-border criminal activities, illegal migration etc by expanding inter-country cooperation and harmonisation of border policies.
Initially, the four countries will identify realistic and achievable infrastructure projects to expand physical connectivity. The implementation of several ambitious projects and consequent linking of all the four countries will finally open up the entire North Eastern region to Southeast and East Asia and transform it into a robust trade zone. Under the BCIM initiative, the North East in general and Manipur and Barak valley of Assam in particular are projected as the major beneficiaries since the proposed economic corridor will pass through these states. Currently, most of the landlocked states of the region have to bear higher transportation costs for not having easy access to sea ports. Lack of proper infrastructural facilities had led to economic isolation of the region.
It can not be denied that the successive regimes at the Centre have more or less ignored the North Eastern part of the country. An over-emphasis on security and strategic aspects involving North East has been the dominating feature of the national policy making since the attainment of independence in 1947. The Indian ruling elites have seldom tried to devise a long-term development strategy for this sensitive region where some isolated pockets are still socio-economically very backward and almost inaccessible in terms of transport and communication facilities. Despite being endowed with abundant resources, the union government never seemed serious about properly utilizing those to bring about economic growth and prosperity in the region. North East has gained prominence only after the articulation of Look East Policy (LEP) in the early 1990s.The region is now considered as India’s gateway to Southeast and East Asia.
Among all the North Eastern states, only Assam has an industrial base and elaborate transport network. It is the largest economy contributing about 60% of North East’s GDP. The state produces more than 65% of country’s tea which is globally appreciated for its aroma. Assam also maintained trade links with the neighbouring countries in different of its history. Observers from Assam have identified three phases of internationalisation of its economy: (a) ancient Assam till the end of Ahom rule, (b) colonial period and (c) post-independence era with two sub-periods—pre and post-reform(1991) phases. The nature, salient features and impact of internationalisation of the economy had been different.
The first phase began with the advent of Ahom from Thailand and the subsequent establishment of a kingdom by Sukapha in 1228. The Ahom ruled Assam uninterruptedly till the British conquered it in 1826. The historians of Assam have noted that the Ahoms entered Assam through the Indo-Myanmar Patkai ranges. During the Ahom rule, several trade routes linking Assam with China via Myanmar, Bhutan and Tibet had been developed. In addition to these, there existed a few trade routes between Assam and Afghanistan and beyond. The items traded in those days included handicraft, forest, silk and other textile products.