US Ambassador to India, Richard Verma highlighted the challenges and potential for connectivity in the Northeast region at the Indo-Asia Connectivity for Shared Prosperity Conference held in Kolkata on Wednesday.
Speaking of his travels across Northeast India, Verma said that the region is one of Asia’s most strategic crossroads; bordering Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, and Nepal. Attesting that the Northeast is a region unlike any other with its stunning beauty, industrious population, and remarkable blend of culture, language and tradition, Verma added that while connectivity challenges are real, there are also important success stories and examples of what expanded connectivity can look like.
Highlighting some achievements in the region, Verma said “In Tripura, I toured a gas-fired power plant that is utilizing General Electric turbines to export 100 MW of power to neighboring Bangladesh. Another 100 MW in export capacity is expected to come on-line soon. I visited the Agartala-Akhaura border crossing, the second largest trading point between India and Bangladesh, with cross-border trade amounting to over $ 60 million. Meghalaya is home to some of the region’s finest educational institutions, nurturing bright minds not only from India’s Northeast but from neighboring countries as well. Nagaland has embarked on a program to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs in the region, leveraging innovation and technology to overcome developmental challenges. And Manipur and Mizoram have the potential to become gateways between India and Myanmar once local road and rail connectivity projects are completed.”
“I also however witnessed daunting challenges facing this region. With its stunning mountains and forests, much of the Northeast presents real challenges in the building of traditional infrastructure. Simply moving from one state to another can be a challenge. And while air connectivity has improved dramatically, many must use Kolkata or Guwahati as hubs due to limited inter-state flights,” Verma said adding, “With multiple states, countries and sometimes contradictory rules for the movement of goods and people, the regulatory and legal framework can also pose a burden. And ironically, some cross-border threats like disease, human trafficking and drugs, can often flow easily across states and countries, giving rise to multiple health and security challenges.”
Verma also reminisced about the history the region shares with America, recalling the contribution of General Stillwell, under whose leadership the Stillwell road was constructed connecting Assam with China. Verma said that South Asia is one of the least economically integrated regions in the world with intra-regional trade as a percentage of total trade in the region languishing between four and five percent. Verma added that the Indian government’s initiative of improving connectivity in the region by a series of projects related to energy, hydropower, and transportation in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan is appreciable. “India’s resolution of territorial disputes with Bangladesh and Burma stands as an example of its commitment to international norms and regional stability. Through the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the countries of the region have re-energized efforts to build linkages between South and Southeast Asia,” Verma added.