NEW DELHI :
The Union cabinet on Wednesday allocated 30% of the North-Eastern Council’s (NEC’s) budget for developing deprived areas and integrating them with the mainstream.
The move, seen as part of the government’s Act East policy, will benefit marginalized and vulnerable groups of people in backward and neglected areas of North-eastern states, according to a cabinet statement.
“Allocation of 30% of North Eastern Council’s allocation for new projects under the existing schemes of North-Eastern Council for focused development of deprived areas; deprived/neglected sections of society and emerging priority sectors in the North-eastern states. The balance allocation shall be bifurcated in the existing two components—state component 60% and central component 40%," the cabinet said. Neither the cabinet statement nor Union cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar who briefed reporters after the cabinet meeting, quantified the allocations.
The government believes a portion of the funds can be utilized for building roads in remote hill regions and for addressing climate change challenges in the North-ast.
The special allocation issue was discussed in September when Union home ministry officials had met with governors and chief ministers of the eight North=eastern states as part of the North Eastern Council in Guwahati. Home minister Amit Shah had then described the region as pivotal to India’s growth story. “All of North-East is extremely important to the development of India... they have been left out of the vision of development and it will be our priority to develop these areas if we come to power," Shah had said in the meeting.
The Union cabinet’s decision comes close on the heels of the Centre stepping up its initiative to consolidate and integrate North-East India with the heartland. On Monday, the Centre signed the tripartite Bodo agreement with the banend National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and Assam government, ending a decades-old standoff with separatist groups and clearing the decks for further development of the Bodo regions of Assam.
The agreement with NDFB highlights the Centre’s attempts to pump greater infrastructure and economic support into the region and comes just days after the Centre signed a pact to permit the settlement of 30,000 Bru tribal refugees in Tripura.
Shah said the agreement was in line with the National Democratic Alliance’s ‘development for all’ vision. The Bodo agreement sets the ball rolling for the government to implement new infrastructure initiatives including construction of highways, bridge, and rural electrification projects that have already been sanctioned for Sonitpur, Kokrajhar, and Udalguri districts in Assam. Earlier in January, the Centre had announced the earmarking of ₹5,559 crore towards the construction of the North East Gas Grid project across the eight states, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura.
Meanwhile, with an eye on China, India is also working on a number of road and bridge projects to improve connectivity with Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar. These include road networks connecting Aizawl in Mizoram with Kaladan in Myanmar and Imphal in Manipur with Tamu, also in Myanmar. India is also expediting the South Asian Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) road connectivity programme. Japan, too, has joined hands with India to develop infrastructure projects in the region with the setting up of the India-Japan Coordination Forum for Development of Northeast.