Looking East? First look Northeast
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Completion of 20 years of India's dialogue partnership with ASEAN is a milestone in regional cooperation, one that also coincides with two decades of India's Look East Policy. This was marked by a 8,000-km ASEAN-India car rally passing through nine of the 10 ASEAN nations and a commemorative summit in New Delhi that elevated the relationship to a strategic partnership.
However, even as leaders adopted the ASEAN-India Vision Statement outlining the road-map of ASEAN-India cooperation, what needs to be seriously examined is the future of the Northeast in the backdrop of this development.
Even a cursory glance at the ground situation in the region that has been described as a India's gateway to ASEAN shows things are not right. The pace of infrastructure development, which was supposed to receive priority under the Look East Policy, continues to remain below the national average. Only 400 km of the 621-km Assam portion of the East-West Corridor, work on which began during the NDA regime, has been completed in 12 years. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi pointed this out at Thursday's NDC meeting. Besides, most of the Integrated Check Posts and border trade points on international border in the Northeast are yet to see the light of day.
Critics, in fact, fear that the Northeast will once again be left out as the country as a whole benefits from an increasing engagement with ASEAN. Out of India's export volume of about $254.4 billion, the Northeast's share is only about $0.01 billion. The official border trade at Moreh in Manipur (on the Indo-Myanmar border), for example, is far lower compared to the unofficial trade.
Strategic roads to border areas, especially to the China border in Arunachal Pradesh, are in an abysmal condition, with the huge sums of money through special arrangements such as a Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources not trickling down significantly.