Speakers at a two-day forum held in Kohima discussed the potential and opportunities offered by connecting Northeast India with neighbouring countries Myanmar and Bangladesh and further afield.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) organized “Connect North East 2017,” the 4th edition of North East Connectivity Summit from 22 to 23 September in Kohima with the support from the Government of Nagaland, India.
Over 100 speakers gathered to discuss the opportunities for communication, development, trade, business and cultural exchanges offered by the opening up of India’s Northeast and connection with its neighbours. Attendees came from India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand and even a representative from Russia.
The summit this year continued the effort to catalyze thought and policy prescriptions for development of an action plan for seamless connectivity through infrastructure creation. Key focus areas include development of an Economic Corridor connecting with Southeast Asia, people-to-people connectivity, shared biodiversity and infrastructure requirements in terms of roads, railways, inland waterways, airports, and market linkages.
As Indian Member of Parliament Mr Gaurav Gogoi put it, India has a lot of potential, the northeast has a lot of potential, but it was “time to change from potential to progress, otherwise there is a fatigue that comes with the word potential.”
“For how long will we have unlimited potential? Potential into success and potential into measurable goals. And some progress has been made, let us not be pessimistic, let us not be blind to the positive developments that are taking place in the northeast over the past many years,” he said.
He noted the major changes that had taken place in the region over the last decade and how the northeast was drawing in visitors to events such as the Hornbill Festival, car rallies, and even the upcoming hosting of the FIFA Under 17 World Cup. Flights to the region have increased tenfold in the period.
Part of the challenge was that the “Northeast Brand” was “not developed” and the perceived problems of law and order “but these festivals change the perception,” Mr Gaurav Gogoi said.
As he noted with developing the region, a big challenge was jobs. There is growing population of young people, many of who leave college with degrees but there are no new jobs, or the jobs pay less, or the jobs are shrinking.
“How many new jobs can we create in tourism or infrastructure?” he asked.
Minister Sai Kyaw Zaw, Minister of Ethnic Affairs, Mandalay Region, Myanmar told the audience that Northeast India and Myanmar share culture and “the idea is to promote the culture and business of the region.”
He offered an invitation to representatives of the government of Nagaland to visit Myanmar to explore how they can connect more effectively.
Mr Gautam Mukhopadhaya, former Indian ambassador to Myanmar, told delegates that four connectivity summits have proven the capacity of the Northeast event, showcasing the “hospitality and grace that is difficult to find in other parts of the world, an inborn culture, that the rest of India can learn from too.”
He noted that in the Indian mainstream, the Northeast tended to be portrayed in a negative way in terms of capability, neglect, infrastructure, telephones and roads. But as the event showed, there was lot of potential.
Mr Gautam Mukhopadhaya said the focus of the northeast should shift to production rather than consumption with the aim to improve markets.
“We need to enhance production, the engine or growth, the engine of trade,” he said.
Secondly, there should be a growth in entrepreneurship connectivity, linking Bangladesh, Myanmar and further afield.
The theme for ‘Connect North East 2017’ is ‘Act East from Nagaland’ and one of the focus sectors is tourism. The idea for this year’s summit was to reach out to the neighbouring countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh, in addition to the Northeastern States to identify opportunities in connectivity infrastructure, tourism and people-to-people connectivity.
As in earlier editions of the summit, the event included leading stakeholders from the North Eastern States of India, policy makers, relevant central Government Ministries, corporates from various sectors – Tourism, physical and digital infrastructure, telecommunication, construction, financial institutions as well as key stakeholders from civil aviation, inland waterways, rail and road connectivity from India, neighbouring countries and the ASEAN Region.