NE CMs to discuss Act East Policy with Sushma on May 4

Conrad imagines Shillong becoming hub for ASEAN trade

SHILLONG: Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said there will be a discussion on the Act East Policy with Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj in Delhi on May 4 in which heads of the northeastern states will be present.
During a reply on the discussion on issuing work permit to Bangladeshi nationals in the Assembly on Thursday, Conrad added that Swaraj was keen to take Act East to a new level.
According to him, the discussion on Act East will be an advantage for the region and the state should get maximum benefits from it.
Urging the members to discuss on the matter, Conrad said he would welcome suggestions from all members and added that they can give their suggestions in writing to him.
Sangma also spoke about “imagining” trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with Shillong or Guwahati as the hub for the seven nations.
“We are looking at the big picture and economic growth,” he said.
Trade imagination
He “imagined” a situation in which the entire North East will depend on the Chittagong port in Bangladesh which will ensure that the youth of the state become job creators and not job seekers.
According to Conrad, historically the North East had the highest per capita income in the past because of trade with neighbouring countries, including Bangladesh.
“Now, if the North East wants to export anything, traders have to depend on Kolkata through Siliguri chicken neck. Even rubber is not allowed to be exported from our borders. Imagine a situation when we can reach out to seven neighbouring nations without going to Delhi or Kolkata,” he said.
Replying to Congress MLA HM Shangpliang who remarked that “the thought about it (issuing work permit) is wrong and forget about the idea”, Conrad said in a democracy “it is not unholy to think about ideas”.
Need for discussion
However, he maintained that he wanted everyone to engage in discussion on the issue of work permit.
“I want everyone to talk. I even talk to my driver and peon to know their views on certain aspects,” he said.
Referring to Leader of Opposition Mukul Sangma who criticised Conrad for “deviating” from convention by discussing about the work permit when the Assembly was in session, Conrad said, “I did not write any proposal about work permit. “When I give it at a formal level, I will take the opinion of the members. What I discussed is not decision,” he reiterated.
Conrad stated that the government is all for collective responsibility and will take everybody’s views. He said, “Everybody is missing the point. Here we are talking about economic development, trade and Act East Policy.”
On the same page
However, he cautioned that there would be challenges with the advent of trade and economy and said, “We are all on the same page on illegal immigration.”
He added that there are mechanisms to check illegal immigration.
With the opposition legislators asking to stop the work permit proposal for Bangladeshis, the chief minister said, “Are we legalising their identity and citizenship. A lot of illegal immigration takes place in foreign countries. The immigrants do not get citizenship or voting rights and they only engage in work.”
Stating that the issue of work permit was blown out of proportion and considered as good as done, he said, “Then it is giving too much power and credit to me.”
Conrad also said the issue of illegal immigration will be the biggest challenge in the coming years and also climate change.
He pointed out with the rise in the water level of the Bay of Bengal, 50 million people in Bangladesh will be displaced.
“I don’t know how we will face the challenge. We cannot run away from it,” he said.
On the Inner Line Permit, the chief minister called for a discussion and reiterated that the state government will not stop the entry/exit point mechanism put in place by the previous government.
Aiming to strike a balance between economic development and illegal immigration, Conrad said mechanisms come in since there is a problem in maintaining balance.

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