Friday, July 19, 2024

A tête-à-tête with DoNER Secy Chanchal Kumar


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Northeast India comprising as many as eight states all bordering foreign countries and close to South East Asian and South Asian nations, has made rapid progress in the past few decades. It all began with creation of a separate full-fledged DoNER Ministry always headed by a Cabinet Minister. After the creation of this ministry, especially during the past decade, the once considered remote landlocked region has seen more connectivity than any other part of the country. The number of airports has risen from nine in 2014 to 17 in 2023, serving more than 65 air routes and all these airports are operational. Since the launch of UDAN-Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) in 2016, 68 RCS routes are now operational in the Northeast.
The road network has increased from 10,905 km in 2014-15 to 16,125 km at present, while the railway track length has increased by 1,900 km over the same period. Inland waterways in the landlocked region have increased from just one to 20 in the past decade alone.
The increased connectivity in the Northeast has brought consequent socio- economic benefits to the people of the region, who once remained and felt isolated. Tourist footfalls have increased not only to the known tourist spots but also to new ones and remotely located ones, too. There are as many as nine big brand hotels coming up in the region and the existing ones are showing near full occupancy and so also numerous homestays, once an alien concept in the region.
The region celebrated all mega central government events like Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, Khelo India University Games, and Vividhta Ka Amrit Mahotsav, North East Sammelan and held several G-20 meetings in different states. There were MoUs signed with international agencies and UN bodies.
As a sign of neighbourhood first, top-level visits were held with all the bordering counties of the region to increase cooperation. Similar visits were made in much frequent manners to the states.
In short, all these developmental measures have brought visible peace and prosperity in the once poor and backward region.
Chanchal Kumar is a 1992 batch senior IAS Officer who hasheld important positions in Ministry of Road Transport& Highways, Ministry of Commerce & Industry and State Government of Bihar.
ST: Mr. Kumar how did the once-isolated and totally landlocked Northeast developed its much-needed connectivity?

Kumar: Development activities in NER got a boost from the Whole-of-Government approach adopted by the Government of India. Under the 10% Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) mandate, the expenditure in NER (North Eastern Region) by the 55 non-exempted Central Ministries/Departments exceeded Rs 5.22 lakh crore over the last 10 years. This is 101.43% of the target. The length of National Highway in NER which was 10,905 km in 2014-15, has increased to 16,125 km. Since 2014, there has been an increase of 1,900 km in railway tracks length. Under the ‘Capital Connectivity’ project, after Guwahati, Itanagar (Arunachal Pradesh) and Agartala (Tripura) have now been connected by rail. Now there are 17 airports in NER, including the Advanced Landing Ground at Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh. Till 2014, there were only nine airports in the region. Many states have been connected to the air network for the first time. Till 2014, there was only one National Waterway in NER, but now there are 20 National Waterways. In a landmark event, on 06.03.2022, a cargo vessel carrying 200 MT of foodgrains for FCI reached Guwahati via Bangladesh. Agartala-Akhaura railway line was completed to provide access to Bangladesh. All this has significantly improved connectivity within the region.

ST: NEC is considered to be the nodal agency like regional planning boards. What are the measures taken to improve and expand its role by the government?

Kumar: The Central Sector scheme named ‘Schemes of North Eastern Council (NEC)’, fully funded by the Government of India, provides critical-gap support in multiple sectors for a broad range of developmental activities in NER. The Union Cabinet has approved the continuation of the scheme till 31.03.2026 i.e. till the end of the 15th Finance Commission period. So far, 1,742 projects of Rs 12,975 crore have been sanctioned under ‘Schemes of NEC’. Under NESIDS (Roads), 69 projects worth Rs 3,137 crore are under execution in NER. In addition to this, North East Resource Centre (NERCEN) has been set up in NEC to act as a catalyst for the development of India’s Northeastern region. It will provide strategic direction for the North-East’s development, bring together the right mix of resources to promote the growth of various sectors in the North-East, and will help address new challenges and opportunities that the region faces.

ST: What are the net results shown on the ground because of improvement in connectivity and other measures?

Kumar: The infrastructure created by the government has had a domino effect on boosting the economy of the region. Now the region has a flourishing start-up ecosystem. In 2017, the government created a dedicated venture fund for the North East Region viz., North East Venture Fund (NEVF) to enable a dynamic start-up ecosystem in the region and extended investment support to many start-ups. The NEVF was endowed with a corpus of Rs 100 crore and since its inception in April 2017, 68 start-ups have been supported through the fund. It marked a significant milestone as the first dedicated venture fund for the North East Region and has played a pivotal role in developing a start-up ecosystem in the region. Several NEVF-funded startups have surpassed Rs 100 crore in valuation, generating 10,000+ direct and indirect employment opportunities in the North East. Now the region has many start-ups and most of them are doing well.

ST: Poor telecom connectivity was always a big problem for the NE. What has the Government done in this regard?

Kumar: Since 2014, Rs 4,360 crore have been spent by DoT on improving the telecom connectivity in the region. 12,690 Gram Panchayats are being connected via Bharat Net project. BSNL has taken 20 Gbps connection to enhance internet connectivity in the region. India’s first 5G training labs were launched in NER on September 29, 2023 with hub at AMTRON, Guwahati and supported by MDoNER.

ST: Successive governments in their own ways have tried to develop the NE region. What made this transformative change possible particularly in the past decade?

Kumar: The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region is responsible for the matters relating to the planning, execution and monitoring of development schemes and projects in the North Eastern Region. This is the only Ministry with territorial jurisdiction. As mentioned previously, over the last 10 years, more than 5.22 lakh crores have been spent in NER by 55 non-exempt ministries. In addition, Ministry of DoNER also provides gap-funding support to NER through its schemes. In 2023, Government of India approved continuation of the “Schemes of NEC” and “North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (NESIDS)” until 2025-26, besides announcement of a new scheme for NER i.e. PM-DevINE, that focuses on infrastructure, social development and livelihood. Under various schemes of the Ministry of DoNER, 1,216 projects worth Rs 19,023 crore were ongoing in NER, as on 31.03.2024. The Ministry has also harmonised its scheme guidelines to encourage adoption of latest technologies and best practices and has put in place a timeline-based approval process.
As on 30.04.2024, under Schemes of Ministry of DoNER, 185 projects in Agriculture and allied sector of more than Rs 1,000 crore are ongoing in NER. This is in addition to the flagship programmes of MoA&FW like PM-KISAN, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region, Formation and Promotion of 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs). Ministry of DoNER had constituted a joint task force with MoA&FW to steer the growth of the agriculture sector in NER.
The task force gave its recommendations, which included, inter alia, implementation of project on bamboo, have special provisions for enhanced outlays for NER under RKVY, capacity building and institutional strengthening, promotion of agarwood, expanded scope of MOVCD-NER to allow for a non-organic component. MDoNER is engaged with all stakeholders for implementation of these recommendations. (To be continued)


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