Look East must bring benefits: CMs

New Delhi, Dec. 27: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today iterated the government's resolve of getting benefits from the Look East policy to India's Northeast but regional leaders felt the Centre's resolve did not appear strong enough.

"I am hopeful that as a result of our Look East policy, this region will fast become a major gateway to trade and economic activity with our neighbours," Singh said at the 57th National Development Council (NDC) meeting here.

On the ground the reality is a bit different.

Mizoram chief minister Lalthanhawla said Singh may have spoken about the Look East policy but little is seen on the ground after over a decade of hopes.

"Yes, he said it but the situation on the ground is different. A lot more needs to be done," Lalthanhawla told this correspondent on the sidelines of the meeting. Lalthanhawla said 15 years after the announcement of Look East policy, hardly anything is noticeable on the ground.

Lalthanhawla said in his speech to the convention today that signing of a number of unilateral, bilateral and trilateral agreements and free trade agreements (FTAs) with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) may have benefited other regions, but not the Northeast.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi also hinted that infrastructure will need to be in place before benefits of the Look East policy come to the region.

The Northeast has international boundaries with Nepal, China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Mizoram has been asking the Centre for better funding to speed up Kaladan river project that will link the river into Myanmar and link India to Sittwe port.

There is a feeling in Mizoram that the pace at which roads are being constructed towards the river, the project "may take another decade" to take off.

Gogoi agreed that the geographical location of the Northeast is no longer a constraint, but added that work needs to be done. "For this, we need to improve our internal as well as external communication links," he said.

Gogoi demanded that the Northeast Frontier Railway be declared a dedicated zone for the northeastern states. He also asked for doubling of the railway line from Alipurduar (in Bengal) to Guwahati and Tinsukia to Guwahati.

The Assam chief minister reminded the Centre that the construction of Bogibeel bridge ' a national project ' and broad-gauging of the Lumding-Silchar-Kumarghat line needed to be expedited.

Singh had this in mind too, although he did not spell out the snail's pace of national projects. "We plan to step up the pace of investments in infrastructure, particularly roads, rail, airports, waterways and power transmission systems to support and stimulate economic activity in this vital region of our country," he said.

Singh said the Eleventh Plan had paid special attention to the region and the states responded well.

For instance, during the last fiscal, 2011-12, the total two-way trade between India and Myanmar was over $1.8 billion. Yet, the volume of trade at the major Moreh-Tamu border point in Manipur was (in 2009-10) less than $ 300 million.

Lalthanhawla said merely using the Northeast as a corridor was not enough. The Centre must include local communities as informed stakeholders, make a detailed study of the region's export potential and create a suitable production base within the region.

Sangma stand

On the India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya, border haats (markets) have been opened but basic infrastructure to existing land custom stations in the region is wanting.

"That will provide an impetus to trade with Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar," Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma said in his written speech.

Sangma projected a growth rate of 11 per cent for his state during the Twelfth Plan period while calling for more investment from the Centre and the private sector to achieve a higher growth rate.

He said while Meghalaya's growth rate in the Eighth Plan was 3.8 per cent, in the Eleventh Plan it was 8 per cent. He attributed this growth to secondary and the tertiary sectors in the state.

"I would like to project a growth target of about 11 per cent in the Twelfth Plan period which, I am sure, can be achieved through sustainable livelihood programmes and investment in infrastructure and human resource development," Sangma said.

He said that many more interventions are required by the Centre focussing on improving quality of life in terms of more opportunities for livelihoods, skill development, improvements in health services, education and in particular, conserving natural resources.

"Meghalaya is on a high growth path. We have been trying out several new initiatives during the recent years to bring about growth which is sustainable and inclusive. We have been taking steps to overcome our constraints such as high population growth, need for skill enhancement, leveraging our natural resources and market linkages," he claimed.

On connectivity, Sangma said Meghalaya hopes to get its first railway line by March 2013 while other railway projects are expected to be completed during the Twelfth Plan.