Time for investors to follow Look East policy

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Mumbai, Jan 27: The economic potential of the North-east region has increased manifold after the Central government adopted ''Look East'' policy, making it attractive for prospective investors. ''The North-east is a very different and unique part of India and there are lot of areas that have not been explored yet,'' said Governor of Manipur and Meghalaya S S Sidhu, who was here to present the economic potential of the region.

Things may however change for the better as the investments of the Central government's ''Look East'' policy, implemented two decades ago, seems to be bearing fruits, making the region more attractive for potential investors, he said. For long, the North-east slipped under the radar of not only business houses but also the general public, making the region and its people an enigma for the rest of the country.

The region, inhabited by 40-odd lakhs of people (39.04 lakhs as per 2001 census) from over 200 ethnic communities and covering 2.62 lakh sq km, had seldom made inroads into the public's consciousness.

Therefore, private investments in the region were rare and low. The region has large reserves of coal, lime, coke ash and uranium, which are being utilised. And surveys are being undertaken for more minerals, oil and natural gas. Its closeness to Myanmar can provide access to its massive natural gas reserves.

Private companies are also harnessing 30,000 mega watt of hydel power in the region and twice the amount is still unexplored. Cargo movement down the Brahmaputra and Barak waterways offers easy access to the ports of Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Mandalay (Myanmar).

Access to these international ports could open the whole South East Asian markets, Mr Sidhu said.

The region is rich in bio-diversity, making it one of the world's top 27 areas, with 64 per cent of its area under forest as compared to 19 per cent of the country. There is also a huge potential for agriculture and horticulture-based industries.

. In the tertiary sector, due to low economic growth, the North-east has a large unemployed educated workforce. States like Mizoram and Meghalaya have already started exploring the IT, hospitality and insurance industries for the youth.

The government has laid out plans to set up Hotel Management institutes in each state of the region. Projects worth Rs 50,000 crore have been cleared for improving road and air connectivity, including the ''ASEAN highway'', which will connect the border town of Moreh and Bangkok. With the reopening of ''Stitwell Highway'' used during World War II, connecting Myanmar and China, it will strenghthen the region's weak infrastructure.

''Ninety-eight per cent of the region's 8,000 km-long border touches the international boundary lines and are gateways to the ASEAN, Chinese and Far East markets, where a healthy unregulated trade had already existed,'' said Governor Sidhu.

These will be supported by projects for 23 new airports to add to the 11 existing airports, which will not only increase trade but also open avenues for tourism.

Another Rs 10,000 core have also been earmarked for railways for better connectivity of the region with the rest of the country. It can be extended to a railway line connecting ASEAN countries.

According to Mr Sidhu, each of the state has a robust tourism industry with regular inflow of foreign tourists and is also being promoted under ''Paradise Unexplored'' theme and the ''Inner Line Permit'' (ILP), necessary for visitors in the region, is in the process of being phased out.

When questioned about insurgency, the Governor said most of the region, excluding small parts of Assam and Manipur, are free from it and in Nagaland there is a cease-fire between the government and the NSCM (IM) group.

UNI

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