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”The Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated the 2nd North-East Business Summit here today. Minister for Development of North Eastern Region, Shri C.P. Thakur and Minister of State for Development of North Eastern Region Shri Tapan Sikdar and Chief Ministers of North Eastern States were present.
The following is the text of the speech of the Prime Minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the occasion:
“It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning to inaugurate the 2nd North-East Business Summit. Institutionalised interactions like this one between business leaders and policy makers are a crucial part of our strategy to speedily bring about peace, prosperity and all-round progress in all the eight North-Eastern States.
I would like to congratulate the Department of Development of the North-East Region and the Indian Chamber of Commerce for organizing this important summit. I would also like to congratulate the Indian Chamber of Commerce for winning the World Chambers Competition at the recently held 3rd World Chambers Congress in Canada.
As you are aware, a major economic revolution is sweeping through India in the last few years. We have embarked on several major initiatives in developing our physical and social infrastructure. Some of these initiatives are the biggest ever since Independence. For example, the National Highway Development Project is transforming the highway network in India. Silchar in Assam is already a part of the planned East-West corridor of NHDP. I am happy that Shri B.C. Khanduri, Minister of Highways and Road Transport, has announced construction of additional 10,000 km of four-lane highways which would connect the capital city of every State, including the ones in the North-East, to NHDP.
The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana is another ambitious initiative to provide good all-weather road connectivity to every village in our country. We have also taken important decisions to improve the country’s rail, port, airport and power infrastructure. Some of these projects will significantly benefit the North-Eastern region. In particular, harnessing the region’s water resources is central to our recently unveiled strategy to generate 50,000 Megawatt of hydropower by 2010.
We will soon commence work on the 2,000-Megawatt Subansiri hydro-electric project in Arunachal Pradesh, costing over Rs. 6,000 crore, and the 130-Megawatt Teesta Lower Dam Station III project in Sikkim, costing about Rs. 800 crore.
One of the main objectives of economic reforms is to eradicate regional disparities. We are particularly determined to attend to the developmental needs of our States in the North-Eastern region. This region is blessed with tremendous diversity and richness both in its natural resources and human capital. However, it is a matter of deep concern to us that slower economic growth has implied lesser opportunities of employment and progress for its people. The resultant discontent is exploited by certain extremist organizations to foment violence and divisiveness.
To deal with this challenge, our Government has evolved a comprehensive strategy with multi-pronged initiatives. For example, the peace process has moved forward considerably in some of the troubled States. Security of our people and their property is of prime importance to us. It is also a pre-requisite for fresh investments to come in and for enterprises to flourish.
All of us are happy about the progress in the peace process in Nagaland. My visit to Kohima in October gave me an opportunity to see for myself that the people of Nagaland are yearning for peace and the State’s speedy all-round development.
For the first time since Independence, we have created a separate Department for the Development of the North-East, as a pro-active measure to focus on developmental issues. Recognizing the strengths of the region, and the need to give it a special push, I had announced a comprehensive socio-economic agenda for the North-East in January 2000, following a meeting with the Governors and Chief Ministers of the States in Shillong.
As a part of this agenda, my Government emphasized on focussed development through a 28-point programme, which includes a very large spectrum of economic activity. The development of the power sector, border trade, horticulture, rural infrastructure, roads and air links, medical education and health services, Industrial Training Institutes, Information Technology, border fencing and upgrading police infrastructure are the diverse areas that have been addressed.
Between 1998-99 and 2002-03 we have released over Rs. 44,000 crores of Central Resources for North Eastern States which includes Rs. 5,700 crore under the Prime Minister’s Package. It is heartening to see that the projects are now being executed expeditiously. My office monitors these projects closely and brings out a monthly progress report, which is available on the Internet.
Earlier, a decision was taken to allocate 10 per cent of the Budget of all Union Ministries and Departments to the North-East. Our Government has now created a pool of non-lapsable funds for development of the North-East. This pool will fill the resource gap in creation of new infrastructure, which is a top priority concern for us.
Here I wish to make an emphatic appeal to State Governments in the region. The Centre has taken a conscious decision to provide more resources and incentives for development of the North-East. However, it is the responsibility of the individual States to demonstrate visibly that the funds are used properly. People in the North-East would like to see the outcome of the utilization of funds on the ground.
There is one area where we can perhaps make a difference on the ground in a reasonably short time. It is by ensuring better and more remunerative marketing linkages for the products of the highly talented artisans, craftsmen and small enterprises in the North-East. This does not require big investments, nor does it depend on raw material from outside. These enterprises are also highly employment-intensive. I suggest that the KVIC, State Government departments, banking institutions, agencies dealing with export promotion and chambers of commerce work together to devise a comprehensive strategy to promote these enterprises.
Friends, when I look at the North-East, I also naturally look at India’s extended neighbourhood in South-East Asia. This is a region where truly historic socio-economic transformations are taking place. Because of its proximity to South-East Asian markets, India’s North-Eastern region enjoys a locational advantage of great importance.
Trade between India and ASEAN countries has grown by about 25 per cent in the last year. But we can achieve much more. We have recognized this fact in the India-ASEAN Framework Agreement for Comprehensive Economic Cooperation. During my recent visit to Thailand, we decided to usher in a Free Trade Agreement between our two countries. If we proceed along this course, we can target a trade turnover of 30 billion dollars with ASEAN by 2007 and achieve a Free Trade Area within 10 years. We have taken steps to strengthen our multifaceted economic relationship with China.
I should mention a heartening development in the context of regional economic cooperation, which will directly benefit our North-Eastern States. Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand have formed a regional organization for economic cooperation – BIMST-EC. Soon Nepal and Bhutan may join it. Later this year, we will have the first summit meeting of this important grouping.
Thus, India is working actively to promote regional and sub-regional trade and economic cooperation. Our North-Eastern States can become our economic bridgehead to South-East Asia. Equally, vibrant commercial exchanges with South-East Asia can galvanize growth and development in the North-East. I, therefore, urge all the eight States in the region together to prepare the ground to participate vigorously in the emerging opportunities with our South-East Asian neighbourhood. This also includes tourism, where I see a major synergy between the North-East and ASEAN countries.
A concluding remark. Friends, when people think of the North-East, they have so far tended to think only of its problems. We should now change this perspective. We should start thinking more and more of the North-East’s unique strengths and opportunities. The North-East Business Summit is indeed a very important annual initiative to help this collective endeavour. I wish it all success. I would like to reiterate my Government’s complete support and commitment to bring in a new era of peace, progress and prosperity in the North-East.