The Centre is considering linking Guwahati with all major South East Asian nations by flight services as part of a plan to improve connectivity to the North East and boost the region’s trade prospects, Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi said today. A plan to develop the Assam city as a major hub for trade with the 10-nation ASEAN bloc is being worked on, he said. The governor said efforts were on to set up consulates of all the 10 member-countries of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in Guwahati, and to re-open traditional trade routes between the North Eastern states and South East Asia. Mukhi said the Centre was working on an “ambitious plan” to boost the economic growth of the resource-rich North East. Among the steps being considered was the linking of the region through land, air and water with the “vibrant economies” of South East Asia, in sync with India’s Act East policy. “In 1950, the per capita income of (undivided) Assam was much higher than the national average. The region lagged behind after Independence as traditional trade routes with all the countries in South East were snapped. We are trying to revive them,” he told PTI in an interview. Mukhi, who took over as Assam Governor in October, said he had proposed to the Centre to tweak its UDAN scheme on regional air connectivity to link Guwahati with all the ASEAN countries.
The Centre was working on it, he said. He indicated that the issue of enhancing connectivity between the North East and South East Asia may figure during the ASEAN-India commemorative summit, being held here on January 25. The heads of governments of all 10 ASEAN countries are expected to attend the meet. “We want to develop Guwahati as a major trading hub with South East Asia. We are thinking of having 300 daily fights to and from Guwahati. We want to significantly boost the economic growth of the region. If we can link the North East with South East Asia by air, water and rail connectivity, then the North East will grow at an unimaginable pace,” Mukhi said, adding that the Centre was seriously dealing with the issues. The UDAN scheme is aimed at boosting air connectivity to and from unserved and under-served airports and making flying more affordable. The Guwahati airport currently handles around 50 flights daily. “The Prime Minister thinks the economic prosperity of the North East is very important for the sustained economic growth of the country. The North East has the potential of contributing significantly to the national economy and we are determined to take all possible steps in this direction,” Mukhi said.
He said the Centre was also working on linking the region with major ports of the neighbouring countries through waterways. “If the North East is to develop, then we must revive our sea links. We must develop sea routes to all important ports in the neighbouring countries besides the land routes. If that happens, a significant amount of the country’s trade will pass through the North East,” he said. Several ASEAN member countries have expressed an interest in investing in the North East, besides seeking improvements in connectivity. The ASEAN comprises Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei. The ASEAN region and India have a combined population of 1.85 billion, which is one fourth of the global population, and their combined GDP has been estimated to be over USD 3.8 trillion.
Asked about ULFA (the United Liberation Front of Assam) and other militant groups operating in the region, he said the government was open to having a dialogue with any group on any demand except on sovereignty. “I am happy that peace is being maintained in Assam in the last three years. All these militant groups are under control. But still we are open to holding a dialogue with any group. Everything can be discussed and sorted out,” he said. But sovereignty would not be given to anyone, he said. “Other than that, if they have any other issue, they can be resolved,” he added. Sovereignty is the main demand of the ULFA. In his previous assignment, Mukhi served as the Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. He succeeded Banwarilal Purohit, who was appointed the Governor of Tamil Nadu.