Guwahati: The Centre has accorded top priority to the speedy development of the Northeast and is working hard to make the region a growth engine of the country, Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal said here on Friday.

Addressing a stakeholders conclave for Northeastern region on ‘Waterways as Engine for Growth’, Sarbananda Sonowal said, special emphasis has been given to water connectivity in the region following which Mongla and Chittagong ports in Bangladesh are now accessible to the Northeast.

Sonowal, the minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, urged the stakeholders to take advantage of the conclave and prioritise the products of this region that can be exported to foreign countries, an official release said.

Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways Shantanu Thakur said that the shipping ministry is taking initiatives to develop and use water resources and waterways for the economic development of the Northeast.

Assam Chief Minister Himanata Biswa Sarma said that the conclave was a platform to get an idea about how water resources can be used for economic growth as it is the cheapest and an eco-friendly medium of transportation.

Ninety-five per cent of the country’s trade takes place through waterways which can be a very lucrative career option for the youth, the chief minister said.

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Sharing of ideas through this kind of interaction can help the people of the region in getting a market for their product, he said.

Sarma also urged Cochin Shipyard Limited to design good quality river ambulances for providing better medical services to the riverine population of the state.

Assam Minister of Industries and Commerce, Transport and Skill development Chandra Mohan Patowary thanked Sonowal for organising such a conclave in the state.

The Ministry of Ports, Shipping Waterways is also taking the initiative to promote river tourism and water sports on the Brahmaputra, and seven tentative locations for the development of tourist jetties in addition to the four already approved tourist jetties at Jogighopa, Pandu, Neemati, and Bishwanath Ghat, Sonowal said.

Construction of tourists’ jetties will facilitate river cruise tourism, generate local employment, and growth for local business, he added.

The ministry has initiated work on National Waterway (NW) 2 (Brahmaputra) and NW 16 (Barak) and more waterways are being considered for development, Sonowal said.

The Indo Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) route is being developed jointly by India and Bangladesh at an estimated cost of Rs 305.84 crore to provide alternative connectivity for all Northeastern states from Guwahati and Jogighopa to Kolkata and Haldia ports.

The development of an Eastern Grid which will have Brahmaputra and Barak rivers along with Ganga and Sundarbans will work as a catalyst to boost regional integration and trade with South Asia, including Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, he said.

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