Jitendra Singh

The Northeastern region would lead the India growth story in the post-Covid-19 world, minister of state for the development of Northeastern region & prime minister’s office, Dr Jitendra Singh has said.

The country’s pre-emptive response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent vaccine outreach to countries across the world had especially helped in building a new bond with countries in its eastern neighbourhood, the minister observed.

“The counties across our eastern border have begun to realise that they can rely on India in times of crisis. In the post-COVID times Northeast is certainly going to lead India’s growth story,” Dr. Singh said at a virtual conference.

“In the post-Covid times, when we are engaged in the resurgence of India’s economy, there will be a tendency to look for unexplored areas of generating business and revenue. And all those unexplored resources are available in the Northeast region because there was very little tendency on part of the previous governments in New Delhi to explore the avenues in this region,” he added.

The minister emphasised that the enhancing of trade infrastructure and connectivity would play an important role in this regard. Dr. Singh made these observations while delivering the keynote address at the virtual seminar organised by the New Delhi-based think-tank, the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER).

The key findings of an ICRIER study on the gap analysis in infrastructure at land customs stations (LCSs) and integrated check posts (ICPs) in the region were also shared on the occasion. As the region shares 96% of its border with other countries, integration with them for purposes of trade and commerce assumes great significance.

Earlier, welcoming the participants, ICRIER chairman, Pramod Bhasin, averred that the insights provided by the report revealed that while a lot had been done substantial ground still needed to be covered.

“Our ready reckoner of a report that we have produced will help achieve and point towards some of the things that need to happen on the ground to make a larger impact on the entire trade, logistics and transportation, and connections and communication within the Northeast.”

Upgrade of Land Customs Stations, Check Posts Required

Highlighting the key findings of the report, professor Nisha Taneja, who oversaw the drafting of the report, said, “The purpose of our study is to come up with recommendations which would help prioritise infrastructure facilities needed at different land customs stations. And we have identified land customs stations and integrated check posts for upgrading,” stated Taneja.

The report also calls for urgently addressing certain human capacity constraints.

“There was not a single customs house agent in the region! In fact, when an examination was conducted in the Northeastern region, not a single customs house agent actually qualified,” mentioned Taneja.

The report benchmarks availability of infrastructure at 38 land customs stations in the Northeast region intra-regionally, in North Bengal and ICPs outside the region. At the time of the survey, one customs station was an integrated check post, 23 were functional land customs stations and 14 were non-functional.

The survey took into account five infrastructure categories, viz. basic utilities, cargo handling, digitisation, public utilities and design and safety under 43 infrastructure facilities. Findings indicated that none of the LCS and ICPs had all infrastructure facilities. The customs station at Moreh was ranked as the best while the one at Agartala was ranked the lowest.

The survey also showed that none of the LCS in the Northeast was digitised, with nearly all lacking in cargo handling facilities including animal and plant quarantine, cold storage and testing. A few LCS were also lacking in basic utilities, design and safety infrastructure, and public facilities. Interestingly, LCS also lacked “gender-sensitive infrastructure.”

In terms of quality of infrastructure, it was found that many infrastructure facilities though available were of poor quality. For instance, even though electricity was available in most places, there were frequent outages. Similarly, internet connectivity was weak even in places where it was available. Frequent breakdowns of weighbridges, inadequate storage and warehouse spaces were also reported. Other impediments to cross-border trade included poor last-mile connectivity, connectivity of land customs stations with main towns as well as counterpart land customs stations on the other side of the border.

The region is billed to play the most important role in India’s geostrategic ‘Act East’ push and shares boundaries with the countries of China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

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