Arunachal governor bats for trade with SE Asia

ITANAGAR: Arunachal Pradesh Governor Gen (Retd) J J Singh has urged the North East Council (NEC) to impress upon the Centre the need for opening of the historic Stilwel Road and the development of border trade with Southeast Asian countries. "India has to look East through the northeast," Singh said, while addressing the 60th plenary session of the NEC in New Delhi on Thursday, a release from Raj Bhawan said here on Friday.

Reiterating his request to develop Stilwell Road and open border trade across the Pangsau pass to provide a viable and important land-link between northeast India and Southeast Asia, the governor said, "By opening up the road, we would definitely be providing a valuable route for movement of people, tourists in particular, and giving a boost to the economy of the northeastern states."

"Once the entire stretch of the road is usable, its formal opening is bound to happen sooner or later. The major items of import from the Myanmar side would be valuable timber (teak), precious gems, medicinal plants and other agricultural products. The timber could help revive many of the wood-based industries that had to be shut down in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh following the apex court's restrictions on timber operations in 1996," Singh added.

He said the opening of this road can transform the economy of the under-developed and insurgency-affected northeast by making it a production hub for feeding the Myanmarese and western Chinese markets. Further highlighting the importance of the land route, Gen Singh said, currently, most imports from Myanmar and China are being channeled through the Kolkata dock, which is a sea route and is much longer than Stilwell Road.

"The opening of this road would reduce transportation costs between China and India by more than 30%," he reasoned. Welcoming the token provision of Rs 20 lakh in the 2011-12 annual plan of the NEC under 'Support to Look East Policy Initiatives - Border Trade' for conducting the study on border trade through research and information systems, the governor suggested that some other local-level initiatives must also be incorporated under this head by increasing the amount indicated.

Talking about the importance of air connectivity to the state, Gen Singh expressed gratitude to Union DoNER minister B K Handique for getting the frequency of flights between Guwahati and Lilabari increased to 6 days a week. "This will vastly improve efficiency and access to medical services for the residents of my state," he said, adding the new timings are not at all suited to the passenger traffic from New Delhi to Itanagar as the Guwahati-Lilabari flight departs at 8:20 in the morning. Any passenger travelling from New Delhi to Itanagar via Lilabari will, thus, have to spend a night in Guwahati.

Gen Singh requested the Union minister to once again take up a case with the civil aviation ministry to ensure that the flight departs from Guwahati for Lilabari between 1 and 2 pm and, thereafter, goes back to Guwahati.

He also suggested the council to explore the possibility of starting a direct Boeing flight between New Delhi and Lilabari till such time as a new airport comes up at Itanagar. Requesting the railway ministry to start the broad-gauging of the Rangia-Rangapara stretch within this financial year itself, so that the work is completed by March 2012, the governor pointed that a more-than-100-km stretch of the Harmuti-Rangia link is still on the metre gauge and there is no near-term possibility of the conversion of the same to broad gauge.

In the absence of broad gauging of this stretch, it will have to use metre-gauge coaches, which run at an average speed of about half of the trains along the Guwahati-Itanagar route. He also urged upon the ministry to ensure adequate railway rakes as their non-availability has an impact on the public distribution system, the release added.

The governor also requested the council to take up the funding of a national institute of mountaineering and adventure sports at Dirang in West Kameng district in phases by earmarking at least Rs 10 crore this financial year.