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Remarks by Gen (Dr.) Dr VK Singh (Retd.), Minister of State at the Special Plenary : Roundtable with Chief Ministers of North East India-ASEAN at Delhi Dialogue X

July 19, 2018

Hon’ble Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Shri Conrad Sangma
Hon’ble Chief Minister of Mizoram, Shri Lal Thanhawla
Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tripura, Shri Biplab Kumar Deb
Hon’ble Deputy Chief Minister of Auranchal Pradesh, Shri Chowna Mein
Hon’ble Minister of Industries and Commerce, Asaam, Shri Chandra Mohan Patowary
Secretary (East), Smt. Preeti Saran
Delegates for ASEAN Member States
Heads of Missions of ASEAN Countries in New Delhi,

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning and Namashkar. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome all of you today for the Tenth Edition of Delhi Dialogue. I am thankful to all the delegates from ASEAN member states for being in our midst today. I welcome the Hon’ble Chief Ministers of North Eastern States who have been kind enough to agree to participate in this panel. I also extend a warm welcome to all delegates and speakers who are present in the hall today.

The Ministry of External Affairs is delighted to host the Tenth Anniversary edition of the Dialogue today. We have completed a decade which has seen the dialogue growing to occupy its place as the premier track 1.5 process to deliberate on all facets of ASEAN India partnership. From a humble beginning in 2009, when we started with discussions on economic cooperation alone, today we have evolved to include all three pillars of our cooperation.

The theme of this edition of the dialogue, rightfully focuses on the fast emerging and very relevant area of ASEAN India Maritime Cooperation. We strongly believe that it is the tides of this cooperation that will set the tone for the future of the Indo Pacific region and that it will have the keys to unlock prosperity for the common good of our peoples and provide us with seas which are safe, secure and free for all.

Let me begin the Special Plenary by highlighting certain facets of our Act East Policy and the priority that our North Eastern Region has in the same. The fact that we are opening the Delhi Dialogue 10 with this Roundtable of the Chief Ministers and the Plenary Session to follow are both focused on the North East and its relevance to the Act East Policy, is itself the clear indication of the importance that our North East occupies in our thinking of the region. Since 2015, our External Affairs Minister has been inviting the Chief Ministers of the North Eastern States to the Dialogue to reiterate our commitment towards involving the North East in the discourse on Act East.

Allow me to restate, for benefit of the larger audience, that our Act East Policy is not just a progression but a leap forward from the Look East Policy. There are three key distinguishing elements of the Act East Policy. First, the Act East Policy is wider in scope geographically and covers the entire breadth of the Asia-Pacific region, while keeping ASEAN at the core. Second, the focus is beyond economic integration and includes political-security and socio-cultural dialogue at a deeper level. Third, the Act East Policy is more action-driven and result-oriented.

With the 'Act East policy,' we are looking at a new paradigm of development where our foreign policy initiatives blend seamlessly into our national politico-economic development requirements, especially of our North-East. Our efforts are to reinforce our ancient links with South East and East Asian countries through stronger cooperation based on forming linkages across the ‘Three Cs’ (Civilizational/Cultural, Commerce and Connectivity).

We envision our North Eastern States to be active partners in developing linkages with South East Asia across these 3 C’s. The North-East Region is our land-bridge to South-East Asia. Located at the con-flux of South Asia, East Asia and the South East Asia, the North East shares land boundaries with all three regions and thus is geographically well endowed facilitate these linkages. The Act East Policy is as much about fostering stronger ties with ASEAN as it is about unlocking the true potential of the North East states.

The inclusive development of North East is a priority for our government. The Ministry for Development of North East Region (MODONER) is the focal Ministry while the North East Council (NEC), is the regional planning body which acts as the nodal agency for the economic and social development of the North Eastern Region in close consultations with various ministries of the Government of India. We have recently constituted a NITI forum for the North East to identify various constraints on the way of accelerated, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the North East Region of the country and to recommend suitable interventions for addressing identified constraints.

The government recently allocated Rs. 4500 Crore for development projects in North East. Unlike the earlier formula where Centre used to provide 90 per cent funding for projects, under the new formula, the central government will fully fund the new projects in North East.

Our government is giving a renewed push to road connectivity within the North East Region. The government will soon fund the ‘orphan’ roads projects in North East states. This is the first region-specific road development scheme. The orphan roads are the ones which lie between two states and were neglected. Now the centre has adopted these orphan roads. The Prime Minister recently inaugurated Bhupen Hazarika Setu which ensures connectivity between Upper Assam and Eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh. At about 9.15 kilometers, the bridge is the longest in India. Better internal rail connectivity is also at the forefront of governments North East policy. Indian Railways have already taken the initiative to link all North Eastern States including Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.

The enhanced internal connectivity will boost connectivity by facilitating linkages with India-South East Asian connectivity initiatives like the 1360 kilometer long India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highway and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project is another major step that government has taken to enhance land and maritime connectivity in the region.

Enhancing Air Connectivity within the North East region is imperative for economic development and job creation. Government has launched UDAN-RCS i.e. Regional Connectivity Scheme, with the objective of "Let the common citizen of the country fly", aimed at making air travel affordable and widespread, to boost inclusive national economic development, job growth and air transport infrastructure development of all regions and states of India.

North East, more than any other region in India, shares strong cultural and civilizational linkages with the ASEAN countries. It is a cultural corridor between India and many of the South East Asian countries, and many communities in the North East have historical connections with communities in South East Asia. For example New Year festival is celebrated in Lao PDR, Thailand, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam around the same time in the month of April. The festivals of Rongali or Bohag Bihu in Assam, Pi Mai in Lao PDR, Songkran in Thailand and Sangken in Arunachal Pradesh are threaded together by being rooted in same cultural and traditional practices. These common cultural connections create strong foundation for enhancing ASEAN-India relations.

There is therefore tremendous potential in our North East to become the key to fructification of our Act East Policy. We want the North East States to become active partners in the Act East Policy. States like Assam have already taken steps in this direction by starting an Act East Department.

I look forward to hearing our Chief Ministers outlining their initiatives and vision to their respective states on this theme.

To sum up, a strong, stable and prosperous North East is a core priority for Government of India, and the Act East Policy is a potent means at our disposal to help achieve it. All GOI Line Ministries and the concerned State Governments have a crucial role to play in making this possible, inter alia by ensuring timely completion of infrastructure upgradation, development of border trading points, encouraging sustainable industry, agriculture and tourism, etc. The External Affairs Ministry will continue to play the role of a facilitator in this regard.

I also look forward to the deliberations of the next session which will deliberate on the specific aspects of connectivity and deepening of economic integration between the North Eastern states of India and ASEAN member states.

Thank You and Jai Hind!

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