India’s northeast is Natural Economic Zone: PM

Describing India’s northeast as a “Natural Economic Zone”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a slew of packages to develop the region that included a special scholarship for 10,000 students and development of rail, air, road, and digital connectivity.

“In India, the word SEZ (special economic zone) is very popular but after visiting this area (Assam, Manipur and Nagaland) for the last three days, I found that it is not only SEZ but it is NEZ. When I say NEZ, I mean ‘Natural Economic Zone’,” Modi said while inaugurating the annual Hornbill festival at the Naga heritage village in Kisama.

“In other parts of India, we will find SEZ, a man-made economic zone. In this region it is NEZ, but unfortunately it is untapped. It is my priority now to nourish this NEZ for NE (North East). NE is meant for NEZ and NEZ is meant for NE,” he said.

After becoming prime minister, Modi said his government has taken a number of initiatives for the development of the eight northeastern states.

“I am sure this is the proper time when we are celebrating the Hornbill festival and preparing for Christmas. We have decided to start a scheme called Ishan Uday, a special scholarship for 10,000 northeast students,” he announced.

“Another scheme called Ishan Vikas will help in internship and exposure to visit IITs, NITs and NIFTs in other parts of India during their vacation. Every year, we will take 2,000 students and 500 teachers from this area to other parts of the country. This exposure will benefit this area.”

Modi said his government will set up six more colleges, especially in the field of agriculture, in the northeast.

“The northeastern states can be the capital of India’s organic agriculture. Only the northeastern states can provide organic food to the humanity and to the world, and that’s why we have decided to set up six new colleges in these areas,” he said.

Acknowledging India’s rich heritage in the field of textiles, Modi also announced the setting up of modern garment manufacturing centres in each northeastern state, beginning with Nagaland, Assam and Sikkim.

“We have a rich heritage in the textile field. We have master weavers and our women have this art in their fingers. We have to utilise this art for the development of the region. The government will spend Rs.20 crore each on these centres,” he said.

Modi recalled the decision by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to allocate 10 percent of the annual budget for the development of the region.

“My government too has made a provision of Rs.53,000 crore for the development of the eight northeastern states and Rs.28,000 crore for starting 14 new railway lines to boost connectivity in the region.”

Modi said many tourists arrive here from various parts of India and other countries.

“This area is the best tourist destination. But before that, we require railway, air, road, and digital connectivity for its all-round development. That is why we have decided to have 14 new railway lines in the region,” he said.

To improve power and digital connectivity, the prime minister said an amount of Rs.5,000 crore has been earmarked for six states to strengthen intra-state power transmission and distribution systems.

A similar amount has been allocated for boosting 2G mobile connectivity for the eight states.

Recognizing the potential of the youth of the region in sports, Modi announced the setting up of a national sports university in Manipur.

“The people of northeast will be the best beneficiaries of this sports university,” he said.

Expressing his eagerness to develop tourism in the northeast, he said: “There is tremendous scope for India in the field of tourism. However, it is still untapped in these areas. But we are now focusing on it.”

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Centre to provide Rs.28,000 crore for laying new railway lines in Northeast

Centre to provide Rs.28,000 crore for laying new railway lines in Northeast. Modi said that the Centre has also sanctioned Rs.5000 crore to provide 2G mobile coverage in this area for comprehensive telecom development plan.

“So many tourists are coming here, this is the best destination for tourists. Unless we have road connectivity, rail connectivity, air connectivity, it is very difficult to develop tourism. That is why for the development of this area and for the development of tourism, Rs.28,000 crore will be provided for a new railway-line project and 14 new railway lines”, Modi said inaugurating Nagaland’s biggest annual Hornbill festival here.

I believe that the Hornbill Festival will improve the tourism sector in Nagaland and the people of India will be the beneficiary, Modi said.

As energy is a lifeline for development, Rs.5000 crore has been sanctioned for the northeastern region power system improvement project for six states, including Nagaland, the Prime Minister said.

Our goal is 24X7, 365 days power supply and to achieve that we are focusing on the northeastern states said Modi.

Besides road and rail connectivity, we require digital connectivity, now the youth cannot stay without mobile phones or without Internet,” Modi said.

Arms to farms

The Ulfa’s Rajkhowa faction has decided to turns its killing fields into organic farms. And the men who led the insurgency in Assam for three decades say they are ready to go from guns to greens.

One of the country’s most dangerous militant groups has decided to go in for a career shift – to farming. Some 600 men belonging to the pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) are all set to raise organic crops.
Arabinda Rajkhowa and his men are readying to turn their former killing fields, mostly large tracts of isolated wasteland, into farm land. About 30, 000 bighas have been acquired in Nalbari, Goalpara, Darrang, Tinuskia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar and Kamrup districts for this venture.

“I have already started tilling the land near my home (Sibsagar district) and started potato cultivation. We have to live and for that, we need to earn a livelihood, ” says Rajkhowa from his home in Lakuwa.
The ministry of home affairs, which is holding peace talks with the faction, has requested the agriculture ministry to help the group rehabilitate its cadres through farming. The proposal has now been sent to the state government for implementation.
Rajkhowa admits the three decades of armed struggle to ‘free’ Assam in political terms may not have worked out as intended. He now wants to fight a different battle – to make Assam selfsufficient in rice, its staple food. “Think of the day when we have our own rice, ” says the newlyminted agriculturist. “Assam’s economy has to be brought under control. There are middlemen, who have to be removed, and there is a need to change the work culture to boost productivity. ”

Rajkhowa has on several occasions apologised in public for the killings spread over three bloody decades. But Paresh Baruah, who leads the small, still combative faction of the Ulfa, mainly from Myanmar with bases in Yunan, China, is not going to be a part of this green revolution.

Ulfa, among the biggest militant outfits in the region along with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur, has witnessed two major waves of surrenders in the past. On both these occasions, rehabilitation came in terms of soft bank loans with the government as guarantor;this was then changed to stipends and bank loans. (The NSCN, which is also engaged in peace talks with the Centre, has doled out a rehabilitation package that consisted mainly of contract work. ) Rehabilitation through farming is, thus, a departure from the earlier strategies.

The Rajkhowa faction has proposed that it be treated as an NGO by the name Naba Nirman Kendra and has also sought government assistance in terms of finances as well as technological knowhow. “We have extensive plans for agriculture and hope to implement them within the discussion period, ” says Rajkhowa, who claims that the efforts will benefit at least 50, 000 youth.

Of the land the group will acquire, the unused patches will be used to cultivate organic products (to be called organic, crops have to be raised on soil that has not been treated with chemical fertilisers). Once the produce is harvested, the action shifts to Guwahati, where exclusive organic food retail outlets will be set up. There are also plans to raise side crops and run piggeries, fisheries and hatcheries. “Last year, we started work on our fisheries and cattle farm. They are doing well, ” says Rajkhowa.
The arrest of Arabinda Rajkhowa and the top Ulfa leadership in Bangladesh in 2008, followed by their release on bail from Guwahati jail, led to one of the most significant peace talks in the North-east in recent times. The government was ready to negotiate with the outfit and Rajkhowa and his men gave up the outfit’s demand for sovereignty.

But unlike other outfits in peace talks, the Rajkhowa faction has not laid down arms. It claims that it has not ‘surrendered’ and wants to be treated ‘honourably’. Last October, the faction surrendered 57 assorted weapons, believed to be only a fraction of its actual arsenal. These Ulfa cadre have been accommodated in nine designated camps or development centres, called Asom Naba Nirman Kendra, where they will take up various activities, including agriculture.

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