The North Eastern Geopolitics

This is the first time, syhlleti.org enters into something for the first time - a geopolitical debate. The issue cannot be termed as a regional issue alone but the very geopolitics makes it an issue of international concern. The issue is of exploring and making a blue-print of an INTERNATIONAL TRANSPORT CORRIDOR (ITC) for North-East India through the country of Bangladesh. If you look at the map of North-East India, the only transport connection for all the states with other part of the country passes through a narrow strip of land at the border between Assam and West Bengal. The entire South Assam's any outbound or incoming  transport traffic  have  to pass through the  National Highway 44 and which passes through one of the most landslide prone zones. If we are allowed to draw lines as we wish in a map between points, we might just as well connect SILCHAR with KOLKATA  via  the Syhlet  district of Bangladesh and what we get is something  a wonderful potential for the region as a whole, including Bangladesh. Before we enter into the actual discussion, let us have a reflection on the transport history of the region and as a representative route, we will take a route between SILCHAR and KOLKATA.

Three decades  earlier, a person wishing to go from Silchar to Kolkata has to do something like this: He has to board a train from Silchar (a metre  gauze line) and reach Badarpur Junction. From there he has to catch a Hill-Section Train that will put him at Lumding, a junction at North Cachar Hills via Haflong.  From there he will  take another train to take him to Guwahati. This 500 odd kilometer used to take   some 18 hours to 24 hours depending on season. After that, the person has to board a 

train from Guwahati and after changes at New Bongaigaon and New Jalpaiguri, he will reach Kolkata after some 36 hours.

Total  time taken = 54 to 60 hours. Distance travelled = 1400 kilometer. [ somewhere in 1970s]

Today, other than air, we have options of rail and road. Road  means around 12 hours travel to Guwahati and then catching a train and the time taken will be 24 hours. Total time taken =  36 to 40 hours. Rail route remains almost the same with the added pain of getting down at Lumding, changing trains at some wee hours and then through broad-gauge to Guwahati. From there non-stop to Kolkata. As for road traffic, from Guawhati to Kolkata, there is no passanger service, road condition terrible and insecurity high. One of the contributors have had a live experience driving on this route this April ( Kanyakumari to Silchar on Four Wheels ) and the experience has been nightmarish. [ September'2001]

So after two decades, a comparison shows that there has been no progress as far as transportation is concerned. As a matter of fact, due to broad-gauge conversion from Silchar to Lumding, the rail transport has become the last choice. And as for road, the landslide zone makes every journey a tricky issue during rains with communication cut-off for weeks. And the other end of the bargain : Extremely high prices of daily-needs, industrial development almost impossible and general stagnancy in terms of economy and culture. 

We have had an informal discussions among specialists as well as generalists and common people and we reproduce below some of the distilled issues :

    1. The natural terrian from South Assam (which connects Tripura, Manipur,   Mizoram  and Nagaland to the national  road network ) to north goes thorough the North Cachar Hills and the terrain is intrinsically unstable. The problem of rail is a technological problem and even with broad-gauge the time differnce will not be substantially improved. We need to understand that the track was made by British some 100 years back with 36 tunnels and innumberable small bridges.

    2. The time required from Silchar to Kolkata via Syhlet, through road will be around 800 kilometer and will not take more than 15 hours and will be an overnight journey. It will pass through plainland and we understand that road network of Bangladesh is quite good. There will be two international transit points - one at border Assam-Bangladesh and another at West Bengal-Bangladesh.

    This International Transport Corridor in itself does not require much in terms of Infrastructure except perhaps some kind of renovation of existing roads. Then we get a transport corridor which will connect three states directly to the Eastern Gateway. For a person of Silchar to go to Chennai will take only 40 hours and the effect will be tremendous. 

    THE ECONOMIC SCENE :

    Due to lots of problems and the greatest of what is trnasportation, almost entire seven-sister states have become a consumer economy. The high cost of transportation is keeping an increased price-level for decades and the cultural impact have been disastrous for the general mass, living away from towns  and townships. The states greatest assets of natural resurce and scenic beauty could not be tapped due to problems of communication and poor infrastructure. These two factors have spiralled to give rise to other socio-ethnic problems which constitute a vicious cycle. The only way for a general economic revival for the region is increased contact with national mainstream through a reliable, cheap and quicker transport mechanism and suddenly once you visualize the International Transport Corridor, the geopolitical situation changes. Along with economics.

BOTH SIDES OF THE CORRIDOR

If an International Corridor like this can be materialized, a very new scenario emergers. We are ethnically and lingusitically closely related with Bangladesh. What the hell, we are the same People. The Jockyganj border across Kushiara always reminds how unnatural the frontier has been. Bangladesh gets a 1 million plus market for its agro and poultry products, only some six hours away.  We at South Assam can go to Chittagong to see Bay of Bengal  instead of Puri. And we can provide Educational facility for Bangladesh as well as Medical Services. In short , this will be a win-win for both and Silchar becomes a International Transit point for goods and passanger traffic. And once that transit becomes materialized, with Singapore becoming a South Asian strong-hold and increasing business relations with India, Silchar to our mind just features exactly at the middle of the International Air Transport Route from East to West - Indira Gandhi International Airport and Changi International Airport.

And as an added advantage, since passport will be a must for travel, it automatically puts the check for illegal movement across borders and which has been cause of concern for all governments of Assam as well of New Delhi.

We invite our readers to go through the ideas and tell us of their own. We have not written the issues that are like walls with the historical deposits to block the way. In the next draft we will search the answers as well as the anguish.