The Government of India has now envisioned the linking of the capitals of the eight North Eastern states to main lines on all three transport systems: rail, road and air. The Ministry for Development of North East Region (DoNER) today released details and status of the various projects being undertaken in this regard.

While all the state capitals of North Eastern states are already connected by National Highways, only Guwahati (Assam) and Agartala (Tripura) capitals are presently connected by main line rail.

The Harmuti-Itanagar project will perhaps be the first rail connectivity project to be completed, joining Itanagar (Arunachal Pradesh) to the main rail line by next year. The Bhairabi-Sairang project connecting Aizawl (Mizoram), Dimapur-Zubza project connecting Kohima (Nagaland) and Sivok- Rangpo project connecting Gangtok (Sikkim) are slated to complete by 2015.

Two main rail lines: Jiribam-Tupul and Tupul-Imphal projects will join Imphal (Manipur) with the rest of India and are targeted to complete by 2014 and 2016 respectively. Similarly for Shillong (Meghalaya), the Azra-Byrnihat project and Byrnihat-Shillong project will link this state capital to the rest of India by the year 2014 and 2017 respectively.

As for the Airways sector, the Government has laid down Route Dispersal Guidelines with a view to achieve better regulation of air transport services taking into account the need for air transport services of different regions of the country including that of the NER.

It would however be up to respective airlines to provide air services to specific places depending upon the traffic demand and commercial viability while complying with Route Dispersal Guidelines. Guwahati, Shillong, Aizawl, Imphal and Agartala have an airport and are already connected.

A new Green Field Airport is being planned for each of the remaining state capitals of Itanagar, Kohima and Gangtok. The target of completion for the airport at Gangtok is September 2012 while the airport at Itanagar is being targeted for completion in July 2015.

Interestingly enough, yesterday, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure had announced the setting up of the non-lapsable fund for expeditious completion of ‘National Projects’ in NE. Called the “North East Region Rail Development Fund” or NERRDF, 25% of this will be funded through Railway Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) and balance 75% by the Ministry of Finance as non-dividend additionally to GBS. The idea of the NERRDF is to ensure assured flow of funds for National Projects so as to complete them in a time-bound manner.

Such an all round connectivity of the state capitals in the NER will surely benefit the people of the region. It will promote business as well as give a boost to the tourism industry in respective states. However, the implementation of such projects in the fragile NE ecosystems will be a challenge which calls for a thorough environmental impact assessment.

A comprehensive and strategic impact assessment of the above mentioned programme will not only assist in sustainable infrastructure development, it will also foresee any cultural and environmental damage which can then be avoided. The much awaited connectivity will surely work towards greater integration of the NER in the country.

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