By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala/Shillong, Mar 5 (IANS): For developing a prosperous northeast India under the India-Japan collaboration, Tokyo is providing financial support to diverse the projects in all the eight states of the region, top officials, diplomats, experts and economists said on Friday.
India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Japan Ambassador to India Suzuki Satoshi and many experts and economists, while hailing Japan's financial aid for varied projects in eight northeastern states, said that Indo-Japan collaboration would boost a secure and prosperous northeastern region in convergence of India's 'Act East Policy', 'Neighborhood First Policy', towards a vibrant Bay of Bengal region and realising a common vision of a "Free and open Indo-Pacific".
Participating in a day-long virtual dialogue, Shringla said quoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi that northeast India is a gateway to southeast Asian countries.
"Prime Minister has said that the northeast region has the potentiality to be the growth engine of India as well as the mantra of peace, progress and prosperity is echoing in the northeast. We are giving push to three 'Cs' - connectivity, commerce and cultural commonalities with the southeast Asian countries," the Foreign Secretary said.
The virtual dialogue on the theme 'Development of North Eastern Indian Region: Indo-Japan Collaboration for Connectivity, Commerce, Capacity Building, Culture and Conservation' was organised on Friday by Shillong-based think-tank and research group Asian Confluence.
The Foreign Secretary said that the northeast today has a network of educational centres of excellence, new medical and technology colleges as well as livelihood and skilling institutes.
"The northeast connects us to a neighbour and to one of the most economically dynamic and political significance geographies of the world -- the ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific region," he said.
Shringla, quoting Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, said the the government's developmental agenda gives very high priority to the northeast region.
"The government is ensuring smooth access to financial assistance from multilateral and bilateral funding agencies to help introduce innovative and global best practices," Shringla said.
He said Japan is the only country with which India has an annual summit as well as the 2+2 foreign and defence ministerial dialogue.
"Japan is the fourth largest investor in India. The number of Japanese companies in India has been increasing steadily, more than 1,400 of them are present in India. Japanese ODA (Official Development Assistance) is deployed over sectors ranging from health care to sustainable development."
He said that Prime Minister Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe established India Japan "Act East Forum" in 2017 to coordinate joint efforts for overall development in the region.
"The longest bridge in the country across the Brahmaputra in Assam's Dhubri is being constructed with Japanese support. Japan is also helping us in modernising Umiam hydroelectric power station in Meghalaya and the Guwahati water supply and Guwahati Sewerage Project."
The Foreign Secretary said that the initiative aims to enhance connectivity between our northeast region and southeast Asia and Bangladesh.
"Five Meetings of the 'Act East Forum' have been held so far. I have had at its most recent meeting on January 28, the opportunity to discuss various ongoing projects with Ambassador Suzuki. Four road connectivity projects are underway in various northeastern states and roads are being augmented in Mizoram, Meghalaya and in Tripura," he stated.
Japan Ambassador to India Suzuki Satoshi while delivering his speech in the virtual dialogue, said that as the northeastern region of India situated in a strategic locations, enhancement of the connectivity of the region is imperative.
He said : "The Act East Forum embodies our commitment to the development of the North East, anchored on the trust and friendship that Japan and India have long nurtured.
On the ground, Japan has been actively promoting connectivity both within the northeast region and with the neighbouring countries. Our national highway projects, be it in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, or Tripura, will be extended to the border of Bangladesh."
Satoshi said that Japan and India have been working road connection improvement projects in Bangladesh as well.
"With these road network projects, the northeast will find outlet to the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and to ASEAN, being able to utilise such ports as in Chittagong or Matabari (both in Bangladesh). The North East will no longer be a land-locked place," he added.
The Ambassador said that Japan is supporting the conservation of forests in Sikkim, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya and assisting better livelihood of farmers.
"I am proud to say that our project in Sikkim has led to the designation of Khangchendzonga National Park as the first UNESCO "Mixed Heritage" site of India. This example illustrates how Japan and India can cooperate to make "one plus one" produce "more than two", Satoshi added.
Japan's Rs 1,600 crore (231 billion yen) 15 ODA projects in eight northeastern states include, sustainable catchment forest management, community based forest management and livelihood improvement, biodiversity, water supply sewage, capacity enhancement for sustainable agriculture and irrigation development, construction of schools for the tribals, construction of vocational training centre for the poor women and northeast road network connectivity improvement
Of the 15 projects, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is also providing Rs 315 for renovation and modernisation of 60 MW capacity Umiam-Umtru stage-III hydroelectric power project on the outskirts of Meghalaya capital Shillong.
"Asian Confluence's" Executive Director Sabyasachi Dutta said that the Friday's virtual dialogue dealt on various developmental issues and future opportunities for further India-Japan collaboration in northeast India.
"In the talk, academicians and policymakers from India and Japan also discussed the ways to increase cooperation in various areas such as people to people and cultural exchanges and the future of the 'Act East Forum'," Dutta told IANS.