The Act East Policy had not really benefited the Northeastern region and every single action taken after changing its name from ‘Look East Policy’ had remained only on paper, former union home secretary GK Pillai said here on Saturday. He also said there was a great reluctance in the External Affairs ministry to really open up the region.
Only on Paper
‘Tangible benefits to the Northeast have been minimal. Though the Act East Policy of the government was meant primarily to help the Northeast, in reality the benefits have been almost negligible. You will find in all the speeches that the Act East has a special reference for the Northeast. But if you look at every single item of action that has been taken thereafter, it only remains only on paper as far as the Northeast in concerned,’ Pillai said. He was delivering the 1st KD Goswami Memorial Lecture organised by Srimanta Foundation here on Saturday.
No Real Benefits Despite PM’s Many Trips
Speaking about development of the Northeastern Region from the Act East Policy, Pillai, an old Northeast hand, said though the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and host of ministers from India have visited Myanmar Laos, Cambodia, China and other countries in the neighbourhood, various agreements signed during these visits had not brought any benefit to the region.
’India’s trade with ASEAN, which has increased from 2 billion dollars in the early 1990s to 72 billion dollars in 2012 is a great economic success for the country. But what has it done for the Northeast? It has done very little. After Look East Policy became Act East, significant movements have taken place. The prime minister has gone to Myanmar, China, Laos and Vietnam. The foreign minister and other ministers have gone to these countries, signed various defence and strategic agreements with these countries. But when you ask how these have all these helped the Northeast, I must confess, that it has been almost negligible,’ Pillai said.
He particularly said benefits of the 72-million dollar trade with ASEAN had instead only benefitted ’mainland’ India. ‘Bulk of the 72-million dollar trade with ASEAN will come through Chennai, Mumbai and other ports, and even very little through Kolkata port. There is hardly anything which is really coming through Myanmar into the Northeast,’ the former home secretary said.
Holding the Ministry of External Affairs responsible for the region not getting the benefits of Act East Policy, Pillai said there was a ‘great reluctance’ in that ministry to open up the Northeast. ‘One of the most important factors that we need to understand is that there is a great reluctance on the part of the MEA to really open up the Northeast. When Myanmar wanted India to build the Stilwell Road in its territory, there was tremendous opposition. By the time we were able to get anything together, two-three years passed by and the net result was that the Chinese went ahead and built the road, and we lost a golden opportunity there,’ he said.