The successful conclusion of Namami Barak festival, a three-day extravaganza held in honour of the river Barak’s life-giving prosperity from 18-20 November 2017, has raised hope amongst the people of the long-neglected region that this festival will spur greater development and investment of this region.
Echoing these sentiments, President of India Ram Nath Kovind closing the event termed the festival an epoch-making one which will bolster trade and commerce between Assam and other South East Asian Nations.
A legacy of neglect
Barak Valley has over the years remained severely neglected by successive State and Central Govt. Barak Valley, dominated by majority Bengali speaking people have had a testy relationship with the majority Assamese speaking people of Assam. That relationship touched rock-bottom when 11 people were shot dead at Silchar Railway station, on May 19, 1961, while protesting for the right to use Bengali as an official language in Barak Valley, a right which as eventually extended. May 19 came to be celebrated as Language Martyr’s day in Barak Valley, much to the discomfiture of the Assamese.
Needless to say, such acrimonious relationship hampered developmental work as Assam Govt, dominated by the Assamese were reluctant to fully commit to the development of Barak Valley. And so it remained in a state of limbo for a long time since.
Barak Valley occupies a very strategic location at the junction between South Asia and South-East Asia. It is bordered to the west by Bangladesh, to the south by Tripura and Mizoram, Meghalaya to the North-West, and to the East by Manipur and Myanmar beyond it. This geographical good fortune can potentially transform Barak Valley into a hub of interstate and international trade, a point that President Ram Nath Kovind made during his address at the closing ceremony of Namami Barak festival.
Impact of Act East policy
The Act East policy has come as a boon to the Barak valley region. Its geographical location is now being leveraged to accelerate economic linkages with South-East Asia. Major economic corridors such as BCIM corridor, Kaladan Multimodal project and the IMT trilateral highway projects are being accelerated, all of which link up at Silchar and will finally be connected to the to the rest of India via the East-West corridor, construction of which is likely to be completed by 2019. Additionally, this architechture will be linked to the BBIN to achieve regional integration.
The recently launched Bharatmala project will include the North east economic corridor passing through Barak Valley, further integrating it with the mainland India. Significant progress is being made in other modes of communication too. The Barak river (from Lakhipur to Bhanga) has been designated as NW-16 and currently dredging operations are being undertaken to connect Silchar to Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh which will allow goods to be transported directly from Kolkata at much reduced costs.
Barak Valley was connected to the BG network in 2015 following completion of the long pending Lumding-Silchar BG conversion project. Regular rail services has improved the communication profile of the Valley and is leading to greater trade and commerce opportunities. This uptick in commerce is reflected in the surge of air passenger traffic to Silchar airport, the only airport of this region. In the latest figures released by the Airports Authority of India, Silchar secured the second-fastest passenger growth rate of 106.4% for the period April 2017 – September 2017 in India, second only to Surat.
Impact of Namami Barak
The Namami Barak festival was organised by the Assam Govt as a significantly large scale festival. The festival saw massive crowds which thronged the event grounds generally having a good time. Namami Barak saw the generally lethargic administraton pulling up its socks and deliver a grand show, which was appreciated by the people. The festival served to educate the people about the various initiative being taken by the Govt and generate the awareness of the people about the possibilities that lie ahead.
No development can go forward without the participation of the people. People need to be made aware and thus take ownership of the project so that the benefits can reach the intended targets. This festival served to bring the people of the two major regions of Assam– Barak Valley and Brahmaputra valley closer which may be the biggest takeaway of the event.