Last week, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a two-day global investment summit, titled “Advantage Assam: India’s Expressway to ASEAN” and organised by the state government, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal made a presentation that used geographical distances to project Guwahati as the actual epicentre of growth in Southeast Asia, in the process inviting investors to look at his state as a favourite destination.
Sonowal presented a map that showed all major ASEAN cities are closer to Assam’s capital city than many major Indian cities. Within the Guwahati-Mumbai radius lie the capital cities of as many as eight neighbouring countries — of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh (see map).
The government signed about 200 MoUs with investors within those two days, with the commitments working out to a total of about Rs 1 lakh crore, the government said. “Look at what Assam has in comparison to other states of the country,” Sonowal said. “A significant stretch of Asian Highway 1 and 2 passes through several key districts of the state. The Brahmaputra and Barak are being dredged to make navigation smoother to Bangladesh, Kolkata and beyond. A part of the proposed Trans-Asian Railway network, as also the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway will pass through Assam. And above all, capitals of as many as eight neighbouring countries are closer to Guwahati by air than Mumbai is.”
Prime Minister Modi, who described Assam as emerging to become one of the most sought-after states for industrial investment, focused on the government’s Act East Policy and said that with increased people-to-people contact and trade ties with countries on India’s east, Assam would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the policy. “We created the Act East Policy and the Northeast is at the heart of it. The Act East Policy requires increased people-to-people contact, trade ties and other relations with countries on India’s east, particularly ASEAN countries. The tag-line of this summit is very appropriate and gives a big message,” Modi said.
While top oil PSUs like ONGC, Oil India Ltd, IOC, Numaligarh Refinery Ltd and BPCL together signed separate MoUs promising investments worth Rs 30,429 crore, private investors were led by Essel Infraprojects (Rs 6,000 crore), Indo-UK Healthcare (Rs 2,700 crore), Century Plyboards (Rs 2,100 crore), Star Cement (Rs 2,100 crore), and Infinity Infotech (Rs 1,000 crore), besides Reliance Industries and Tata Sons. Mukesh Ambani of Reliance has promised to invest Rs 2,500 crore in the next three years, while Tata Trusts Chairman N Chandrasekaran signed an MoU with the Assam government to set up a two-tier cancer care network covering 17 districts with both parties investing Rs 1,000 crore each.
The two-day summit also saw, for the first time, delegates from 23 countries congregate in Guwahati, including from the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, the UAE, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Israel and Italy. “There were a record 100-plus B2G (business-to-government) and over 300 B2B (business-to-business meetings during the two days, with investors getting an exposure to Assam for the first time since Independence,” said Assam Industry and Commerce Minister Chandra Mohan Patowari.
At Guwahati’s Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi International Airport, Civil Aviation Minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju recently laid the foundation stone for an integrated terminal to be built at Rs 1,232 crore. “Our government has accorded top priority to improving communication… We have 800 million people in and around us in Southeast Asia. This is a huge market, for which Guwahati is the real epicentre for investors,” Sonowal said.