PHOTO : US Consulate General Craig Hall posted in Kolkata.
( In an exclusive in-person meeting with TIWN Editor Saumen Sarker, US Consul General (Eastern India) Craig Hall pitched strongly for improving the connectivity for India’s Northeast. He said there can be no growth in this area unless it is physically connected by road, rail, air and on cyberspace with the neighborhood. Excerpts of the Interview).
TIWN Editor : What is the US priority in Northeast India ?
US Eastern India Consulate Genral Craig Hall : This is a key link region of Asia and so very important in strategic terms. This links South Asia to South-east and East Asia . But this is a region where political turbulence has been fueled by lack of economic growth. The US wants this region to grow with the rest of India and for that , we think this region needs to connect closely to its neighbourhood, to other countries on its borders and beyond.
TIWN Editor : Growing with the rest of India. Don’t you think the East and Northeast of India has fallen far behind the growth areas of India ?
Hall : You are right. India is no longer a developing region, it is up in the big league , its economy is growing. But there is much regional disparity in the Indian growth story. The East and Northeast is far behind the country’s booming South and West . Unless this disparity is addressed, India’s growth story will be punctured by political turbulence like Maoist and separatist activity, social unrest, high incidence of HIV and Drug consumption. Since the East and Northeast is important for strategic reasons, it is also important for India to develop this region, so that it catches up with the rest of the country, so that people there are happy and there is no scope for trouble.
TIWN Editor : If the region remains backward, who stands to benefit ?
Hall : If the East and Northeast is backward and there is some discontent here caused by lack of growth , there are some countries like China who may fish in troubled waters. But no country which is a friend of India – like the US and Japan and Australia—would like that to happen. We all want India to develop its Northeast and use it as a land bridge to south-east and East Asia.
TIWN Editor : What would you like to do for development of Northeast ?
Hall : We want India to develop infrastructure in the region so that we can go to our companies and ask them to invest in the region. We want to facilitate investments so that jobs are created and wealth creation takes place. I am sure what we want to do is what Japan and other countries friendly to India also want to do. If we have the necessary infrastructure in place, we will get investments into this region. We want this region to be prosperous where people have good jobs – we don’t want insurgencies, drug trafficking and HIV to persist in this region as serious problems.
TIWN Editor : What is your impression about Tripura ?
Hall : It looks to have a lot of potential and it can be the hub of connectivity . If the right moves are made, Tripura can really thrive. Once the sea access through Chittagong is regularized, Tripura will have much to look forward to .