Getting the opportunity to work on a project in the Barak Valley was fascinating . As a part of Swaniti, working with the Member of Parliament of Silchar, we decided to reach Guwhati and take the National Highway 44 to Silchar, thanks to the broad gauge conversion of the Lumding-Silchar railway line which was under progress. The highway took us through Meghalaya to a part of Assam fairly disconnected with the Brahmaputra valley.
The first thing that stands out about Silchar is that it is a land full of opportunities. With the BCIM corridor and rail connectivity project under progress, Silchar can serve as a hub, connecting trade centres of Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur with North Assam, and the latter with Bangladesh. The literacy rate of Silchar at 91.74% is much higher than the national average of 74.04%. Post inauguration of the second unit of Palatana Power Project, the power scenario too is expected to improve. With the task of narrowing down sectors which can be catalyzed by the Member of Parliament, we went ahead to explore Silchar.
The experience of engaging with various governmental and civil society stakeholders was diverse and rich. We were able to get insights into the current scenario of skill development and potential opportunities after meeting the District Industry and Commerce Centre officials and local NGOs such as Deshbandhu foundation. Our meeting with NEDFi officials helped us analyze the entrepreneurship opportunities and bottlenecks in Silchar.
From the realm of livelihoods we went ahead to delve into opportunities in the food processing sector. One of the things that stands out about Silchar is the quality of its pineapple, or to be more precise, the sweetness. Yet its surprising to see that the food processing potential has not been tapped. One of the cooperative societies which ran a food processing unit for pineapple farmers of the Maar tribe is now defunct and is being used as a temporary shelter. We identified that there is immense potential to set up a cold storage which could boost fruit production and also increase incomes of pineapple and jackfruit farmers.
To get a greater grasp on the trade potential of Silchar, we visited the Border Trade Centre at Sutarkhandi. Meetings with trade officials and other stakeholders helped us understand the bottlenecks as well as the opportunities that increasing trade with Bangladesh offered. Conversations with residents of villages close to the border was insightful which help us understand the impact of border trade on their lives.
The visit to Barak Valley was a milestone in our understanding of grassroots development as well as strategies needed to tap the economic potential of a region in a dynamically changing environment. It was a very enriching experience to understand and experience of life in the Barak Valley, get to know the great people there, try out amazing cuisines and stare with eyes full of wonder at the vast expanse of the beautiful tea estates.
Border Trading Centre- Sutarkhandi
Non-Functional Food Processing Unit