"We would like to improve our relationship both in term of trade and defence with the eastern world," Union Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Minister Jitendra Singh told journalists after chairing the 63rd plenary meeting of the North Eastern Council (NEC), the regional planning body of the northeastern states.

The meeting was attended by Arunachal Pradesh Governor, Lt Gen. Nirbhay Sharma (retd.) and Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, Nagaland Governor P.B. Acharya and Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang, Meghalaya Governor K.K. Paul and Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, Sikkim Governor Shriniwas Patil and Pawan Chamling besides Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh.

"This eastern part of the country is gateway to the eastern world. Therefore, before we look East, we would act East and once we act East, India would automatically and naturally begin to look East," Singh added.

India has a total of 4,750 km-long international boundary with China, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Bangladesh in the northeast.

Stating that the central government would take all steps to bring the northeast region closer to the mainland, both in terms of development and culturally, Singh said: "One of the most important priorities is to empower the youth of the region by way of providing employment and generating opportunities which could be achieved in number of ways."

"And one (way) of it is by encouraging tourism which will generate revenue and at the same time create opportunities for the youngsters and also to take care of the huge exodus of youths from the northeast to various parts of the country," he said.

He also asked the chief ministers to utilise the central funds as Rs.600 crore or 73 percent of the budget allocation for the NEC remains unutilized.

"So far just 27 percent of the total budgetary allocation for the NEC has been utilized and as such Rs.600 crore remains unutilized. I will also convince concerned ministries at the centre so that this budgetary provision does not return and the member states must try utilizing the fund within the stipulated timeframe.”

"We would like to see that the NEC does not get a bad name and this (unutilized fund) does not become an annual feature. We would try to bring in changes," Singh said.

On proposals from member states to set up a DoNER office in the region, Singh said that the proposal was not feasible at this moment, but the ministry would try to set up "camp office" with the secretary of the ministry heading it in member states monthly or bi-monthly on a rotation basis.

Stating that DoNER ministry would act as a "facilitator" between state governments in the region and the central government, Singh said his ministry would continue to hear about "complaints, grievances and abuses".

"All complaints cannot be music to the ear and anyone who cannot listen to such complaints is not fit to remain in a 'sensitive ministry' like DoNER. We must learn not to listen only to music," he said.

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