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            Transport and communication is an important element of infrastructure, based on which the progress of a region may take place. Unfortunately for North East India, the transport and communication system is poorly developed. There are some physical and socio-economic  causes for the backwardness of transport and communication in the  region. The important causes are as follows.

            (1) The region has about two-thirds of its area (about 72%) under  hills mountains and plateau. Only about 28% are plains. Of the 72% of  hills, mountains and plateaus, more than three -fourths have steep slopes, deep gorges and ravines, where laying of roads and railways is a very expensive and difficult proposition.

        (2) North East India is isolated in its location with respect to the rest  of the country. As the region is a cul-de-sac, surrounded by four foreign  countries, and as it is far away from the industrial areas of the country, the lines of transport and communication have not been developed to the desirable extent.

       (3) As the region has  very heavy rainfall for more than six months of  a year, the roads and railways suffer from surface and  gully erosion. The situation is further deteriorated by the  loose soil-base derived largely  from alluvium in the plains and such sedimentary rocks as sandstone, mudstone, shale, etc. in the hills. The roads and railway lines have, therefore, to be constantly repaired and  maintained in serviceable condition, needing a huge expenditure.

     (4) The region, especially its plains, annually experiences devastating floods which often breach and damage roads and railway lines. On the  other hand, heavy deluges cause landslide and soil creep in the hills damaging the roads. These again necessitate repair and renovation of the roads requiring huge expenditure.

     (5) The region has numerous turbulent rivers and hills-streams which flow with fury during the rainy season. Besides, many of them change their course very often. Some of them, again, are very wide. The roads and railway lines need to be frequently bridged and many culverts, retention walls, spurs, spurs, etc. have to be constructed needing labour and  huge expenditure.

     (6) Apart from tea and oil industries, there is practically no large industry in the region Therefore, a well-knit network of transport and  communication has not been laid far.

      (7) Each of the seven state governments, which administer the region, is not financially well off to afford sufficient expenditure to construct and maintain a well-knit transport system. Hence construction of new  roads is rare and maintenance of existing roads is poor.


            Railway transport in North East India is not very new. In fact, only  about 30 years after the first railway line between Bombay and Thane had been laid in India, the construction of line in Assam started between 1981-84 Yet the region’s railway network is not well developed. At present the whole region consisting of 255,000 km2 has a railway network of only about 2500 km accounting for a density of 9 km  of railway line per 1000 km2 of area. Moreover, out of the 2500 km of the lines only about 961 km  are broadgauge, which the remaining tracks are metre- gauge.

            As stated above laying down of railway lines started in the eastern part of the Brahumaputra Valley in the early eighteen-eighties. The  then British Government and the  British companies, extracting the resources of the region, were interested in taking away the products rather than using these for economic development of the region. Therefore, they constructed the railway lines first connecting the tea, coal, oil and timber producing areas with the river ports on the Brahmaputra. The products carried by the trains were transferred to steamers which took them down the Brahmaputra to Calcutta port and therefrom  to the United Kingdom  The river Barak was also used similarly. Same river routes were also  used to bring mercandise and labourers for tea gardens into the region. Therefore, the first railway lines in the region were not the ones  connecting the region with other parts of India, but those joining tea, coal, timber, etc. producing areas with the steamer ‘ghats’ (river ports).

            The first railway lines to be constructed were the Dibru-Sadia lines between 1882 and 1884 connecting the tea, timber, coal and oil producing areas  of the present Tinsukia district with the river-port of  Dibrugarh. This was followed by the construction of the Jorhat Provincial Railway in 1885 between tea producing Mariani-Titabar area with  Kokilamukh (later Neamati) steamer ghat. In the same year Balipara  tea producing area was connected with Tezpur on the north bank of the  Brahmaputra in Sonitpur district. It was 1895 that the region was first linked with outside by constructing a line from eastern Bengal (now  Bangladesh) to Badarpur of Barak Valley. The railway line from Guwahati to Lumding began to be constructed in 1897. On the other hand, Dhubri was linked with Calcutta in 1902. The hill section of the  railway, linking Lumding of the Brahmaputra Valley with Badarpur of  the Barak Valley, across the hill ranges of the North Cachar Hills district, was constructed in 1903 through 37 tunnels (total length 5190m.). With  the completion the track between Tinsukia and Lumding, Upper Assam  became linked with eastern Bengal by 1904. Between 1909 and 1910 Amingaon, near Guwahati,was linked with Golokganj in Dhubri district, thus connecting the western part of the Brahmaputra Valley with the rest of India. In 1911 a line was extended eastward from Rangia over the north bank of the Brahmaputra to Tangla in Darrang district.This was further extended to Balipara in 1932. In 1917 a line was constructed from simaluguri via Sibsagar to Moran linking the tea producing area  with the trunk railway. Similarly in 1920, the Kaliabar tea growing  area was connected with the trunk railway by constructing a line between Chaparmukh and Silghat via Nagaon. In 1920-1924 Katakhal-Lalabazar line was completed. A line was also constructed from Simaluguri southward to Naginimara in Nagaland in 1929 to carry coal and tea  from the adjoining region. In the year Jorhat-Badulipar-Furkating line was completed through the said rich tea-growing region. It is found that after the settlement of the Muslim immigrants in the north-western part of the undivided Nagaon district, the area bordering the Brahmaputra turned into a rich jute growing area. Hence in 1930 a railway track was laid from Senchowa at the southern outskirts of Nagaon town to Mairabari in the heart of the jute growing region. Thus it is seen that most of railway lines that  are found today in North-East India were laid down during the 50 years between 1882 and 1932 and the region was linked with outside, especially eastern Bengal and Calcutta, through Brahmaputra Valley and Barak Valley. There was no extension of railway after 1932 till independence.

            With the independence and partition of the country the north-eastern region became virtually isolated, because the major roads, both the railway lines and the water way linking it with the rest of the Indian Union fell into what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). So, a new railway line had to be constructed hurriedly through the narrow sub-Himalayan corridor. In 1950 this line, named Assam link was completed connecting Fakiragram station of  Assam with Siliguri station of West Bengal through Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts. The line is 229 km long and traverses a difficult terrain with numerous broad braided rivers with the establishment of a separate zone of the Indian railways, in the name of Northeast Frontier Railways, with headquarters at  Maligaon, the railway administration in the region became somewhat consolidated.

       Immediately after the Indo-Chinese war, the Saraighat Bridge across the  Brahmaputra was built near Guwahati in 1962-63. Simultaneously, the  railway line in the north bank was extended further eastward from Balipara to  Murkongselek in Dhemaji district. This line was opened in 1966.

            In  spite of these developments it was found that all the railway lines of the  region consisted of metre-gauge only. The carrying of the metre- gauge trains is low and there are difficulties of transshipment to broadgauge lines for reaching the large cities and ports of the country. Hence in 1965 a  broadgauge line was constructed from New Jalpaiguri(near Siliguri) through Jalpaiguri and Coach Bihar districts of West Bengal to Jogighopa on the bank of the Brahmaputra opposite Goalpara, via New Bongaigaon. It is 110 km long. This line was subsequently extended (251km) from Guwahati to Dimapur (in Nagaland) and from Chaparmukh to Nagaon town. Conversion of the metre-gauge line broadgauge from Dimapur to Dibrugarh (294 km) has also been  completed in early 1997. A new broadgauge line is under construction from Pancharatna in Goalpara to Guwahati (145 km) along southern bank  bordering the northern foothills of Meghalaya. During the nineteen-eighties new lines were laid to provide rail-head to each of the seven states of the  region. A place in western Manipur, adjoining the Barak plain, called Jiribam, was linked by a metre-gauge line (50.33 km long) from Silchar in 1990. Bhairabi of Mizoram was linked with Lalaghat of Hailakandi district by a rail line 49 km long in 1988. Dharmanagar of the North-eastern Tripura was linked to Kumarghat of Karimganj district in 1990. Bhalukpung, a place in East Kameng district of Arunachal was linked to Balipara of Sonitpur district of Assam with a rail line 35-46 km long in 1990. Thus it is found that each of the states of North East India, except Meghalaya now has at least a railhead. Efforts are being made to extend a rail line from Dudhnoi of Goalpara district to a place called Rupa in East Garo Hills, to provide a railhead to Memghalaya. The construction work of the 123 km. new railway line(Diphu-Karaong railway line) has also been taken up.

                                      Length of Railways in N.E. India,

                                                (in km ) 1997  





Arunachal Pradesh


































            Roadways are more important than others in North East India because they can reach even isolated villages over the hills. However, because of economic backwardness of the region, roads were not developed adequately in the past. The Ahom and Koch kings used to construct a few earthen roads linking some important places. In fact, waterways, along the numerous rivers, used to serve the transportation needs  of the people of the region. There are a few geographical reasons for backwardness of the region in respect of road transport. These are :

(1) North East India is full of hills of and mountains(except a few plains) with extremely uneven surface. The hills and mountains, gores and steep valleys prevent a cheap construction of roads.

(2) The rainfall being very heavy in summer there occurs landslides in the hills and floods in the plains, often severely damaging the roads.

(3) Because the  region has many rivers and streams, the roads have to be bridged frequently involving huge expenditure.

(4) The road-building materials like stone chips are easily available, especially in the plains, requiring a heavy cost in transporting these from the hills to the work sites.

            Assam : Of  all the states in North-East India, Assam has the longest kilometerage of roads, obviously  because of three reasons : firstly, it has a  greater proportion of plain land ;  secondly, it is the  most populous state and  thirdly because tea, oil, plywood, etc. industries grew up here earlier. In 1903- 04 there were, in Assam, 320 km of gravelled road, 6400 km of ‘Kacha’ road suitable only for bullock carts and 5680 km of narrow tracks. However, most  of the rivers and streams had no bridges and the ones that had, were weak wooden bridges. In the Brahmaputra Valley, two roads-one along the south  bank and the other along the north bank were slowly built up. The south bank  road from Goalpara to Saikhowaghat was consolidated during the period of  World War II and was known as South Trunk Road (now National Highway No.37) while the north bank road Baihata-Chariali to Murkongsalek was  improved after the Chinese aggression in the sixties and it was known as North  Trunk Road (now National Highway No. 52). In the  Barak Valley the road system was earlier linked with Sylhet district (in Bangladesh). But the partition of India adversely affected the transport and communication system of Assam as also whole of north-east India. The road systems of both the Brahmaputra and Barak Valleys became isolated from the rest of the country because of creation of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Hence a new road had to  be constructed along the Himalayan foothill across northern West  Bengal and new roads had to be built  linking the Barak Valley with the  Brahmaputra valley. After independence, the national government took  up a programme of building national highways and some such highways  came to be built in north-east India also. Assam at present has about 35129 km of roads. There can be classified into three main categories, viz. national highway, state PWD roads and district-board and Panchayat  roads.  Out of this, 2020 km is national highway. A large number of  P.W.D. roads are gravelled and pitched while the district board and  Panchayat roads are mostly Kacha and occasionally gravelled.

            The highways connect most of the district headquarters of the state. A few highways go beyond the state boundary to the other states of  north-east India. While the state P.W.D. roads link the important places, the district-board and Panchayat roads link the larger villages and rural  market centres Besides, there are in eastern Assam a set of roads  maintained by tea gardens. These are small but motorable roads that  link the tea gardens with larger roads. There are three bridges over the  Brahmaputra, one at Saraighat (completed in 1962) and the other at  Bhomoraguri (1987). The third bridge at Pancharatna has been completed in 1998. The fourth bridge at Bagbil is under initial stage of construction.

            Meghalaya : It has about 5624 km of roads. The hilly nature of the  state has impeded the growth of roads in this state. The state, however, has an old road from Dawki, at Bangladesh border, via Shillong to  Guwahati. Before partition this road used to go to Sylhet. New  roads have constructed after independence linking various important places with Shillong and Tura, as also linking Assam and this state. The  Guwahati-Shillong-Dawki Road has now been converted to National Highway No. 40. Another national highway now links Agartala,  Karimganj and Badarpur with Shillong via Jowai. It is called National Highway No. 44. The Western part of Meghalaya is linked with National Highway No. 37 in Goalpara district.

              Length of Roads in North-East India (1990) in k.m.



Black topped

or Gravelled



Road Length per 100 km 2

Arunachal Pradesh








































Source : Basic Statistics of North Eastern Region NEC,Shillong,1992  

   Arunachal : like any other hill state, it has a lower density of road. It has very high hills and mountains and very deep  valleys and gorges. Besides, although the main Himalayan range here runs from  the south-east to the north-east, all other hills and valleys run from the north to the south. So, no road has so far been constructed across the state from the east to the west. The various places and towns of  the state have to be linked with the Brahmaputra valley by  north-south roads. Of such roads (i) Tezpur-Bomdila-Tawang Road, (ii) North Lakhimpur-Kimin-Ziro-Dapariji Road, (iii) Likabali -Along Road, (iv) Pasighat Along Road, (v) Margherita-Ledo-Changlang Road and (vi) Naharkatia-Jaipur-Khonsa Road are the main.

            Nagaland is also poorly developed in roadways. Its main road is National Highway No. 39 that runs from Numaligarh in Assam via Dimapur, Kohima  and Mao to Manipur. Other important roads are Amguri-Mokokchung- Tuensang- Mon Road and Furkating-Wokha Road. A new road has been constructed across Nagaland linking Mokokchung with Kohim via Zunheboto. New roads have also been constructed recently linking Wokha and Phek,  the district headquarters, with Kohima.

            Mizoram has many parallel hill ranges and deep valleys running in the north-south direction. Therefore, it difficult to construct roads across the state in the  east west direction. The national highway no. 54, the main road of the state runs from Silchar via Aizawl, Lunglei and Saiha to Tuipang in down south of the  state. This road has extended from Lunglei to  Theriaghat and Demagiri as Nh. 54A and from Venus-Sedel to Saiha as NH 54B.

            Tripura is very much isolated from the view point of transport and communication It is surrounded on three sides by Bangladesh. The only all weather road linking the state with  the rest of the north-eastern region is national  highway no. 44, that runs from Shillong via Badarpur, Karimganj, Dharmagar to Agartala, the capital of the state. Within Tripura, however, roads are  somewhat developed in the relatively plain western part. There are roads linking Belonia, Amarpur, Udaipur, Khowai and some other important places. The eastern hills part of the state is poorly developed in road communication.

    The following are national highways of the region :

1. national Highway No.31 : It runs from Siliguri in West Bengal eastward  and enters Assam near Baxirhat and then goes via North Salmara, Bijni, Nalbari and Rangia to Saraighat bridge. It is 322.8 km long. There is a branch of it  from North Salmara to Jogighopa (No. 31 B). Still another branch of it (No. 31 C) runs from Bijni to Srirampur (93 km).

2 National Highway No. 37  runs from Pancharatna via Guwahati, Nagaon, Jorhat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh to Dangari. It is 680 km long. Its branch, 37A, runs from Kunwaritol in Nagaon district to Tezpur (23 km) over Kaliabhomora bridge.

3. National Highway No. 36 runs from Nagaon town via Dabaka across Diphu sub-division to Dimapur (170 km).

4. National Highway No. 39 runs from Numaligarh via Dimapur, Kohima and Imphal to More in Myanmar border (436 km)

5. National Highway No. 38 runs from Makum via Digboi and Margherita  to Lekhapani (54 km).

6. National Highway No. 40  runs from Jorabat near Guwahati to Dawki  on the Bangladesh border via  Shilliong.

 7. National Highway No. 44 runs from  Shillong via Jowai, badarpur,  Karimganj, Dharmanagar to Agartala (495 km)

8.  National Highway No.53 runs from Badarpur via Silchar and Jirighat  to Imphal (320 km ).

9. National Highway No.54  runs from Silchar via Aizawl and Lunglei to Tuipang ( 560 km ) . Its first branch (No. 54 A) runs from Lunglei to Theriaghat  (9km) and the second branch 54 B runs from Venus-Sedel to Saiha (27 km).

10. National Highway No. 51 runs from Krishnai(in Goalpara district) to Dalu near Bangladesh border via Tura. It is 149 km long.

11. National Highway No. 52 runs  from Baihata-Chariali in Kamrup district  via Mangaldai, Tezpur, North Lakhimpur and Dhemaji to Jonai and beyond to  Pasighat (580 km).

12. National Highway No. 52 A runs from Bandardea to Itanagar (25 km) .

13. National Highway No. 99 : The construction work of this highway, which will run from Patsala to Namlong ( Bhuitan), has been started.

  Water Transport :

            North East India has many large and small rivers providing facilities for  water transport, especially in its plain parts  and in flat river  valleys of the large rivers in hills. From the ancient period until the  roads were constructed, the rivers of the Brahmaputra and Barak plains  were commonly used as the medium of transport. When the Britishers  came, they used the Brahmaputra and Barak-Surma rivers extensively for transport and trade between north-east India  and the Calcutta port. With the growth of the tea industry these rivers became  important  carriers of trade. The East India Company started the water route along  the Brahmaputra from Calcutta to Dibrugarh in 1844 and steam ships were introduced by the Joint Steamer  Company in 1847. It is about the  same time that Silchar came to be linked with Calcutta along Barak-Surma-Meghna navigation channel. However, with the partition of India  in 1947, water transport received a  serious blow as a foreign country  was born between north-east India and the port of Calcutta. Efforts were made several times to revive the route, in consultation with East Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh government, but with little  success.

            It is estimated that the north-eastern region has about 1800 km of  river routes that can be used by steamers and large country boats. The  inland water transport departments of both the state and central governments have been trying to improve the water transport system in  the region. The river Brahmaputra now has several small river-ports like Dibrugarh, Disangmukh, Nemati, Biswanath, Silghat, Guwahati, Goalpara and Dhubri. Besides, there are more than 30 pairs of ferry-ghats on the Brahmaputra, transporting men and materials. The River Barak also has small ports at Karimgani Badarpur and Silchar and ferry services at several places across it.

            In Arunachal Pradesh the rivers Luhit, Subansiri, Burhi Dihing, Noa Dihing and Tirap are used for navigation by small country boats in  those stretches where there are no rapids. The rivers Dhaleswari, Sonai,  Tuilianpui and Chimtuipui in Mizoram are also used for navigation with small  country boats in convenient stretches. Similarly, in Manipur,  the Manipur River, along with its three main tributaries, Iril, Imphal and Thoubal are used for transporting small quantities of mercandise by country boats.

  Although North-East India has many rivers, its inland water  navigation has not developed much, mainly because of the following  reasons :

            (i) The hills and  mountains, abundantly present in the region, have  rendered the river beds uneven (except in the plains), thus hindering navigation.

            (ii) The rivers in the plains are often  wide, shallow and braided and  large boats carrying heavy loads of freight cannot ply.

            (iii) After the great earthquake of 1950, the bed of the Brahmaputra  has become shallow, and therefore, wide and braided, preventing large steamers from plying

            (iv) The partition of India has isolated the region completely so far  river  routes are concerned. The large rivers viz. Brahmaputra and  Barak now cannot be used up to the sea-ports, while within the region, the trucks over roads can easily compete with inland water navigation  due mainly to latter’s quick service.

            (v) As the region is industrially backward, the quantity,  of goods to be transported is also less which can be handled by road and rail transport This has also deterred the growth of inland water navigation.

            However, if the region is industrialised and the services of the inland navigation are improved there is still hope for its growth and  development.

  Airways :

            Compared to the surface transport, air transport is slightly more developed in North-East India. Because the region is isolated and  marginally located, surround by as many as four foreign countries, a  strong air-link is necessary.

            A few aerodromes were built up in this region during World War II when the eastern war front reached the Indo-Myanmar border. The Allied Forces built up small aerodomes at Kahikuchi (near Guwahati),  Mohanbari (Dibrugarh), Salanibari (Tezpur), Rawraiya (Jorhat), Lilabari  (North Lakhimpur), Dimapur and Imphal. After independence, some of these air-fields were used by private companies like Bharat Airways and Indian Airways for commercial services. After the nationalisation of commercial air transport in India, Indian Airlines Corporation took over the  services and new air-ports were opened at Dimapur, Kumbhigram (near Silchar) and Agartala. The air-port near Guwahati was also shifted to Borjhar. Besides, smaller airports were constructed at Ziro and Tezu in Arunachal, at Umroi (near Shillong) Tuirival (Aizawl) and at Kailasahar and Kamalpur in Tripura. However, regular air transport still remains confined only to Guwahati, Dimapur, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Kumbhirgram, Imphal and Agartala. The services to  these airports are to and from Calcutta and Delhi. The smaller airports are rarely used by smaller air transport companies. The Borjhar (Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi) airport is the  only large one in this  region and it is going to be upgraded to an international airport. Some of these airports (e.g. Borjhar, Salanibari and Rawraiya) are also shared by Indian air force. A large size Air Port has been inaugurated at Lengpui, 40 km away from Izol. It is the second largest Air Port in North-Eastern region next to Borjhar Air Port.

            The Airport Authority of India has decided to construct an airport at  Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh.

            It should be noted that although surface transport is not developed in  North East India, the air-transport is not as developed as it should have to compensate for the former. This has certain geographical reasons:

            (i) The north-eastern region except Assam, is full of hills and  mountains restricting the growth of  airports needing extensive open flat land.

            (ii) The region has heavy rains with overcast sky for a long period of the year, keeping the weather inclement for air services. Even in dry winter there are thick layers of fog over the  ground, making landing and take-off difficult for aircraft.

            (iii) Due to economic backwardness, the region is the least industrialised and poorly urbanised. So the volume of freight and number of passengers availing the services are not adequate and hence not economic. These services are often subsidised by the Central government.

            However, with the economic growth picking up, region will need a well developed air transport just because of its geographical location. The far-flung places of Arunachal,  Manipur and Mizoram along the frontiers do need airports for both strategic and commercial reasons.

   Pipeline and Ropeway:

            The pipeline provides a new means of transportation, especially of industrial raw materials like crude oil and natural gas. This means of transport has become popular in recent years because although the initial cost of its laying is a bit high, the transport cost, subsequently, turns out to be very cheap.

            The first pipeline in north-east India was laid in 1964 to carry crude oil from the Naharkatiya and Moran fields to Noonmati (Guwahati)and Barauni(in Bihar) refineries. The length of this pipeline is 400 km upto Guwahati and another 752 km up to Barauni. It used to carry 2.7 million tonnes of crude annually, of which 0.75 million tonnes were conveyed to Noonmati Refinery and the remaining 2m. tonnes to Barauni Refinery. Subsequently, this capacity was increased to feed the Bongaigaon Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. Apart from this, there are six other major pipelines in Assam.  The second pipelines  connect Naharkatiya oilfields with the Digboi Refinery. It is about 40 km  long. The third conveys crude from Lakwa to Moran terminal. It is 70 km  long . The fourth line is laid between Digboi and Tinsukia to send petroleum products from the Digboi Refinery. Its length is 30 km. The fifth pipeline runs  from Guwahati to Siliguri (420 km) carrying finished products like petrol, refined Kerosene, diesel, etc. The sixth line conveys Natural Gas from the  Naharkatiya fields to Namrup (16 km ) for Assam Gas Company. Similar  pipelines will also laid to transport crude to Numaligarh refinery from the  fields. Besides, the projected Gas Cracker Plant near Tengakhat and thermal power plant at Amguri will have to be linked by pipelines  with the fields of  natural gas in Upper Assam. Similar pipelines need to be laid also in the Barak Valley and Tripura to tan the natural gas present there.

            The ropeway is a cheap mode of transportation especially in the hilly terrain  for industrial raw materials like limestone, bauxite, iron-ore, coal, etc. from  the mines to the road or  railway heads and industrial sites.  North East India, being largely hilly, needs ropeways. The first ropeway in the region was set-up in the Shella region of Meghalaya  to carry limestone to the Sylhet plain. After partition the line was abandoned.  At present  there is only one major ropeway between Dilai Hill and Bokajan  cement factory (35 km long ) in Karbi Anglong for transporting limestone. A new project  has been undertaken to  construct a ropeway from Siju to  Patharigithim in Western Garo Hills for conveying limestone. Similar projects are under  consideration for Byrnihat (Meghalaya) and Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) areas.




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