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Dear Friends,

This year’s Khel Mahakumbh was filled with joy, achievement and pride for the whole of Gujarat. Earlier this year I got a request to meet a team of specially-abled athletes from Gujarat who had made India proud at the Special Olympic World Summer Games held in Athens. Keen to interact with them, I invited them to my residence and spent two hours with them. It gave me immense joy and I can never forget the meeting. In two hours, I saw in these athletes the desire to conquer the world. There was a burning passion in them to perform wonders. Their enthusiasm was unparalleled seeing which I was deeply moved. After the meeting, I had resolved to do something for these talented children. I spoke to my team in the sports department and sought support from NGOs, associations working in this field.

We used this year’s Khel Mahakumbh as a platform for these athletes to shine.For the first time 60,000 specially-abled athletes participated in this year’s Khel Mahakumbh adding a sense of gratification that words cannot even describe! The number is a record in itself. In the opening ceremony, a contingent of differently-abled athletes led the march past. It was a moment of great pride for all of us. Their success is not limited to their families but to the whole of Gujarat. I am glad to know that many of these athletes excelled in their respective sports.

When Virender Sehwag mesmerized the nation with his double century, Gujarat also celebrated the performance of 16-year-old Kokila Motpia in cricket. With a limited vision, she went on to score 215 runs in a cricket tournament, which was a part of the Khel Mahakumbh! She belongs to Dangs district, one of the remotest districts but neither geography nor eyesight deterred Kokila from winning our hearts with the bat, ball and her passion for the sport.


Double Centurion  Kokila Motpia with her bat. 

During the Khel Mahakumbh cricket semifinals for specially-abled athletes, one sportsman Sarfaraj scored nine sixes in one match; and this despite being severely handicapped. When such achievers excel, my heart is filled with a sense of unmatched happiness!


Sarfaraj in action! 

Maunesh Bhavsar’s story can be a source of inspiration for generations of sportspersons to come. This passionate cricket fan lost his wrists in accident at the age of 14 but his passion for the game continued! His life long injury did not take him away from cricket and in the Khel Mahakumbh finals for the specially abled, he took 2 wickets conceding only 4 runs in an important over due to which his team won! Maunesh showed he was no quitter and he has proudly earned his place under the sun with his stellar performance!


Maunesh Bhavsar performing wonders with the bat and the ball

The other success stories are equally touching! They can fill any face with tears of joy. A 20-year-old shy boy from Ahmedabad named Dipen Gandhi, with one hand and one leg displaced due to cerebral palsy, played excellent basketball and reached the national level. It feels great to know about the feat of Deval Patel, the sportsman with humble economic background and mental disability participating at the Special Olympics! His background or limitation did not deter him from reaching for the sky in a field that interests him. 

Friends this is the celebration of talent we seek to have through events such as Khel Mahakumbh! I am of the firm belief that the true purpose of sports cannot be realised until it takes the form of a mass movement. This movement cannot be achieved only by a handful of sportsmen and women. Participation should be broad based, with people from all sections, all age groups and all regions to make it a true celebration of life. It is for this reason that during the inauguration of Khel Mahakumbh 2011, I urged everybody to visit the venues and enjoy the treat that awaited them! I asked them to go out and imbibe some of the passion these athletes display, to be a part of their joys on the field and share their temporary bout of unhappiness when they lose a game. When one does this, one can enjoy sport and the bliss of meeting talented achievers.

The achievements of these specially-abled athletes remain very close to my heart! In them I see a fire that will not extinguish come what may, a passion to perform overcoming the challenges and a determination to take this world by storm. They turned their limitations into talents and went on to achieve finest laurels. My wish is to continue to give these athletes a platform, an opportunity to shine. I do not want age, region or any physical limitation to come in their way of realizing their dreams. More importantly, I am glad that Khel Mahakumbh could play a small part in their large achievement! My special thanks to the parents of these children, and I assure them that the journey of their talented achievers is as much ours as it is theirs! Swami Vivekananda once said, “You will be nearer to God by playing football than by studying the Gita.” Khel Mahakumbh has made these words alive in the truest sense.

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Before arriving on the stage here, I visited an exhibition of stalls set up by Self-Help Groups comprising women from all eight North Eastern States. The artefacts and products displayed in this exhibition are indeed impressive. Let me begin by congratulating the ladies from these Self-Help Groups, who are present here today and have just given me a glimpse of their immense talent.

The promotion of Self Help Groups has got a boost from the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana. A large number of Self Help Groups are also benefiting through credit linkages by North Eastern Development Financial Institution with the component of interest subsidy being provided by Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region.

The Government is committed to the development of Self Help Groups, particularly Women Self Help Groups. Keeping this in mind, in December 2015, the Union Cabinet approved a Special Package Fund for the North Eastern States. The objective is to accelerate the implementation of the National Rural Livelihood Mission, so as to cover two-thirds of all rural households in North Eastern States by 2023-24.

Friends.

Today, I unveiled a plaque for the foundation stone of a football stadium. We are all aware of the love that the people of the North-East, and especially Meghalaya, have for Football. Football is a passion here and is played in every nook and corner. We are all familiar with famous football players such as Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Aibor Khongjee, and Marlangki Suting. They have done both the country and the State proud, by representing India in International Tournaments, and their clubs in the Indian Super League.

I am told that the State Government’s Meghalaya Mission Football aims at detecting talent at the grass-root level and providing support for grooming and nurturing promising children and youngsters as professional footballers. I am sure that the football stadium being constructed at a cost of 38 crore rupees with the support of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, will go a long way towards fulfilling this objective.

Next year, that is in 2017, India is hosting the Under-17 FIFA World Cup. We need to take advantage of this event being held in India; and ensure the spread and development of this sport not only in the North Eastern Region, but also in other parts of the country.

Meghalaya has a large number of football clubs and associations. Perhaps, you can organize competitive local tournaments and lead the way for other parts of the country, to build a series of major events leading to the Under-17 World Cup.

Friends.

We all know Cherrapunji, for being the place that receives the highest rainfall in the World. Today, another feather has been added to its cap. The Doppler Weather Radar at Cherrapunji has been dedicated to the Nation. I congratulate the Indian Space Research Organization; Bharat Electronics Ltd.; and the Indian Meteorological Department for setting up this Radar in Cherrapunji.

The North East, a land of beauty and adventure, has been hit by several natural calamities in the recent past, on account of heavy rain and landslides.

This Weather Radar System will enable better weather forecasts, especially for the North Eastern region. This should help in minimizing the threat posed by extreme weather conditions.

Earlier today, I had an opportunity to participate in the North Eastern Council Meeting and interact with the Governors and Chief Ministers of this region. This gave me an opportunity to get a glimpse of the development work being carried out in the North East. A lot is being done. Much more still needs to be done.

My Government has been proactively following the ‘Act East Policy’. I consider the North Eastern Region as the Gateway to South-East Asia. As part of this policy, it is our mission to upgrade the infrastructure in Road, Rail, Telecom, Power and Waterways in the region. And today, as part of that mission, I have flagged off three new trains. We are committed to connect all North Eastern States with the country’s railway network. Since the formation of the NDA Government at the Centre, we have spent more than Ten Thousand Crore Rupees for development of the railway network in the North East. The Railway Ministry plans to spend more than Five Thousand Crore Rupees during the current year for the same.

In November, 2014, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh were brought on the rail map of India. Recently, Agartala in Tripura has been connected with a broad gauge railway line. Today is indeed a red letter day in the history of the North-East. Broad Gauge Passenger Trains will now connect the States of Manipur and Mizoram. Today, Kamakhya in Guwahati has been directly connected with Vaishno Devi in Katra, near Jammu.

We are opening up both Road and Rail routes to our neighbouring countries. This will give a boost to the economic development of the region.

The Union Government has incorporated a special Corporation named ‘National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation’ in July 2014, for the development of Highways in the North Eastern region. This Corporation is constructing three new bridges on Brahmaputra River. It is implementing 34 road projects in the North Eastern Region to construct around 1,000 kilometers of roads at a total cost of over Ten Thousand Crore Rupees. The North East Road Sector Development Scheme has been started, with an aim to connect every district in the region with a National Highway.

The development of inland waterways has been given a boost. The Union Government has declared 19 Waterways in the North East as National Waterways.

We are committed to provide 24 by 7 electricity to all the people. Keeping this in mind, the Union Government is making heavy investment in the power sector. Two projects covering all the eight North Eastern States are being implemented at a cost of around Ten Thousand Crore Rupees for improving power transmission.

The commissioning of the Bishwanath-Chariyali to Agra transmission network has made available 500 Megawatts of power in the region from outside. Out of the 18,000 unelectrified villages in the country, we have already connected more than 7000 villages with electricity. I expect that no village in the country, including the North Eastern States, will be left without electricity by 2018.

The Government is implementing a comprehensive Telecom Plan for the North Eastern Region at a cost of over 5,300 crore rupees. Agartala has become the third city in India to be connected with an International Gateway through Cox Bazar of Bangladesh. This has improved telecom connectivity and will give a boost to the economic development of the region.

During my last visit to Gangtok a few months ago, Sikkim was declared as the First Organic State in the country. Other North Eastern States can take a lead from Sikkim to become Organic States. In fact, the North Eastern Region has the potential to become Organic Food Basket of India. This will increase the income of the farmers.

Friends.

Today one need not go through the tedious scrutiny of a banker to get small loans. The Union Government has launched the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, under which collateral free loans are provided to small business entrepreneurs. During 2015-16, more than three crore forty eight lakh entrepreneurs have been sanctioned loans worth more than one lakh thirty seven thousand crore rupees. Of these, six lakh loans have been sanctioned in the North Eastern States for a value of around 2800 Crore Rupees.

Similarly, 93 Lakh bank accounts have been opened in the region under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. Around 21 Lakh people have been enrolled under the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana. Around 19 Lakh people have been enrolled under the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana.

The Textile Sector provides employment to most people after agriculture. Within the sector, it is the apparel segment that provides maximum employment. A large number of women are employed in the segment.

In order to boost industrial activity and employment under the North East Region Textile Promotion scheme, one apparel and garment making centre is being set up in each of the eight states at a cost of Rupees One Hundred and Forty Five Crores. Out of the eight centres, seven centres have already been completed, each having three units.

Friends.

Meghalaya has a distinct historical, cultural and ethnic heritage. It is blessed with natural beauty and wildlife. There is no reason for a tourist to not want to visit Meghalaya. There is a tremendous opportunity for tourism, as well as adventure tourism, in the North Eastern Region, particularly, Meghalaya.

We need to develop Tourist Circuits by providing better facilities to tourists, in terms of improved road connectivity, hotels, and cleanliness. The Union Government has launched a new scheme of Swadesh Darshan, under which it is developing Tourist Circuits in the country. One such circuit is proposed for the North East.

Less than two years ago, on 2nd October, 2014, the Union Government started its journey to create Swachh Bharat by October 2019, as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, ‘The Father of the Nation’. In exactly one year, from 15th August, 2014 to 15th August, 2015, under the Swachh Bharat – Swachh Vidyalay Programme, we have constructed four lakh seventeen thousand toilets in over two lakh schools.

The Swachh Bharat Mission is a public movement for cleanliness. The biggest beneficiaries of this movement are the poorest of the poor. I request all of you to actively participate in the movement and ensure an open defecation free society and clean environment.

I am happy to note that the traditions of hygiene and cleanliness in the region got a boost with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Mawlyynong village in Meghalaya, the cleanest village, and the entire state of Sikkim, including Gangtok, have become major tourist attractions.

I would like to congratulate all the winners of the run with the theme ‘North East leads the way – Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’. I congratulate the North Eastern Council for organizing the run. Gangtok deserves applause for being ranked the cleanest city of the North East.

Congratulations to the people of Meghalaya for hosting the North Eastern Council Plenary Meeting in Shillong. I also express my gratitude to all of you for giving me the opportunity for a wonderful interaction.

Jai Hind.