Jun 11, 2013

ADB to fund India-Myanmar linking highway project

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is ready to fund a highway project that will connect India's North-East to Myanmar. The proposed network that will link Agartala, Silchar, Imphal and Moreh with Myanmar, is in line with India's Look-East policy and part of a strategic move to curtail China's dominance over South-East Asian countries.

The highway project assumes significance as commerce minister Anand Sharma, in his just concluded three-day visit to Myanmar, has set a bilateral trade target of $3 billion by 2015. Total trade last year between India and Myanmar stood at $1.87 billion. The road ministry is expected to soon launch a bus service from Moreh in Manipur to Mandalay in Myanmar, and the Centre is developing an integrated check-post in Moreh that will ease the movement of goods and services across the borders of the two countries.

The two nations have also expressed interest in expanding business ties in sectors like oil and gas and textiles in Myanmar. The ministry of external affairs is also keen to assist Myanmar with human resources to build their side of the road connectivity project, said people familiar with the situation. ADB officials recently visited Manipur to do a technical survey and have submitted their preliminary aid memo to the road ministry, which is now going through the appropriate alignment and other technical aspects before it gives its approval to the project and passed on to the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA). "We need to consider whether the alignment is right because these are hilly areas.

They have said they are interested in financing four-lane highways but that has to be justified with traffic and we need to see what kind of roads would be suitable in these regions," said a road ministry official.

"The talks will proceed after we take a call on whether we need this," he added. In his 2013-14 Budget, Finance Minister P Chidambaram had proposed to link the north-east to Myanmar and sought the assistance of multilateral banks. "Multilateral development banks are keen to assist in efforts to promote regional connectivity. Combining the 'Look-East' policy and the interests of the North Eastern states, I propose to seek the assistance of the World Bank and the Asian Development-Bank to build roads in the North Eastern states and connect them to Myanmar," the minister had said.

Experts say this project is important for India as well as countries like Japan that are seeking to check China's ascendancy in the lesser developed South-East Asian countries.

"China is all over the place in South-east Asia. One of the things we don't often realise is a number of these countries do not have confidence in China and are looking to India in the hope it will play a more significant role," said Biswajit Dhar, Director-General, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS).

India offers help to build roads

India has offered to help Myanmar upgrade its 160 km Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road, build the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project that involves setting up roads and inland waterways from Sittwe port in Myanmar to Mizoram; and some segments of the 1,360-km trilateral highway project connecting Moreh (Manipur) to Mae Sot (Thailand) through Myanmar. These will prove beneficial to India's land-locked North East, said Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.

Source: The Economic Times