India and Asean are struggling to push bilateral trade to the agreed target of $100 billion. This could, inter alia, be helped by improving connectivity—through land, sea and air—which will cut down costs of movement of goods and services.
Connectivity Projects and importance of the North-East:
- A four-lane trilateral highway linking India (Moreh in Manipur) with Mae Sot (Thailand) via Myanmar which will be expanded to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam is a project already envisaged.
- This highway can only be sustained through movement of goods and economic activity along the route through Myanmar and, hence, the growing importance of our North-East.
- It is essential to focus on development and connectivity in India’s North-East itself, with new road and rail links, opening up multi modal transport, including river navigation, and setting up industrial corridors and economic activities like haats or local markets, with emphasis on agriculture, horticulture, handlooms, handicrafts and processed food.
- This will allow India to export its produce through this link rather than become a net importer of cheap Chinese goods.
- Sea connectivity from India to Asean will be helped by the Kaladan multi-modal transport project, which will link Kolkata to Sittwe port in Myanmar, as also Mizoram by the river and land route.
Measures taken by the government:
- India plans to spend Rs45,000 crore for the development of the region bordering China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
- A 4,000-km long ring road connecting the states;
- expediting railway projects connecting all state capitals by 2020,
- and extending to 15 new destinations;
- border last-mile rail connectivity with Myanmar and restoring rail connectivity with Bangladesh.
- Twenty port townships are to be developed along the Brahmaputra and Barak river systems to enhance intra-regional connectivity.
- Augmentation of air connectivity to and from the region, which will help business ties with the Asean.
- At least 50 economic integration and development nodes are to be developed across the region, in tandem with transport corridors to boost manufacturing.
- Connectivity is also being upgraded in the border areas for strategic purposes, with highways and development plans approved for Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur, including a four-lane highway between Dimapur and Kohima.
- Japan has emerged as a major partner in our efforts for the development of the North-East and connectivity to Asean. The “Japan India Act East Forum” has been set up, which will seek synergies between India’s Act East policy and Japan’s Partnership for Quality Infrastructure located in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and link with Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”.
Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland are important states for connectivity with the North-East. Transformational policies and supportive governments in these states could enable the government at the centre to roll out development schemes and infrastructure projects quickly, as has been the case with Assam.
It might help to develop a collective focus on inter-state boundary disputes and other ethnic conflicts within the North-East states, and also a common approach towards enhancing connectivity and trade facilitation with Asean.