India puts Myanmar highway project on the fast track
New Delhi: With Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his first bilateral visit to Myanmar, India is pulling out all stops to expedite the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway.
A Rs1,200 crore construction and maintenance road contract funded by India for the Yagyi-Kalewa section in Myanmar was awarded to a joint venture of Punj Lloyd Ltd and Varaha Infra Ltd on Wednesday.
India has been instrumental in implementing the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, which will run from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar. The plan also involves extending it to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and the project forms an important part of India articulating its role in the proposed transportation architecture in the region and beyond.
The critical 120km stretch in Myanmar will be upgraded to two lanes with the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract funded by India’s ministry of external affairs (MEA) involving construction and repair of more than a dozen bridges. The project is being implemented by state-run National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).
In response to a query about the project’s status, Rohit Singh, member, finance at NHAI said on Wednesday, “Yes, we have identified the bidder and the letter of award will be issued today.”
While Varaha Infra couldn’t be immediately contacted, a Punj Lloyd spokesperson confirmed the development and said that the joint venture’s bid was the lowest. “We are still to receive the letter of intent,” the spokesperson added.
Myanmar occupies a unique geographical position which India plans to leverage even as India and China have been trying to secure energy resources in Myanmar.
Queries emailed to India’s ministry of external affairs and Myanmar embassy in New Delhi remained unanswered till filing of this report.
In response to a query in Rajya Sabha on 8 December last year, V.K. Singh, minister of state in the external affairs ministry said, “Government of India is exploring the possibility of extending the India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam. The extension is envisaged as an important connectivity project that would facilitate trade and promote production networks across the borders.”
The bilateral trade between India and Myanmar is $2.2 billion with Indian firms having invested $750 million in Myanmar. The Indian government has made a $1.75 billion commitment in grants and aid to its neighbour with whom it shares a 1600km long boundary.
With an eye on China, India is working on a slew of road and bridge projects to improve connectivity with Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. These include road networks connecting Aizawl in Mizoram with Kaladan in Myanmar and Imphal in Manipur with Tamu, also in Myanmar.
India’s Act East plans comes in the backdrop of Japan joining hands to aggressively develop infrastructure projects in India’s northeastern states.
India’s Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) in July approved a Rs1,630 crore road project for upgradation and widening of the 65-km road stretch between Imphal in Manipur and Moreh in Myanmar. Once completed, the project will play an important role in the Great Asian Highway, connecting 32 Asian countries.
Also, India is also expediting the South Asian Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) road connectivity programme in the backdrop of China’s ambitious One Belt One Road (Obor) initiative aimed at connecting around 60 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe.