Home / Politics / Policy /  Delhi steps up efforts to improve road links to Dhaka, Kathmandu

New Delhi: With an eye on China, India is working on a slew of road and bridge projects to improve connectivity with Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar.

The strategic projects being constructed by the state-run National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corp. Ltd (NHIDCL) include a bridge on the Feni river in Tripura, which will connect Agaratala with Bangladesh’s Chittagong port and a bridge over river Mechi which will link Bhadrapur in Nepal with Galgalia in Bihar.

Other projects include a 300 km road network in Nepal’s Terai region. Another road network is being built to connect Aizawl in Mizoram with Kaladan in Myanmar and Imphal in Manipur with Tamu, also in Myanmar.

With India stepping up efforts to accelerate development of infrastructure along the country’s frontier in the backdrop of Chinese troops making repeated incursions into Indian territory, these projects will help India project its strategic capabilities in the region.

India will invest Rs6,168 crore for widening and upgrading the 351 km road between Aizawl and Tuipang in Mizoram, according to documents reviewed by Mint. The project is being developed with the help of a loan from the Japan government.

Japan’s ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu had said in February that his country was willing to help India develop infrastructure in the northeastern region, seen as sensitive as parts of it are claimed by China.

“We will play a significant role in development of north east region," Anand Kumar, a former managing director of NHIDCL, said in an interview before assuming charge of secretary in the ministry of new and renewable energy.

The road between Aizawl and Tuipang is part of the Kaladan Multimodal Transit project, which will connect Kolkata with the Sittwe port in Myanmar, and then further to Mizoram by river and road.

India and Myanmar signed a framework agreement in 2008 for the implementation of this project.

“The projects will not only help India connect with its neighbouring countries but may also play an important role in Great Asian Highway which is being worked upon," added Kumar.

The Asian Highway network is also referred to as the Great Asian Highway, and is a 141,000 km road network connecting 32 Asian countries.

India is moving ahead with its plans of accessing transnational multi-modal connectivity to articulate its role in the proposed transportation architecture in the region and beyond. It 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 road construction in Nepal’s Terai region assumes importance in the backdrop of India’s interests in the country. The Terai region runs along Nepal’s border with the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and is populated by Madhesis, who live in the subtropical plains of Nepal and have have family ties with India.

Experts say India’s connectivity strategy is driven by geopolitical imperatives alone, wherein economic benefits have not been accorded their due importance.

“There are two challenges when one talks about infrastructure development in northeast. One, most of Indian projects have been delayed and have cost over-run and secondly, even if you build connectivity for the northeast the big issue is will people in the area able to take advantage of economic activity happening due to this infrastructure," said Gulshan Sachdeva, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

“India’s approach for infra development in north east is based on geopolitical reasons, while when it comes to China’s One Belt One Road the project aims at both geopolitical and economic advantages. This shows that India hasn’t done much home work before taking up these projects," Sachdeva added.

India’s play on its eastern front follows the efforts to operationalize the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) involving Iran, Russia and India and comes in the backdrop of China’s Belt and Road initiative aimed at connecting some 60 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe to boost trade and economic ties.

“I feel in the long run, both the India and China economies can benefit only when their infrastructure is converged and will ultimately realize the Great Asian highway network," said Sachdeva.

Utpal Bhaskar
"Utpal Bhaskar leads Mint's policy and economy coverage. He is part of Mint’s launch team, which he joined as a staff writer in 2006. Widely cited by authors and think-tanks, he has reported extensively on the intersection of India’s policy, polity and corporate space.
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