Given the importance India’s small but strategically crucial neighbour, New Delhi’s move to set focus on upgradation of road infrastructure in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal (BBIN) comes as a timely step in the right direction. Focus should not only be retained but the Central government must work overtime to leapfrog the project to its conclusion within a deadline. Linguistically, Bangladesh is so wedded to India that Dhaka can never dream of bright future without being friendly with New Delhi. It applies to Pakistan as well, but Islamabad is on entirely a different track, which is not only detrimental to its already weakened socio-economic and political fabric, but also to the region’s lasting peace. Bhutan does not even have diplomatic relations with China as Thimpu has many outstanding differences with Beijing, which is ever preoccupied with its pernicious expansionist agenda. It wishes to protect its economic and geographical interests, even if illogical or illegal, at any cost. Beijing’s growing bonhomie with Islamabad in the name of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is basically aimed at expanding China’s economic and military tentacles in the region without bothering India’s objections to the multi-billion project which passes through Baluchistan, which is not a part of India. Though Nepal is found to be sandwiched between India and China, Kathmandu remains much closer to Indian ethos and values for all practically purposes. Therefore, BBIN road infrastructure upgradation project is a well-thought out strategy, which will have long term positive impact on India’s economic well-being.
The project is being developed with the loan assistance of Asian Development Bank (ADB) under the South Asian Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Road Connectivity Investment Programme, which aims at the upgradation of road infrastructure in BBIN to improve the regional connectivity among BBIN nations. The project corridor is also
a part of Asian highway number one (AH01), which will act as India’s gateway to the East. Thus trade, commerce and tourism in the region will get a boost. At present, India’s trade with its friendly neighbouring countries is on a lower side, but there is a huge scope for New Delhi not only in terms of investment but also making quality
Indian products available to the customers there at affordable rates. Thus, the Centre must act fast to make SASEC Road Connectivity Investment Programme a reality sooner the better. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 12 gave its approval for the upgradation and widening of 65-km of Imphal-Moreh section of NH-39 in Manipur at a cost of Rs 1,630.29 crore.
It is worth mentioning that Manipur, being a landlocked state with almost 90 per cent of the area under difficult terrain presently, has only road transport as a means of mass transport system within the state. Hence development of the road infrastructure is of paramount importance to improve connectivity and progress of the state and to
ensure that the administrative set up reaches the isolated and remote habitats. The project will improve connectivity between Imphal with the eastern part of the state. Based on the existing and projected traffic requirements the NH-39 will be widened to four-lane between Lilong village and Wanginj village, while the stretch between Wanginj village to Khongkhang will be upgraded to two-lane with paved the shoulder.
In conclusion, India needs to take its ‘Look East’ policy very seriously not only to make the most of emerging economic opportunities in South Asian countries but also to improve infra facilities and connectivity in our north-eastern states, which are dotted with tourism and other economic potentials. To enhance trade link with South East Asia, India has notified an Integrated Custom Post (ICP) at Moreh, which is a welcome move. It will give boost to traffic volume and Manipur’s people who specialise in creating bamboo and wood based handicraft items and uniquely designed hand woven textile items will get a new market among Myanmar’s customers. We must note that if China
or any other countries which have been able to emerge as a key player in various economic and trade fields, roads have played a major role. Better road linkages increase not only the people’s movement but also that of goods and make services easily accessible to the needy.
(The writer is Director, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Chandigarh. Views are his personal)