New Delhi: Despite the ongoing turmoil in Myanmar where the ruling military junta is under pressure from the country’s resistance groups, India is confident that its connectivity projects linking the northeastern region and Southeast Asia will continue.
“A lot of importance is being given to connectivity and communication between the Northeast and Southeast Asia and this should be continued,” Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, told ETV Bharat on the sidelines of a media briefing here. “And I am confident that this particular network will help northeasterners to develop their economy and develop their future prosperity.”
However, two of India’s key connectivity projects pass through Myanmar – the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway connecting Moreh in Manipur and Mae Sot in Thailand and the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP) connecting Sittwe Port in Myanmar with the state of Mizoram in the Northeast. But, ever since the resistance groups launched a massive offensive against the military junta in October this year, work on both these projects has been disrupted.
Though Sonowal had jointly inaugurated the Sittwe Port along with Myanmar’s Deputy Prime Minister in May this year, work on the second phase of the KMTTP comprising the waterway and road components that will link the east coast of India with the northeastern states has been hampered due to the ongoing unrest in the eastern neighbour. So, isn’t the Indian government concerned about this?
“Look, the Sittwe Port was built by the Government of India for connectivity with the Northeast,” Sonowal said. “Our task is to develop the infrastructure facility. That’s all.” The Minister also pointed out that the Northeast is already connected by air with Southeast Asia. “There are flights from Guwahati to Thailand and Singapore,” he said.
Earlier, speaking in the media briefing on ‘Development of the Northeastern Region’ during the NDA rule over the last nine years, Sonowal said that Prime Narendra Modi has given the region a place on the world map. He said that a lot of emphasis has been laid on connectivity projects in the region. “Road, rail, air and waterways connectivity in the Northeast has increased,” the Minister stated. “Over Rs 47 crore has been spent on waterways in the Northeast. There are 17 airports now compared to nine earlier (before the NDA rule). Four times more budget has been given for the development of railway infrastructure in the region.”
According to a note shared by the Minister’s office, during the period of NDA rule, five states of the region – Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim – got airports for the first time. The Dhola-Sadiya Bridge over the river Lohit, a major tributary of the river Brahmaputra, which is India’s longest bridge over water, was opened for traffic in 2017. The first electric train was commissioned in Meghalaya linking Dudhnoi and Mendipathar. Prime Minister Modi flagged off the first Vande Bharat Express train of the Northeast connecting Guwahati with New Jalpaiguri. The first goods train reached Rani Gaidinliu Railway Station at Tamenglong in Manipur.
Sonowal said that prior to the NDA coming to power in 2014, the northeastern region was known for insurgency, kidnappings and extortion during 60 years of Congress rule and the people were living in insecurity without a secure future. “But after Modi came to power, he gave special attention to the Northeast,” the Minister said. “He was committed to peace, stability, and development of the Northeast. He has visited the Northeast 64 times. No prime minister has visited the Northeast so many times.”
According to Sonowal, the Northeast today is the most peaceful region and has become a very important destination. “Over 8,000 militants have surrendered,” he said. “The AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) has been withdrawn from many places.”