Sinlung /
05 September 2010

India Betting Big on Rs 1,700 cr Project in Northeast

river_kaladan_project New Delhi Sep 5 : India is betting big on a Rs 1,700 crore project to develop an alternate route through Myanmar to transport goods to the Northeast, as against the current congested passage via Guwahati, to promote relations with Asean countries and develop the northeastern region.

"We are betting big on the ambitious Kaladan multi-modal project. Once complete, bilateral trade would grow manifold. It will also help in overall development of the Northeast region and particularly land-locked states like Mizoram," the Minister of the Department of the Northeast Region, B K Handique, told PTI.

At present, essential commodities such as rice and other consumer durables are brought into the region through 'the chicken neck corridor' via Siliguri. This route is not only long, but is also time consuming and highly congested, a government official said.

In this light, India and Myanmar had in 2007 inked a pact to set up a multi-modal project, which comprises building a port, inland waterway facility and connecting road in the neighboring country. India is funding the mega-project, which aims at bringing goods into the Northeast through Myanmar.

"The Kaladan project envisages connectivity between India ports on the eastern sea board and Sittwe Port in Myanmar and then riverine transport and by road to Mizoram, thus providing an alternate route for northeastern India for the transportation of goods," Handique said.

In addition to the Kaladan project, India is already in a dialogue with Bangladesh to develop a rail link between a bordering town in Meghalaya to Chittagong in Bangladesh, which is a port city. The government is working to develop more routes to ship goods in the Northeast region.

Critics of the project say that the multi-modal project is expensive and "time consuming". But Handique said the project will further India's 'Look East' policy and make the Northeast region the "vanguard" of policy to foster ties with East Asian countries.

Under the multi-modal project, it is envisaged to ship goods from the Kolkata port to Myanmar's Sittwe Port, which is being developed by the Essar Group at a cost of over Rs 311 crore. The sea distance between Kolkata and Sittwe is 539 km.

From the Sittwe Port to Setpyitpyin in Myanmar, an inland waterway route is to be developed along the river Kaladan. From Setpyitpyin to the Myanmar-India border, a 62 km road is to be built to carry the cargo.

Finally, from the international border, national highway NH-54 would be stretched by 100 km to touch Lawngtlai, in Mizoram, for bringing the goods to the most populous part of the region. The entire project could cost about Rs 1,700 crore, a  government official said.

"The overall project is scheduled to be operational by 2014-15," Handique added.

In 2009-10, India and Myanmar had trade worth $1.5 billion, up about 30 per cent from 2008-09.

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