Thursday, June 20, 2024

Myanmar instability hits two crucial India-funded infrastructure projects

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NEW DELHI: The growing instability and violence in Myanmar have affected key infrastructure projects such as the 1,360-km India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and are set to delay a motor vehicles agreement, people familiar with the matter have said.

The progress in implementing key infrastructure projects has suffered because of the prevailing security situation in Myanmar (FILE PHOTO/REUTERS)

The intense fighting between Myanmar’s junta and resistance forces has also affected the India-funded Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project, including the development of Sittwe port, though the Indian side remains committed to these projects in the long run, the people said on condition of anonymity.

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The junta has suffered a string of humiliating defeats at the hands of the resistance forces since three powerful armed groups – Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) – joined hands to launch a coordinated offensive against government forces last October.

The progress in implementing key infrastructure projects has suffered because of the prevailing security situation in Myanmar, two officials said, requesting anonymity. While the trilateral highway project is stuck, the Kaladan project is severely delayed, they said.

Even before the resistance forces launched their offensive, these projects were hit by adverse developments since 2020, initially due to the Covid-19 pandemic and later, because of the political crisis after the military coup in February 2021.

As part of the trilateral highway, India is implementing two projects – the 120 km Kalewa-Yagyi sector and the upgrading of 69 bridges and approach roads in the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa sector. When completed, the trilateral highway will connect Moreh in India’s Manipur state to Mae Sot in Thailand via Mandalay in Myanmar. Several crucial stretches of the highway within Myanmar were built by the Border Roads Organisation, an arm of the Indian Army.

Since the 1,177 crore Kalewa-Yagyi project was sanctioned in June 2016, the actual progress as of August 2023 was less than 50%. The 371 crore project to upgrade 69 bridges is also stuck as numerous sites are yet to be handed over, the officials said.

The Kaladan project has been delayed due to similar reasons, the officials said. This includes the development of a 158 km waterway on the Kaladan river from Sittwe to Paletwa and a 109 km road from Paletwa to Zorinpui on the Indian side of the border in Mizoram.

“The project’s implementation has been affected because of the security situation in Myanmar,” one official said.

Since late last year, Myanmar’s resistance forces and armed groups aligned with the government in exile have overrun scores of military bases and key trading and crossing points on the borders with China, India and Bangladesh. Last week, they took control of Myawaddy, a key trading point on the border with Thailand.

India has withdrawn two diplomats who were posted at the consulate in Sittwe, where the port was developed under a $120-million project with an Indian line of credit. Sittwe port in Rakhine state is crucial to the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project, which was aimed at connecting Myanmar with Kolkata port by sea and Mizoram by road.

However, a limited number of employees of the Indian Railway Construction International Limited or Ircon International, which is involved in implementing the Kaladan project, are still in Myanmar.

“The early completion of the two projects is important for enhanced commercial relations with Asean nations and, thereby, the development of India’s eight northeastern states,” the second official said.

As reported by HT on April 4, the government has plans to make the landlocked northeastern region an export hub for Bangladesh and the Asean nations. Myanmar has an important place in India’s “Neighbourhood First” and “Act East” policies as it provides a land link to the Asean nations, the second official said.

Bilateral trade between India and Myanmar has also been hit by fighting and instability. According to official data, India’s merchandise exports to Myanmar fell by 9.63% from $893 billion in 2021-22 to $807 million in 2022-23. Imports from Myanmar to India contracted year-on-year by 4.7% to $955 million in FY23.

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