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INDIA’S NORTH EAST OPENS:The Gateway to Prosperity


Freedom at Midnight land locks North-East

At the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, India gained independence. The partition of the country leading to the creation of East Pakistan changed the economic landscape of the region, virtually disconnecting it from the rest of the country, with the only remaining link being the narrow 27 km Siliguri corridor. Hard to believe that.

Geographically, only 250 km out of the northeast’s 5,687 km outer perimeter touches India. The remaining 5,437 km represents international boundaries with China (1,300), Myanmar (1,643 km), Bhutan (516 km), Bangladesh (1,880 km) and Nepal (97 km). (see Table 1)



Almost the entire boundary of the region (98 per cent) is an international border shared with China and Bhutan in the north, Myanmar in the east, Bangladesh in the south and west, and Nepal to the west of Sikkim. East Pakistan carved out of Bengal blocked the natural sea route through the port city of Chittagong.

Partition of the country land-locked the region, blocked natural transportation routes and cutoff its market access.

By distancing the region from its main port Kolkata coupled with absence of access means damaged the NER economy. India had to unlock it by connectivity. And it has been doing just that!

Connectivity is the key

Lack of connectivity virtually isolated the region not only from the rest of the coun-try and the world, but also within itself. The infrastructure deficit is impeding the region’s economic growth. Infrastructure development alone can infuse fast paced quality economic growth.

Robust infra will accelerate trans-border trade opening gateway to S.E. Asia for India.

The traditional inland waterways trans-portation became virtually non-functional after Partition. Even agreements with Bangladesh later allowed only goods transportation, extinguishing routes. The region got isolated with poorly linked air, and sea routes having been blocked.

The blocking of access to Chittagong port and land route through Bangladesh, closed the sea transportation routes. In-land waterways, too vanished due to wavering political and economic relationship with Bangladesh. A sad example is untapped hydroelectric power with actual generation being less than 8 per cent of the potential.

‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’

India had to set out correcting anomalies.

India’s visionary Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao initiated the ‘Look East’ Policy in 1992. ‘Look East ‘Policy was impel-led by economic and political imperatives.

Converting disadvantage to one’s ad-vantage is the key to success and that was India’s game plan on drawing board. The infrastructure deficit had to be overcome by a state-of art infra.

With ‘Look East’ agenda, India’s Northeast became the frontier for eastward thrust, Given its location, NER should bridge the space between mainland India and other Southeast Asian nations. NER Plans obviously have been for infrastructure development including roads widening, expan-ding air connectivity, extending railway networks, opening new and reactivating dormant trade routes, and facilitating border trade and transit points.

This meant Infra structural development of NER for road, rail, air and waterway connectivity

– Within the region,
– With rest of country and then
– With international neighbors bordering it.

The NER plans were for Connectivity, power generation/distribution, telecommunication, Tourism, agricultural/horticul-tural produce facilities, trade infrastructure.

The Look East policy evolved into a tool for greater economic engagement with the eastern neighbours, and forging strategic partnerships and security cooperation with the countries of Southeast Asia and Far East including Vietnam and Japan.

Look East Policy (LEP) of 1990s, emer-ged strongly only in October, 2007 in a meeting of the then Foreign Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee and the Chief Ministers of the North Eastern States on the initiative of the Ministry of DONER.

The Look East Policy is an integral part of North Eastern Region Vision 2020 a roadmap for development of the Region dedicated by then Prime Minister to the people of the North East in July, 2008.

Over the years, key aspects of LEP-NE emerged are:

i) Connectivity and Physical infrastructure to facilitate trade
ii) Trade and investment protocols
iii) Shortfalls in operationalisation of existing assets and facilities
iv) Soft aspects of bi-lateral / multi-lateral relationships such as in tourism and people to people interaction through sports, culture, academics etc.

The countries involved on N.E India are Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and South East Asia and China (Nathu La, Sikkim). Therefore, North Eastern Region (NER) offers unique growth opportunities by inter-locking the region with India’s neighbours in the South and South East Asia.

In itself N.E region has potential to be India?s economic powerhouse, since NER is a vibrant source of energy, oil, natural gas, coal, and limestone, besides being endowed with India’s largest perennial water system in the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries.

NER is also rich in horticultural products, plantation crops, vegetables, spices, rare herbs, and medicinal plants. Ten northeast horticultural products got coveted GI tag. It offers unlimited tourism opportunities, rare flora and fauna, natural scenic beauty, performing arts, cuisine and handicrafts.

Location advantage coupled with rich resources makes NER a strategic base for foreign/ domestic investors to tap into the South Asian region, integrated through the South Asian Free Trade Agreement and the Agreement on Trade in Services.

Foreign Trade Policy (FTP) recommendations have been:

i) (a) low gestation projects identification; (b) setting up enough laboratories for testing maximum residue limits (MRL) for pesticides and other chemicals, for example, and (c) im-proving border trade related infrastructure for trading NER produce distribution.
ii) NER to be developed as an export-hub to link up with India’s South and S.E. Asian neighbors. Enough SEZs to set shop as NER lacks them.

The ‘Act East ‘Policy was driven by India’s strategic imperatives to establish strategic footprints in South East Asia. In fact S.E Asian region is where India’s footprints imprinted centuries back which India should re establish again now; China is trying same for decades.

Taking this idea forward, the Modi government has focused more on improving relation with ASEAN and the East Asian countries while trying elimination of insurgency problem in NER fully by opening it up to Southeast Asia.

Thus the sea and land will become in-terlocked elements in India’s eastward thrust.

‘Act East’ Policy is impelled by own stra-tegic imperatives as also a call by United States and Indo Pacific countries that India’s profile warranted India should implement an ‘Act East’ Policy to emerge as a net provider of security in this vital region.

The ultimate aim of Act East

The picture emerging in 2016 has been that India is engaged in an integrated and seamless implementation of both its ‘Look East’ and ‘Act East’ policy befitting its emerging power profile. However India cannot rest complacently on its oars and expect that the momentum gained would enable a further smooth sailing ahead. The emerged picture has to manifest ‘on ground’ and not only as intent or in media.

Plans & Action – Timeline

Special development efforts were initiated to fast track the economic growth since eighth plan period.

-? NER categorized as Special Category and granted central assistance on liberal terms.
-? Established North Eastern Council (NEC) in 1971, earmarking (since 1998/99) of atleast 10% of Plan Budgets of Non Exempted Central Ministries / Departments for expenditure in North East Region, creation of Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) in 1997-98 from accrual of unutilized 10% earmarked funds

Despite these initiatives, NER progress tardy due to non-completion of projects on time owing to problems related to

– Land acquisition & forest clearance,
– Law & order situation and
– The limited working season due to climatic conditions prevailing in the region

Taking account of shortfall and upon due performance analysis of NER special emphasis on NER development was continued in 12th Plan period. A Road map was prepared for

– Railways
– Telecommunications
– Roads
– Power
– Inland waterways

Railways Master Plan included

– Connectivity to all State capitals, uni-gauge, broadgauge network in the region, augmentation of network capacity for handling growth of traffic in future, expansion of network to unconnected areas of the region, strengthening international borders and improving trade and connectivity with neighboring countries.
-? Twenty major infrastructural projects for New Line, Doubling and Gauge Conversion sanctioned and ongoing in North Eastern States.

These included 10 National Projects. Together these major projects cover a length of 2919 km. at a cost of ` 38310 crore.


Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for North East Region (NER) included provision of 2G mobile coverage in identified uncovered areas, provision of seamless 2G mobile coverage along the National Highways in NER and ensuring reliability of and redundancy in the transmission network at State capitals and district headquarters in NER.

In its meeting held on 13.06.2014, the Telecom Commission approved the proposal to implement the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan at an estimated project cost of ` 5336.18 crore.


Special Accelerated Road Development Program for North East (SARDPNE) includes upgrading 10141 kms. road stretches of National Highways and State Roads, upgrading National Highways connecting State Capitals to 4 lane or 2 lane and providing connectivity to all 88 District Headquarter towns of NER by at least 2lane road.

So far approval for 2/4 laning of 6418 kms of various categories of roads under Phase ‘A’ and Arunachal Package of SARDPNE in entire North-East at an estimated investment of ` 33,500 crore has been given.

The target date of completion of Phase ‘A’ of SARDPNE was kept as March, 2017 and Arunachal Package as March, 2018. (see more description further in narrative)


Development of Power sector includes power generation and transmission.

– Generation capacity addition program is 5596 MW in the North Eastern Region
– Transmission and Distribution system strengthening in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim estimated cost ` 4754.42 crore; strengthening of Transmission and Distribution system (‘NER Power System Improvement Project’) in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The estimated cost ` 4923.32 crore and providing access to electricity to rural households during XII Five Year Plan with the total project cost of ` 2311.37 crore.

Inland Waterways

Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has mandate to develop National Waterways including National Waterways-2 (River Brahmaputra) from Bangladesh Border (near Dhubri) to Sadiya for the purpose of inland water transport and Development of Barak River from Lakhipur to Bhanga (121 km) as a National Waterway at an estimated cost of ` 141 crore at 2014 price. (See more description further in narrative).

The Centre is continuing with its efforts to further fast track NER development in all deficit domains – whether it be power or any means of connectivity such as communication, road, rail, air or waterways. (see more description further in narrative)

This is evident from the fact that targets to achieve within a scheduled time frame with substantial budgetary support are being set out for timely achieving set targets for NER development.

The Process of thorough review for schemes of 53 non-exempted Ministries/ Departments has been underway. Review monitoring & control action of schemes maximizes benefits by timely corrective action thus enhancing faster realization of business benefits. Thus projects go through seamless

Implementation for timely cost effective completion ensuring projected returns on investment.

Conference of Chief Ministers of NE States held from 21st to 22nd August, 2014 at Guwahati under the aegis of MoS (I/C), DONER under six working groups deliberated on NER developmental issues:

– Connectivity addressing road (waterways/railway/aviation /telecom);
– HRD including education (primary & Higher) and skill development;
– Water supply, health & sanitation and Agriculture/Horticulture (Animal Husban-dry /Sericulture and Minor Irrigation).

Two new schemes had been initiated by Ministry of DoNER in 2014-15. ` 100 crores had been allocated for organic farming as NER has immense organic farming potential. Two hundred crores were earmarked for North East Road Corporation for road infrastructure.

North Eastern Council (NEC) and Alliance Air(Air India subsidiary) signed MOU on 24th September, 2014 for flight operations in NER under Viability Gap Funding (VGF) scheme of NEC to connect shillong, Lilabari, Tezpur and Silchar with Kolkata / Guwahati.

The northeastern states rail connectivity is on mission mode for the Modi government with NER works showing fastest construction progress.

– 11th August 2014, Meghalaya got rail connectivity with completion of Dubhnoi-Mendipathar line. Three more lines into the North east too were under completion same year.
– Southern Assam too was brought un-der the broad gauge network with the start of the longest ever Gauge conversion project between Lumding and Silchar measuring 210 kms. (see more description further in narrative)

The focused approach to development, timely completion of projects with support and participation of skilled locals is aimed at development alongwith inclusiveness to a till-now geographically disconnected people.

India’s 2017 Acronym – N.E states as Ashta-Lakshmi

President Pranab Mukherjee, addressing both houses of Parliament in feb.2017, described the northeast as the ‘ashtalakshmi’ (eight sources of wealth from prosperity, good health, knowledge, strength, progeny, and power) for the country and asserted the government’s commitment to reducing isolation of the region. The president presented the Modi government position on the seven northeast states alongwith Sikkim.

“Balanced and equitable development of all regions is vital to India’s progress. Under its proactive Act East policy, my government is focussing on reducing the isolation of the eastern region and the north-east by improving connectivity through road, rail, air, telecom, power and waterways,” the President stated (See Figure 1&2).



Figure-1 President Pranab Mukherjee addressing



Figure-2 Ashtalakshmi-India’s N.E States Seven Sisters & Sikkim


He added, “My government sees the NE states as the ashtalakshmi that can take India to new heights. The northeast is the gateway to Southeast Asia. We are ope-ning up road and rail routes to our neighbouring countries to boost economic development of the region.”

“By the end of the year, all meter gauge tracks in NE states will be converted to broad gauge. The Railways have undertaken major expansion in the region at a cost of ` 10,000 crore. Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya have been put on the rail map and Agartala has been connected with the broad gauge line,” he said.

The President added that the tourism ministry has identified a thematic circuit for the NE region. “The beauty and diversity of the northeast makes it a natural hub for tourism,” he said. He assured that the Centre will continue the special category states and ensure unhindered support and development of NE states, as also the centre continuing with the special dispensation in the assistance pattern to NER including assistance in the ratio of 90:10 for core central schemes and 80:20 for non-core schemes to NER.

PM Modi reiterates Making Northeast gateway to Southeast Asia

Stating that the Northeast has not seen “balanced development”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his government has initiated major infrastructure projects to make the region a “gateway to Southeast Asia” (see Figure3).


Figure-3 The Seven sisters corridor and Kaladan Project


Emphasising that the aim is to make the region a gateway to Southeast Asia, he said the dream would not be fulfilled if the gateway is dirty. He exhorted people and organisations like the Sangha to join hands in the cleanliness campaign (See Figure 4).



The Prime Minister also announced that the Northeast would soon be connected with the UDAN scheme.



Addressing the centenary celebrations of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha in Shillong through video conference, the Prime Minister informed of major infrastructure projects in NER, including ` 40,000 crore in-vestment to improve roads and highways. Modi pitched for overall and balanced development of NER, with major thrust on improving connectivity and tourism development. PM said 19 big railway projects have been started. (See Figure 5 & 6)



Besides roads, “We are also improving the electricity situation and trying to bring even more tourists to the region,” Modi said.

The Prime Minister also announced that the Northeast would soon be connected with the UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagarik) scheme. He said small airports were being developed in NER, while the Shillong airport runway extension stands approved.

Sector Specific Narrative: Road Network N.E

The specific narrative here recounts typology of roads/schemes statewise distribution for an idea of quantum involved and typical hindrance factors.

Major Road Development Programme in NE Region

– NHDP-II (East-West Corridor)
– Special Accelerated Road Development Programme in North East (SARDP-NE)
-? Phase ‘A’
-? Arunachal Pradesh Package of Roads and Highways
-? Phase ‘B’ (approved for DPR preparation only)

Objectives of SARDP-NE

– Upgrade National Highways to 2/ 4 lane; To provide connectivity of all 88 District Headquarter by 2-lane road;
– Connectivity to backward and remote areas of NE region;
– Improve roads of strategic importance;
– Improve connectivity to neighboring countries (see Table 2 &3)



SARDP-NE: Reasons for slow progress

– Departmental Execution by BRO
– Delay in Environmental/Forest Clearance
– Hilly area and High rain fall region
– Non availability of Construction material
– Extended monsoon period (8-9 months)
– Lack of technical know-how with PWD
– Tough terrain
– Dearth of local good contractors and consultants

Sector Specific Narrative: Rail Network Plan N.E

Massive push to railway infrastructure under way in Northeast is true as the Railways hopes to reach all state capitals in the Northeast by March 2020 as per its plan in mid July 2016. This has been followed by press proclamations from the P.M as well as the Railways Minister in 2017 (as already mentioned).though earnest efforts are on, but it needs to be recorded that there always had been implementation issues in N.E which are beyond the matter of just enhancing productivity. Therefore, herein are listed a sample of rail connectivity planned and also bringing to fore existing/possible reasons that have to be factored in while scheduling targets for completion. National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC) Plan Reports exist where meticulously the organization has listed all networks for each N.E state. The need is to implement project plans. (Figure 7 & 8)



IMPHAL, Manipur

For its supplies, Manipur is dependent solely on either NH2 from Numaligarh via Nagaland, or NH37 from Silchar. NH2 is mostly shut due to bandhs and blockades; NH37 is no more than a dirt track. The planned railway line from Jiribam to Imphal will link the capital with the rest of India through Silchar, Haflong, Lumding and Guwahati in Assam.


Jiribam-Imphal, 110.63 km
* Estimated cost: Rs 6,570.75 cr
* Physical progress: 33.03% (12.5-km Jiribam-Dholakhal section completed in March 2012)
* Commissioning target: Ph 1 (Jiribam-Tupul) March 2018; Ph 2 (Tupul-Imphal) March 2019

High Point

Bridge No. 164 with a pier height of 141 m will be the world’s highest girder bridge. Highest existing currently, the Mala Rijeka Viaduct in Montenegro, is 139 m high


* 33 militant groups operate in project area
* Economic blockades, bandhs are common
* Kidnappings, firing at work site common
* NH37 in bad shape, affects transportation of materials and machinery


The Guwahati-Lumding-Badarpur-Kumarghat-Agartala broad gauge link commissioning schedule October 2016. What Agartala is looking forward to, however, is the link to Kolkata through Bangladesh which will cut travel time to less than a fourth of the Badarpur-Lumding-Guwahati-Siliguri route. A 15.06-km line between Agartala and Akhaura in Bangladesh is on the cards.


Badarpur (Assam)-Agartala, 227 km

* Metre gauge line needs conversion to broad
* Estimated cost: ` 1846.97 cr
[` 528.60 cr for Badarpur-Kumarghat Phase 1 (118 km); ` 1,318.37 crore for Kumarghat-Agartala Phase 2 (109 km)]
* Physical progress: 13.01% in Phase 2
* Commissioning target: October 2016

AIZAWL, Mizoram

Like Itanagar, Mizoram’s capital too will never see a train. Phase 2 of project will take a broad gauge line from Bhairabi, bordering Assam’s Barak Valley, to Sairang, on the Tlawng/Dhaleshwari river 20 km from Aizawl, with stations at Hortoki and Mualkhang.


Katakhal (Assam) to Sairang, 135.38 km

Phase 1: Katakhal-Bhairabi (Mizoram), 84 km

* Conversion from MG to broad gauge
* Estimated cost: ` 331.40 cr
* Physical progress: 95.37%
* Commissioning target: March 2018

Phase 2: Bhairabi to Sairang, 51.38 km

* Estimated cost: ` 2,830 cr
* Physical progress: 14.22%
* Commissioning target: March 2018


The Railways is surveying a possible route from Sairang to Hmawngbuchhuah on Mizoram’s southern tip, bordering Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Hmawng-buchhuah neighbours Zochachhuah, where the under-construction Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP) enters Myanmar. The KMMTTP, a road-cum-inland-waterway trade route over Kaladan river, will connect Kolkata with the Myanmarese deep-sea port of Sittwe. NFR is likely to complete the survey by August.

SHILLONG, Meghalaya


Tetelia (near Guwahati)-Shillong, 129.9 km

Estimated cost: ` 5804.14 cr

Phase 1: Digaru-Byrnihat, 21.50 km

* Cost: ` 496.24 cr
* Physical progress: 22.89%

Phase 2: Byrnihat-Shillong, 108.4 km

* Physical progress: Survey on
* Commissioning target: March 2020

KOHIMA, Nagaland

The proposed line will be up to Zubza, 18 km ahead of the capital. “Outsiders” will need an Inner Line Permit.


Dhansiri-Zubza, 91.75 km

* Estimated cost: ` 2,317 cr
* Progress: First location survey complete
* Commissioning target: March 2020

ITANAGAR, Arunachal Pradesh


Harmuti (Assam)-Naharlagun, 21.75 km

* Estimated cost: ` 590 cr
* Progress: Commissioned on April 7, 2014


Train can get to Rangpo, 38 km from capital


Sivok (Bengal)-Rangpo (Sikkim), 44.96 km

* Estimated cost: ` 4,190 cr
* Progress: Final locaton survey complete
* Commissioning target: March 2020
* Pending: MoEF clearance for 98.49 Ha of reserve forest, including 8.85 Ha in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary

Indian Rail Fulfills Dreams

Connectivity is vital in a region with eight N.E states populated by 40 million diverse by language, religion and heritage. The Railways has fulfilled some connectivity dreams.

On 7th April 2014 the first passenger train to Naharlagun brought Itanagar, the Arunachal capital into the railway map of India.

20th February, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the AC Express between Naharlagun Itanagar and New Delhi and the Intercity Express from Itanagar to Guwahati. In Assam Barak Valley of south Assam got connected with rest of the nation through broad gauge (BG) when new Lumding-Silchar broad gauge railway line was inaugurated in 2015 people in railway connectivity.This heralds a new era of broad gauge connectivity in N.E region and after Phase II completion it will become lifeline for Barak valley, Assam and states of Tripura, Manipur & Mizoram.

The ` 590 crore, 21.75 Kms. Long Harmuti-Naharlagun section now betters the Arunachal Pradesh with only 1.26 Km. of railway line inside its border and Bhalukpong in the East Kameng district being sole station.

Itanagar has become the second State capital in N.E (after Guwahati) to have Broad Gauge rail connectivity. Agartala, Tripura’s capital has Metre Gauge line presently.

Sector Specific Narrative: Inland water ways

The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has convened a two-day stake-holders’ meet here from May 22, 2017 to explore the potential of 19 new national waterways.

19 rivers in NER were declared national waterways in April 2016 under The National Waterways Act, 2016. These are Barak, Dhansiri, Subansiri, Aie, Beki, Dehing, Dikhu, Doyang, Kopili, Puthimari and Gangadhar ( Figure 9).



Fast track stakeholders’ meeting will be organised to put the inland waterways transport sources say adding that feasibility studies and DPRs of the new national waterways are in progress.

The rivers in Assam are feeder routes connecting to the Brahmaputra. While the Brahmaputra was declared a national waterway many years ago, the traffic volume is yet to match the facilities created. Promotion is planned for improvement of inland waterway operation through National Waterway 2 (the Brahmaputra) by using all stakeholders. The Centre, with the Assam government, is developing a ship repair fa-cility at Pandu. The project would save fi-nancial and time loss to IWT operators as presently repairs is at Kolkata via Bangladesh. T ime loss is 30-40 days. 25 p.c work is over with project completion by December 2018.

The Centre has taken up safe and se-cure inland water transport ferry services provision to people & belongings, including loaded vehicles, through roll-on-roll-off vessel.

A state-of-the-art Ro-Ro vessel, which can ferry eight trucks and 100 passengers, has been acquired and ready for deployment on the Dhubri-Hatsinghimari route.

The Ro-Ro service will link Assam and Meghalaya, saving circuitous 220km road route through Jogighopa bridge.

Two more routes, Neematighat to Kamalabari and Dibrugarh to Sengajan, have been selected for Ro-Ro services whose project reports will be completed soon.

N.E States inland waterways seem to be on a fast track.

Few Salient Projects are being discussed owing to Geo political, Trade, Strategic importance. These will serve as growth engines in penetration by enabling intermodal connectivity establishment to spread over S.E Asia,Russia and Europe:

India’s Longest Bridge – It’s on Brahmaputra

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate and dedicate to the nation the longest river bridge over Brahmaputra in Assam on May 26, 2017. The 9.15 km bridge is the longest in India surpassing the fa-mous 3.55 km Bandra- Worli sea link. The

` 950 crore project began in 2011. This bridge located in the vicinity of Indo-China border is considered an engineering marvel. The bridge design allows it to easily bear the weight and friction of military tanks weighing up to 60 tonnes and is an important strategic step in defence preparedness. ( See Figure 10).



This road link between Dhola and Sadiya will boost the road connectivity in the North-east for people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh besides defence forces.

The bridge’s aerial distance to the Chinese border is less than 100 km. It is lo-cated 540-km from Dispur Assam’s capital and 300 km away from Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh’s capital.

After Kaliabhomora Bridge near Tezpur, there is no bridge over the Brahmaputra for the next 375 km upstream till Dhola, where the new bridge is constructed. Currently, all the transport between both river banks goes by water-mode only.

The bridge, will cut down the travel time between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh by about four hours.

People of Arunachal state can reach the nearest rail head in Tinsukia by this bridge and the airport in Dibrugarh easily. Arunachal Pradesh doesn’t have civilian airport.

The bridge built in public-private partnership with a construction company. The bridge was originally scheduled to open in 2015.

The Bridge Over River Feni – Connecting Bangladesh

The only access of the surrounding states of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and China to India are through hilly terrain, making transportation difficult, costly and at times, risky. Recently The Food Corporation of India had ferryed 35,000 tonnes of rice in different phases to Tripura from Visakhapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh and Kolkata port via Bangladesh using the Ashuganj river ports.

Now India has started work on building a bridge over the Feni river in Tripura to transport heavy machines and goods from the northeastern states and the rest of India to Bangladesh. The bridge is expected to be a lifeline for Tripura due to its proximity with the Chittagong port, which is about 72 km from Tripura’s southern border town of Sabroom (See Figure 11).



The double-lane bridge bridge, whose foundation stone was laid jointly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hassina, would be completed in two and a half years’ time . Tripura PWD minister Badal Choudhury said, “A joint team of senior officials of India and Bangladesh recently visited Sabroom (in India) and Ramgarh (in Bangladesh) to initiate construction work and finalize other ground works. The proposed 94 crore bridge, would be the trading lifeline not only for northeast India but also neighboring South Asian countries.”

During Modi’s visit to Bangladesh last year, both the countries had signed an agreement stating that India would be al-lowed to use the Chittagong sea port and Mongla river port for the movement of goods to and from India. Under this agreement, the Northeast Frontier Railway has started laying broad gauge tracks to extend its network up to border town Sabroom and ex-tension of railway line linking Bangladesh’s Akhaurah railway station.

The Chabahar Ace – Bypass Pakistan, Counter China

India went ahead early may 2015 to signing of an agreement with Iran for the development of the strategically important Chabahar port which will give India sea land access route to Afghanistan by-passing Pakistan (Figure 12). This was Notwithstanding US objections,

In fact , Chabahar has been on India’s foreign policy agenda since 2003 when Manmohan Singh held back from circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran at the height of the ‘War on Terror’ that was being waged in the Afghan & Iraq war fields.

Diplomatically, India achieved what it could not through decades of attrition with Pakistan, it succeeded to tie the knot with it’s old partner Afghanistan as also with new found pal Iran through the Trilateral Agreement reached over the $20 billion Chabahar Transit Trade Accords under which 12 MoUs have been penned.

Noting the importance of North-South Transport Corridor and development of Iranian ports, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stressed that Iran fully welcomes the Indian investors to make investment in construction of roads, railways and development of Chabahar port and other southern ports in Iran.

Chabahar port is located in Sistan-Balochistan Province on Iran’s southeastern coast and is of great strategic utility for India which will get sea-land access route to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.

The US has been asking India and other countries not to “rush” into doing business with Iran as Washington was yet to work out a deal with Tehran on the latter’s contentious nuclear programme.

The port will be used to ship crude oil and urea, saving India transportation costs.

India intends to lease two berths at Chabahar for 10 years. The port will be developed through a special purpose vehicle which will invest $85.21 million to convert the berths into a container terminal and a multi-purpose cargo terminal.

The Indian side will transfer ownership of the equipment to be provided through the investment to Iran’s port and Maritime Organisation (P&MO) without any payment at the end of the tenth year.

The agreement was signed by Gadkari and Iran’s Minister for Transport and Urban Development Dr Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi.

The first phase of the $31-billion Chabahar Port project involves construction and operation of two berths there.

In the second phase, India is eyeing the participation of private players Jindal Infrastructures, Essar, SAIL and IRCON to develop the area around the port which involves developing a free trade zone and a railway line connecting Afghanistan and the Central Asian region.

“With the signing of this MoU, Indian and Iranian commercial entities would now be in a position to commence negotiations towards finalisation of a commercial contract under which Indian firms will lease two existing berths at the Port and operationalise them as container and multi-purpose cargo terminals,” a Ministry of External Affairs statement said.

“The availability of a functional container and multi-purpose cargo terminal at Chabahar Port would provide Afghanistan’s garland road network system alternate access to a sea port, significantly en-hancing Afghanistan’s overall connectivity to regional and global markets, and providing a fillip to the ongoing reconstruction and humanitarian efforts in the country,” it said.

Pointing to Iran’s transit position for connecting east to west and north to south, he stressed that the Islamic Republic could play a pivotal role in connecting India to Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe via railway. President Rouhani reiterated that Iran is fully ready to lure foreign investors.

India’s presence in Chabahar will offset the Chinese presence in the Pakistani port of Gwadar. It also takes advantage of the centuries-old connection with Iran, especially at a time when Iran’s economic sanctions are lifted.

India also took up talks for picking up stake in Iran LNG Terminal in january. After discussions, both sides had decided to complete the talks by February 6, 2016. With the one-month grace period. ONGC Videsh Ltd held a meeting with the Iranian authorities an official said. The Iran side suggested participation of India’s public and private sectors in development of Chabahar Port and Chabahar free trade zone and in setting up industrial units in the FTZ.

The landscape is excitingly inviting but India should exercise diligence and not be lax in its approach. (Fig. 13 & 14)



But Take Note

Chabahar will primarily be a launch-pad for India into Afghanistan and beyond into Central Asia. For this to materialise, India has penned an agreement with Iran under which India will lay a modern 500 km rail line between Chabahar and Zahedan near the Iran-Afghan border. Across the border in Afghanistan lies Zaranj;

India’s BRO funded and completed (as part of it’s $750 million aid package to Afghanistan) the $100 million 217 km highway that link’s the border town of Zaranj to the 2,100 km Afghan

Ring Road at it’s southern point in De-laram. This allows a direct highroad access to eastern Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the northern links which will help India (and by association it’s strategic partners Iran, Afghanistan and Japan) ac-cess the energy rich Central Asian Republics.

The SEZ will be home to a LNG plant and gas cracker to be setup by India. Furthermore, an ammonia/urea fertiliser plant is to be setup jointly by India and Iran at the SEZ which is expected to be fueled by the offshore Farhad B gas field that was discovered by India’s ONGC Videsh in 2012 and is estimated to have 21.68 TCF of gas reserves. The long term off take of the urea fertiliser will be under agreement with India which has a perpetual and growing requirement.

Economic benefit to India as the key proponent of the Chabahar Transit route is expected to exceed $500 billion from trade through Afghanistan to Central Asia/ Eurasia.One can see the numbers adding up for India from bilateral trade with counter parts such as Kazakhstan (currently under $ 1 billion compared to China’s $ 22.5 billion) and Uzbekistan (currently $ 315 million compared to China’s 4.7 billion) given direct benefit of accessing the land locked countries via the proposed route.

Japan has thrown it’s weight behind India by offering to provide financing to several Iran based projects on the back of the Trilateral Agreement. Japan will also use the Chabahar transit hub when it transports goods to Central Asia and back via Indian ports (Kandla and Mumbai which are 550 and 790 nautical miles from Chabahar).

As part of the Trilateral Agreement (and associated accords), Iran’s bilateral trade with India will multiply from it’s current $9 billion. Furthermore, India is prepared to invest $20 billion in energy, petrochemical and urea plants alongside the Chabahar port.

Access to markets in Kazakhstan, Russia and ultimately Europe would be through the eastern route of the NSTC via western Turkmenistan. Iran has agreed for India’s IRCON to build the $ 1.6 billion 90 km rail line from Chabahar to Mashad (the second largest city in Iran) which lies in the southern region of the Caspian Sea and is also the gateway to the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat just 285 km away. The western route of the NSTC will be developed separately by Iran between Chabahar and Tehran and onwards northwest along the western shore of the Caspian Sea to the Caucasus and into Russia.

Timeline for the 2 silk road corridors (CPEC and Chabahar Transit link) may be competing geopolitically but in themselves they are complementary to the growth of not just the main stake holders (China and India) but all the regional economies who will have efficient access to larger and varied trading partners.

These corridors are already creating positive sentiment within the regional investors and consumers who are keen to invest into their local economies as they will be experiencing exponential growth due to the transit opportunities.

Chabahar checkmates gwedar (CPEC). So Good Luck India, Strategize & work well, the gold is all along the way of course at destination too!

Slicing a 1000km Travel – The Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP)

The Kaladan project is a bilateral project between the Governments of Myanmar and India merely to develop a transport facility / corridor through a region that has very poor or negligible transport infrastructure. The Kaladan project, is a road river port cargo transport project that India will build for Myanmar. The multimodal transit transport project passing through Myanmar that will provide an alternate access route to India’s north eastern states.

“The union cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave its approval for the revised cost estimate of ` 2,904.04 crore (about ` 29 billion) for the Kaladan MultiModal Transit Transport Project in Myanmar,” “The project will provide an alternate access route to the northeastern region of India and contribute towards the region’s economic development. Being a key connectivity project, it will promote economic, commercial and strategic links between India and Myanmar,” an official statement said.

The Slicing off of distance & safety in mode are too attractive to let go the Kaladan Project as seen from the Map and Fact Sheet here. (Figure 15 & 16)



The Kaladan MultiModal Transit Transport Project was jointly identified by India and Myanmar to create a multimodal mode of transport for shipment of cargo from the eastern ports of India to Myanmar as well as to the northeastern part of India through Myanmar.

This project, which will connect Sittwe port in Myanmar to the India Myanmar border, apart from opening up the sea route for the products, will also provide a strategic link to the northeast, according to the statement.

The project, when completed, will first link the Kolkata port to the port of Sittwe in Myanmar across the Bay of Bengal, a
distance of 539 km.

From Sittwe, the route will continue over river Kaladan to the western Myanmarese town of Paletwa, 158 km away. Paletwa will then be connected to the India Myanmar border by a 110kmlong road.

The international border will then be connected by road to the town of Lawngtlai in Mizoram 100 km away where National Highway 54 passes by.

The project includes construction of an integrated port and inland water transport (IWT) terminal at Sittwe, development of a navigational channel along river Kaladan in Myanmar from Sittwe to Paletwa, and construction of a highway transshipment terminal at Paletwa.

This apart, the project also envisages construction of six IWT barges each of 300 tonnes capacity for transportation of cargo between Sittwe and Paletwa.

When completed, the route will provide a viable alternative to the existing overstretched route via Siliguri in West Bengal, popularly known as the Chicken’s Neck.

The Positives of choosing Kaladan Project

No reason of Delay due to normal Environment hiccups. The project (Port & Waterway components) do not involve

a) Land acquisition involving displacement of people
b) Clearing of forest
c) Infringement on the habitat of any wild life
d) Large scale dredging
e) Setting up or operation of any plant / machinery generating pollutants
f) Submergence of any land area or
g) Displacing any one from their traditional vocations / livelihood.

Therefore, it was not considered necessary for any third party to examine the environmental aspects afresh, midway through the implementation of the project. Work was progressing with close interaction between Govts of Myanmar and India at every stage.

Hence, the project should have proceeded smoothly and no interference should come in way of such infra projects.

As regards capital works between Sittwe and Paletwa are concerned, the main works are

i) Construction of additional port facility next to the existing port at Sittwe to enhance the capacity of the existing facility at Sittwe
ii) Deepening the approach channel from the sea to the port by dredging
iii) Improving the depth in the river wherever the depth is less than 2.0 mtrs.
iv) Construction of an Inland Water Terminal at Paletwa.

It can be said that nearly 90% of the works from Sittwe to Paletwa is concentrated at Sittwe.

The Sad Timeline

In 2009, the Inland Waterways Au-thority of India (IWAI) was appointed the project development consultant by the ministry of external affairs, the nodal agency for India. On the Myanmar side, the ministry of foreign affairs is the nodal agency.

Construction work at Sittwe in Myanmar started in December 2010 but problems arose over underestimation of the road length on the Myanmar side and plans to construct hydroelectric projects on tributaries of the Kaladan river.

The project earlier scheduled to be completed in 2014, was then shifted for 2016. The protracted delays have invited ire as the project as on date is not delivered. A recent Lok Sabha question is the last evidence of completion projection by the MEA (Figure 17):

A White Elephant? No Way!

Kicked off in 2008, the Kaladan project was expected to ensure alternate connectivity to Mizoram through sea, river and road transports from Sittwe Port at Kaladan river mouth in the Rakhine State of Myanmar.

Finally, in 2016, India completed and handed over the port project to Myanmar. The inland river terminal at Paletwa up-stream of Kaladan is nearing completion. At the Indian side, the extension of the Aizawal-Saiha National Highway by 90 km to the international border at Zorinpui is nearing completion and has been a challenging road project.

But the 109-km road from Zorinpui to Paletwa is still missing due to unsuccessful tendering twice till last year which is a project Management failure to say the least. Nodal Agencies are to blame. The Modi government revised the budget estimates by nearly six times in one and half years and roped in IRCON Infrastructure and Services as consultant with 2019 completion deadline. (Figure 18 & 19)



Although officials position is of problems, which is known while bidding and similar on either side of the border in this part of the world. There is no justification for no progress on Myanmar side though Indian side shows progress.

Without road link the entire investment in Sittwe and the Paletwa terminal going down the drain with each passing day. All concerned in nodal agencies need to pul up their socks! India nor Myanmar can lose this golden opportunity to perpetual profit.


For KMTTP, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) was the Project Development Consultant (PDC) Agreed for the implementation of the Port & Inland Water Transport (IWT) component of the Kaladan Project on 19.3.2009 and by Supplementary Agreement dated 28.4.2016.

India Ports Global Private Limited (IPGPL) having a JV between Kandla Port Trust and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust for overseas ports development was asked to partner IWAI in Kaladan project as a sub-PDC. IPGPL mainly was created for specialized jobs; IPGPL was commissioned for Kaladan project completion within April 2019. This provides relief to IWAI whose responsibilities increased manifold owing to declaration of 106 new National Waterways and implementation of ‘Jal Marg Vikas” project.

Accordingly, a Memorandum of Under-standing (MoU) has been signed between IWAI and IPGPL on 1.6.2016 for implementation of the following three additional works, which are independent of the on-going works and are estimated to cost ` 476 crore.

i) Container handling facilities at Sittwe & Paletwa
ii) Operation & Maintenance of the completed works
iii) Wrecks removed in Sittwe Port basin area

IWAI shall remain as the overall PDC to MEA for implementation of PORT & IWT component of Kaladan project.

Thus perhaps the ribbon cut ceremony is now 2019 as an overall completion and operation.

Heavy Weight IMT C Highway

Under country’s ‘Act East’ policy, the ongoing India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway projectcurrently the only land connectivity project between India and the Mekong countries and the wider Southeast Asian regioncould prove to be a game changer.

The idea of a trilateral highway from Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand through Myanmar was conceived at the Trilateral Ministerial Meeting on Transport Linkages in 23 Yangon in April 2002. The 1,360-km IMT highway was scheduled to be completed by 2015. According to India’s MEA, total completion is expected by 2020.

The IMT highway starts from Moreh in Manipur on the India-Myanmar border and runs via Tamu (Myanmar) to Mae-Sot in Thailand. The project will require about 78 km of new roads and the upgrading of exis-ting 400 km of roads. In Phase 1, India has to build 78 km of missing links, upgrading 58 km of existing roads, and possibly improving a further 132 km. Thailand’s responsibility is upgrading 192 km in this phase and another 100 km under Phase 2.

The India-Myanmar Friendship Road inaugurated in 2001, built by Indian assistance, runs from Tamu/Moreh border to Kalemyo and Kalewa. It forms the first segment of the IMT Highway and resurfaced and handed over to Myanmar in 2009.

Modi proposed extending the IMT highway further to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. During the visit of President Htin Kyaw of Myanmar to India in August 2016, two MoUs were signed for the construction and upgrade of bridges and approach roads in the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa section and the Kalewa- Yargyi section of the IMT highway in Myanmar

The Mekong sub-region (CLMV countries) forms major part of mainland Southeast Asia and connects the Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea, by land.

For India, strategy for sub-region is based on it’s sharing long land and maritime boundaries with CLMV country Myanmar, in Bay of Bengal, and Vietnam who has maritime territorial disputes with China in South China Sea. India’s 50 percent trade passes via SCS (Figure 22).



And Finally

India’s Northeast has long earned the title, ‘Gateway to the East’, and it is high time this vision is translated on the ground. These border corridors hold the potential to do so.

The Chabahar Port, Kaladan project, IMT(C) highway and the several complementary connectivity networks & activities are essential geo political and economic enablers for India’s security and prosperity.

The Narendra Modi government brought unprecedented focus on improving connectivity with neighbours through the country’s east and northeast regions. And this has triggered a rush for project implementation. Some express that, a matching progress is falling short in projects undertaken by MEA in neighbouring economies, especially in Myanmar, which is key to India’s ASEAN access.

Urgent action by Modi Government is required for innovatively hold accountable the system, as otherwise with connectivity non progress, all growth dreams will go up in smoke. India can ill afford that especially with China encircling the country on all sides and by all means.

Modi government measures on this front should bring on ground development and till now it has been below mark. This is amply evident from lack of progress either in the Trilateral Highway or the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project in Myanmar.
Author’s Bio


Sadagopan Seshadri
Chief – Content Development,
CE – Infrastructure – Environment


The author leads our Delhi bureau. An Engineer and qualified ADR professional (NALSAR alumnus), Sadagopan Seshadri has been a senior Contract Management Professional in large national & International Companies. His domain experience is in Building Products, Cement plants and Mega Power project execution. He has been an expert visiting faculty and univ. examiner for Contract Management at the SSAA, IP University, New Delhi. Being passionate about Environment Energy & Sustainability he has now turned to sustainable development Themes He is vocal with his views on these areas through his writings.

He can be reached at: design2xcel@gmail.com


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