As part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy, enhancing connectivity will be top agenda for the leaders of the BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal) grouping during a meeting later this month. India has invited leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for an outreach session with the leaders of Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa at the eighth BRICS summit in Goa, October 15-16. Officials told FE that such an outreach session will help in enhancing ties between two groupings — BRICS and BIMSTEC.
This will also give an opportunity to the leaders of the two groups to discuss visa facilitation. While BIMSTEC countries are looking at a Schengen type visa for a certain group of travellers, particularly tourists, business people and patients in the region, India is considering offering visa-free travel or the opportunity to obtain a visa on arrival to business visitors and tourists from its fellow BRICS countries.
In July this year, replying to a question in Parliament, Kiren Rijiju, minister of state, home affairs, said: “A proposal in this regard (visa waiver/visa on arrival) received from the Department of Commerce is under consideration.”
Since connectivity in the region is a major component of PM Narendra Modi’s ‘Act east’ policy, it would also help in transforming North-Eastern states by opening up fresh avenues of win-win opportunities. India has been promoting railways, roadways and dialogue on maritime and multi-modal transport.
Some of the BIMSTEC countries like India and Thailand have taken steps to build cross-border infrastructure unilaterally in the region. At the recently concluded Asean Summit, Prime Minister Modi had announced India’s decision to extend the Trilateral Highway to Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam, and a new highway project connecting India, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Cambodia.
India is also involved in the development of the Mekong-India Economic Corridor (MIEC) connecting Southeast Asia to South Asia on the eastern part of India in order to add greater momentum to the growing trade and investment linkages between ASEAN and India.
Prof Prabir De, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), Coordinator, ASEAN-India Centre, in a report states, “Myanmar is setting-up quite a few port-based SEZs at Dawei, Kyaukphyu, Thilawa and Dawei, which upon completion would not only strengthen BIMSTEC connectivity but also generate employment and reduce poverty. India is also setting-up Kaladan project at Sittwe.” Adding, “Airlines can connect the inland parts of BIMSTEC. India may allow smaller flight (ATR type) to operate between Guwahati, Dhaka and Yangon; Imphal, Mandalay and Yangon; Delhi, Yangon and Bangkok; Mumbai, Colombo and Yangon.”
Talks are in an advance stage to implement an Asian Development Bank (ADB) promoted project to start a regular bus service between India and Thailand. The service would be part of a transport agreement being negotiated by India, Thailand and Myanmar for completion of the historic 1,400-km highway currently under renovation.