$761-million road plan with neighbours in the works

Written by Timsy Jaipuria | Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 4 2014, 09:35am hrs
After proposing a trans-Asia highway to connect India with Thailand, the government has now proposed to improve road connectivity under the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTECH) with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan.

According to a senior road ministry official, agencies such as ADB and JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) have shown keen interest to assist India with these road projects in terms of funding and construction expertise.

There are seven projects which have been shortlisted to improve road connectivity in this region. Out of these seven, three are in West Bengal, three in Manipur and there is also a major bridge to connect India and Nepal, which will be built across the Missi River, the official added.

ADB has promised an investment of $500 million for these projects, estimated at a cost of $761 million.

Once the roads are connected, Manipur will have direct-linking highways with Myanmar and West Bengal will have interlinking highways with Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

The idea is to develop the northeastern India as a trading hub, enhancing the country's trade with East and Southeast Asia, sources said.

These highways are for the last-mile connectivity which are crucial to boost trade and investments within the BIMSTEC region. There is a clear mandate from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to build these at the earliest to reduce trade costs and capture a major share of the inter- regional market which is currently dominated by Chinese, the official added.

Roads ministry, along with the ministries of defence and external affairs, has been mandated to improve connectivity and logistical issues faced by the region.

India is currently interacting with transport departments in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal to initiate and improve connectivity for which Japan is also keen to help Indian projects in terms of funding and construction expertise, road ministry official added.

These project will be built on EPC mode and will be done in two tranches over the next 2-4 years.

Out of these seven projects, four projects will be in the first tranche and the next tranche will focus on the remaining three. In the first phase, two projects in West Bengal are almost ready as their DPR has been approved. For the other two projects in Manipur, central government along with the state government are preparing the DPR, for approval. After DPRs are approved, they will be up for further process for consideration for construction, the official said.

According to foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, India has completed an Infrastructure and Logistics Study (BTILS ) in December 2013, after which a shortlist of 100 priority projects for regional connectivity will be finalised by the middle of this year in New Delhi for implementation with ADB assistance.

Several projects are under way in the region. The PM is already in Myanmar for the 3rd BIMSTEC meet where connectivity is the top agenda.

Expressing similar sentiments, Sanjay Bhattacharyya, joint secretary South & BIMSTEC in MEA added, The BTILS study has actually identified about 100 projects that would promote connectivity within the region. What we are planning now is to have three meetings - in March, April and June, the last one will be held in Delhi in which we will identify a shortlist of projects that are the priorities to be identified by each of these countries. These will then be taken up with ADB leverage.