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Unlocking India's northeast

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2 March 2010 12:41

Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, Special Correspondent for India's Mail Today, is the author of two books on India's Northeast and Kazakhstan. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India.

Sixty-two years ago the partition of British India into India and Pakistan (West & East Pakistan) left the north-eastern part of India (seven states) landlocked, connected to the mainland by the narrow Siliguri corridor (in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal). This was serious setback for the strategically located Northeastern region (surrounded by China, Bhutan, Bangladesh & Myanmar). Since 1947, all goods to the Northeast pass through the Siliguri corridor and the economy has remained stagnant.

India has tried for long to unlock this region via neighbouring Myanmar and Bangladesh. Now, finally, with a friendly dispensation in Bangladesh and following New Delhi's pragmatic approach towards military-ruled Myanmar, the issue may be addressed.

New Delhi has been looking at several routes to link the region through the two neighbours. There are two major projects. One is an ambitious Kaladan multi-modal project that will transport goods from Eastern Indian city of Kolkata (across the Bay of Bengal to the Myanmar port of Sittwe) and then to Northeastern state of Mizoram, under an Indo-Myanmar pact signed in 2008. 

The Indian project is small compared to a Chinese project in Myanmar that began about three years back. But, aiming to match China's clout, India has met some of Myanmar's defence needs and assisted development projects.

The second project is the access to Bangladesh's Chittagong port, which will involve resuming a pre-partition road and rail link from Northeastern state of Tripura to the port city. Chittagong has one of the finest deep sea ports in South Asia. This project was agreed during Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's India visit this January.

India's contribution to the Kaladan project is US$100 million and is proposed to be completed in four years. The bidding process began in February. Although Chittagong is a better port than Sittwe and connectivity would be faster, New Delhi will continue with the Sittwe-Mizoram link. This is to take care of any possible change in government in Dhaka that may deny access to Chittagong port.

Providing a corridor to India has been a politically sensitive issue in Bangladesh. However, after Hasina returned to power in December 2008, she decided to connect Bangladesh to the rest of the world.

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