The raft of connectivity projects that India has undertaken with Bangladesh and ASEAN countries opens up the possibility of linking eastern India with Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and boost the economy of eastern states, especially of West Bengal and the Northeast, said Riva Ganguly Das, former Secretary-East in the Ministry of External Affairs.
In an interaction with PTI she said that work on international road, rail and waterway connectivity projects is moving at a fast pace and within the next three-four years, when these are completed, trade in the region can be expected to boom.
“After some initial hiccups, work on the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway is underway. A study has shown that the planned eastward extension of the road to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam will bring overall development to the entire region.
“This project, as part of Act East policy, will give a big boost to the economy of Northeast and West Bengal, including GDP growth, employment generation and increase in per capita income,” the former diplomat told PTI.
The 1,360-km-long highway will connect Mae Sot in Thailand with Moreh in India via Myanmar. Bangladesh has expressed interest in joining the project.
Ganguly Das said work on expanding land ports at Petrapole in West Bengal and Moreh in Manipur will significantly improve connectivity.
On India-Bangladesh bilateral trade through waterways, she said, “India will be able to use Mongla and Chittagong ports in Bangladesh for movement of goods to and from Northeast. We are also developing Sittwe port in Myanmar. We are also trying to get Bangladesh to channelizes some of its exports through Indian ports instead of going through Malaysia or Singapore.”
She said that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is focused on restoring railway links that had existed with India before the 1965 India-Pakistan War, and also building newer connectivity projects.
At present, Maitri Express runs between Dhaka and Kolkata, Mitali Express between Dhaka and Siliguri, and Bandhan Express between Kolkata and Khulna. Work is underway for more linkages, including between Agartala and Akhaura.
“When all these road, railway and waterways projects are operationalised, it will usher in a win-win situation for both India and Bangladesh. Landlocked Northeast, especially Tripura, will immensely benefit from it,” she said.
Ganguly Das, who was the Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh from March 1, 2019 to August 12, 2020, said that the potential of goods trains in bilateral trade was realized during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Thousands of trucks loaded with perishable goods were stranded along the India-Bangladesh border during the coronavirus outbreak. We arranged for some goods trains to transport those. We realized that massive consignments could be delivered via rail instead of road by a skeletal workforce with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.
“Since then, railways are being used extensively for bilateral trade. Even truck chassis are being transported via rail,” she said.
Asked about Chinese engagements in Bangladesh, Das underlined that there are well-established differences in the way of functioning of India and China with respect to international projects.
“China often works on a nomination basis, where there can be questions of transparency, whereas India floats tenders. Ours process is thorough and transparent. Also, Indian companies execute projects at a reasonable cost and never compromise with quality.
“Post-COVID geopolitics has changed and India is playing its cards very well. In diplomacy, interests change every day,” she added.
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