Instead of Kaladan project in Myanmar, India’s Bangladesh alternative can be vital for Northeast India
Mehjabin Bhanu <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Air strikes by the Myanmar Army on ethnic rebels and fierce fighting close to the India-Myanmar border have led to a fresh influx of Chin refugees from the neighbouring country into Mizoram. The fresh outbreak of clashes close to the Mizoram-Myanmar border has enveloped India’s Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport project using Sittwe port in Myanmar with a cloud of uncertainty. Relative peace in the intermittent period allowed resumption of construction work on the road component of the Kaladan project from Paletwa in Myanmar to Zorinpui in Mizoram, but fresh turmoil has stoked apprehension of missing new target dates for commissioning. The project is aimed at India, using the Sittwe port in Myanmar to connect northeastern states with the rest of India through an alternative route. This route is in addition to India using Chittagong port in Bangladesh to connect the region through Tripura and using the inland waterways of Bangladesh via the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol route and the Brahmaputra train line connecting Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala through Akhaura to connect the region with the rest of India through Assam. The Agartala-Akhaura international railway is an internationally recognised project to connect Bangladesh and India. There was the train link between Agartala and other places prior to independence. The railway that connects Akhaura and Agartala is starting to thrive at this point. Furthermore, an agreement between Bangladesh and India allows Indian traders to send goods via the Bangladeshi ports of Chattogram and Mongla. Bangladesh and India have agreed to a railway project that will facilitate trade, economic development, and tourism between the two countries. The project will enable Indian traders to send goods via Bangladeshi ports, boost tourism in the northeast, strengthen border links, and support small businesses. Ramgarh land port will give a boost to India-Bangladesh-Myanmar trade and regional development Bangladesh, and India need mutual friendship in their national interest. Bangladesh’s improved road and rail connectivity with India will open up new doors of trade and commerce. The Ramgarh land port under construction in the Khagrachari district of Bangladesh’s remote Chittagong Hill Tracts will play a positive role in the economic welfare of not only this region but the entire country. It can be a vital initiative for regional business and economic prosperity. The country’s commercial capital Chittagong, a tourism city Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong Hill Tracts and the seven states known as the “Seven Sisters” in the northeastern region of India will benefit from the use of this port. The Bangladesh-India friendly bond will become stronger through the development of trade and mutual relations. Once Ramgarh port is opened, India will be able to receive goods in less time and at less cost as Chittagong seaport is just 112 km away and transshipment to India will become that much easier. Road communication will be established with India’s northeastern states through Tripura with Meghalaya, Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Bangladesh, therefore, wants friendship with India for the sake of its national development. Several investments in Bangladesh have come from India through the Line of Credit (LoC) route, including the Ramgarh road modernization. Once this project is implemented, Chittagong and Dhaka will be connected with Sabrum in Tripura and Ramgarh in Khagrachari. The work is scheduled to be completed on December 31, 2024. Ashoka Buildcon Limited, an Indian contractor, has been given the task of constructing the road. Not only Chittagong seaport but also Chittagong airport can be used by Tripura residents. Ramgarh land port will be the new commercial corridor between the two countries. Indian tourists will then find it easier to visit Cox’s Bazar, one of the longest beaches in the world. Also, people from Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts can easily visit Northeast India while India’s trade with Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin provinces can be accelerated. The operationalization of Ramgarh land port will open up new horizons and will be a blessing for the people of the three countries. India and Bangladesh’s close friend Japan is interested in engaging in the region. The Northeast-Bangladesh economic corridor may add a significant geo-economic component to the regional geopolitics. The involvement of Japan in creating an industrial value-chain between Northeast India and Bangladesh and connecting the northeastern region (NER) to the Bay of Bengal, may well lead to significant results on the regional connetivity. Apart from instability and security concerns, significantly reducing travel time and distance between the northeastern region and the rest of India, the alternative routes through Bangladesh can be strategically much more important to reduce dependence on the narrow Chicken Neck Corridor for surface connectivity between the northeastern region and the rest of India. Security unrest in Myanmar has worried Indian traders, investors, and stakeholders in the tourism industry exploring new trade and commerce opportunities using seaports, and connectivity projects in Myanmar. In this case, the use of Bangladeshi ports such as Chittagong port, railway and route connectivity projects, inland water, and road and railway connectivity can be the best option for India. India remaining vigilant against anti-Indian forces seeking to destabilize peace in the sub-region is crucial to prevent such forces from pouring cold water into its plans to deepen bilateral and multilateral engagements under the Act East Policy and Neighbourhood First policy and make the northeast region the gateway to the sub-region. Reports of Arakan Army columns moving into Chin State of Myanmar into several towns, including Paletwa, have also triggered concern for peace in the areas in Rakhine State and Chin State concerning the Kaladan project remaining fragile for a longer period. Further delay in the Kaladan project will lead to further time and cost escalation. The estimated cost of the project has already escalated from Rs 530 crore in 2010 to Rs 3200 crore in 2022. The project component includes the development of Sittwe port and inland waterways along the River Kaladan (158 km) from Sittwe to Paletwa, which have already been completed. The progress of the road component of the multimodal project from Paletwa to Zorinpui (110 km) has been slow and delayed by internal disturbances in Myanmar, due to which the project is yet to be commissioned, even though Sittwe Port was inaugurated in May. The Union Minister for Ports, Shipping, and Waterways, AYUSH Sarbananda Sonowal, and Deputy Prime Minister and Union Minister for Transport and Communications, Admiral Tin Aung San of Myanmar, jointly inaugurated the port and received the first Indian cargo ship that was flagged off from Kolkata port and traversed the 539 km sea route between Kolkata and Sittwe. India walks a tightrope as far as the internal situation in Myanmar. It should be aware of the complexities that Revel groups in Myanmar can use as a springboard to destabilize peace in northeastern states. Such forces inimical to India’s interests will back rebel groups in the northeast and push drug lords to flood the region with illicit drugs. The swelling of the number of Myanmar refugees taking shelter in Mizoram, therefore, has pressed the alarm bell. On the other hand, India’s Bangladesh alternative is stable, safe, time and cost savings. Thus, the use of alternatives such as the use of Bangladeshi sea ports, corridors, and land ports remains critical for the sustainability of India’s cross-border connectivity, which hopes to accelerate development in the northeastern region.