India is negotiating an aid
package to Myanmar to gain access to Sittwe port
Sittwe will give access to
Bangladesh is not cooperating
on road, rail, port access
Vexed with Bangladesh’s recalcitrant attitude to deny land, sea, and rail
access to North Eastern India from the mainland, India is offering Myanmar
money and sops to open a sea and river trade route. Reports say that the aid of USD 103 million (Rs 475 crores) is meant to help Yangon develop its Sittwe port
on the Bay of Bengal and make a river connecting Mizoram and Myanmar navigable
Federal Minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh said “The future of (the)
Northeast lies in bypassing Bangladesh. Sittwe will be the gateway for these
states.” According to the government-owned engineering consultant and project
manager RITES the plan is to ferry goods from Sittwe northwards along the river
Kaladan to Mizoram which is less than 200 km away. Ramesh estimates that the
project would take three years to finish from its date of launch and also
revealed that Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran “is in Yangon” to negotiate
Ramesh said that it had offered large packages to Bangladesh but Dhaka’s lack
of providing transit for Northeast-bound cargo scuttled these measures. India
has been requesting Bangladesh to allow double-entry visa for individuals and
rail and road transit for goods to ease movement between the Northeast and the
rest of the country. India had also proposed that the Chittagong port be
developed as the gateway to the northeastern states.
The nearest available ports for the seven northeastern states are Calcutta and
Haldia which would mean long truck rides through difficult hilly terrain. One
of the major obstacles for the economic development of the Northeast is the
lack of access. Sittwe gives the region the necessary access from Calcutta,
Visakhapatanam, or Chennai.
India also wants to acquire two offshore blocks in Myanmar to access natural
gas and transit it through a pipeline to the Northeast but the project has been
delayed because Bangladesh, through which the proposed pipeline must pass, has
raised obstacles. New Delhi is now working on alternative arrangements.
India is also aware of the precariousness of the situation and is working
urgently as China has already proposed a plan to lay a pipeline Sittwe to
Kunmin, the capital of China’s Yunnan province.
Saran’s visit to Myanmar builds on President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s visit to
that country in March this year.