Some time ago, in our article Connectivity Revolution – Where Exactly India is Heading? , we had argued that after the political unity brought about by the then Home Minister Sardar Patel soon after Independence, a connectivity revolution within India has taken place in the last five years specifically, uniting India extensively via physical infrastructure. On September 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli jointly inaugurated South Asia’s first cross-border petroleum products pipeline from Motihari in India to Amlekhgunj in Nepal. This gives us an opportunity to take stock of India’s connectivity initiatives with neighbours in recent times. Here is an emerging picture.
The first-ever cross-border petroleum product pipeline in the South Asia region on September 10, 2019. The project which completed much ahead of its schedule will provide cleaner petroleum products at affordable cost to the people of Nepal, having a capacity of 2 million metric ton per annum.
Bus service between two historical cities, Janakpuri in Nepal which is Sita’s birthplace and Ayodhya in India which is Rama’s birthplace was flagged off in May 2018. This binds the heart of people of two nations culturally and emotionally.
In a sign that confirms that the north-eastern states are becoming a major part of India’s growth story, Tripura started selling its surplus power to Nepal from June 2019.
India’s not-so-friendly neighbour Pakistan remained a barrier for India to seamlessly connect with Afghanistan and thereby accessing central Asia. In February 2019, Afghanistan sent the first consignment of exports to India through Chabahar port in Iran bypassing Pakistan. Though the talks on the project was started in 2003, it was only post-2014 that the project was put on faster pace.
India having an operational control over Sittwe port of Myanmar has marked a strategic chapter for land-locked Northeastern states. The port developed by India is ensuring Bay of Bengal access to these states. Further, Mizoram-Myanmar Kaladan road is in progress, which will help to deliver the goods shipped from Kolkata to Sittwe port onwards to the Mizoram border through road route, thereby connecting the north-eastern states in a way which is more prudent economically.
Another ambitious project India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is in progress. The 1,360 km long trilateral highway will connect Manipur’s Moreh with Mae Sot, Thailand via Myanmar which will boost trade and commerce in the region.
Many physical infrastructure projects with Bangladesh are helping India’s North-eastern states to realise their potential so that they play a role strategically and economically. An agreement on the use of Chittagong and Mongla Ports in Bangladesh for movement of goods to and from India was signed in October 2018. Tripura started supplying power to Bangladesh from 2015.
Considering the fact that China had made major inroads to this island country during the UPA era, there was criticism that India is losing the strategic edge in this region. But post-2014, things have changed for the better. Along with Japan, Sri Lanka entered into an agreement with India in January 2019 to build a container terminal at Colombo. A road and rail link between India’s Rameswaram and Sri Lanka’s Thalaimannar is on the card.
Apart from these, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh have signed a landmark Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) for the regulation of passenger, personnel, and cargo vehicular traffic among the four South Asian neighbours in June 2015.
In this age, the concept of connectivity has also expanded majorly to space and India has taken the lead here as well. In 2017, India gifted South Asian Satellite to its neighbours— Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka— which enabled them to access India’s space technology for their needs.
Some of our previous articles that have dealt with India’s connectivity initiatives on various aspects are worth recalling.