TODAY -

Getting ready for Act East Policy

Oinam Nabakishore Singh *

A trip to Tamu, Myanmar - a border town with Moreh :: February 2017
A trip to Tamu, Myanmar - a border town with Moreh in February 2017



Look East Policy, now rechristened as Act East Policy, is a foreign policy statement of Government of India to engage with the countries in the South-East Asia and Far East to promote economic and strategic interest of the country and to contain the ever-increasing influence of China in the region. The spin-off of the policy to the North-East India isexpected to be huge. One of the cornerstones of implementation of the Policy is physical connectivity between India and its neighbours in the east to facilitate land route trade and commerce, people to people contact, tourism, etc.

India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway connects Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand . The route will be Moreh (India) – Tamu (Myanmar) – Kalewa (Myanmar) – Yagyi (Myanmar) – Monywa (Myanmar) – Mandalay (Myanmar) – Meiktila (Myanmar) – Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar) – Payagyi (Myanmar) – Theinzayat (Myanmar) – Thaton (Myanmar) – Hpa’an (Myanmar) – Kawkareik (Myanmar) – Myawaddy (Myanmar) – Mae Sot (Thailand) with total length of 1360 km.

The stretch of road from Monywa to Manadalay to Nay Pyi Taw to Mae Sot has been upgraded and completed for all weather traffic, while the one between Tamu and Monywa is at various stages of improvement. Border Road Organization(BRO) under Ministry of Defence of Government of India improved the Tamu-Kale(Kalemyo)-Kalewa(150 km) road . However, 71 bailey bridges on Tamu-Kalewa stretch constructed during second world war are in poor shape.

69 of them are being reconstructed by Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. The onward stretch of 120 km from Kalewa to Yagyi is also being constructed by Government of India at its cost and it is targeted to be completed by April, 2021. Remaining portion, Yagyi-Monywa of 64 km.is to be improved by Myanmar authorities.When Trilateral Highway is completed and open to traffic with immigration facilities along the way, we can expect movement of goods back and forth for international trade seamlessly.

It will also facilitate movement of people from either side for tourism and business purposes. On Indian side, a great emphasis is being laid on improvement of National Highways in the North East India, which is the gateway to Myanmar and beyond. Dimapur-Kohima stretch of highway is being upgraded to four-lane. Kohima to Imphal will have a mix of four-lane and twin roads of two-lane running parallel to each other to accommodate additional traffic. Imphal-Jiribam highway will also be upgraded.

There is plan to take the new Imphal-Kangchup-Tamenglong road financed by Asian Development Bank(ADB) under SASEC to Tousem and join East West Corridor near Halflong in Assam. Further, Imphal-Moreh highway is also being upgraded by widening Lilong to Wangjing to four lanes, Wangjing to Khongkhang to two-lane with paved shoulder at a cost of Rs.1630 crore with funding from ADB.

When these highways are completed, integration of North Eastern region specially Manipur with mainland India and South East Asia will be much better. Railway line from Jiribam to Imphal is slated to be commissioned in 2021-22. There is proposal to connect Indian railways system with that of Myanmar by extending railway line from Imphal to Moreh and further to Mandalay.

Road and rail connectivity of Manipur with the rest of India and South East Asia will be a game changer for Manipur. The agricultural and horticultural produces of Manipur can be evacuatedquickly at much lesser cost to new markets. Now, we need to identify the crops, fruits and vegetables, which can compete with those of other states and countries in terms of quality and price.

Pineapple of Manipur is known for its sweetness and taste. However, the present level of production is limited in area and quantity. It can find market across the globe. Because of lack of economy of scale, the price of pineapple per piece is high. It is necessary to take up pineapple cultivation on a wide scale by extending the farm area. Since vast hill tracts are available, it is possible to do this. However, to take up cultivation on a large scale requires capital, which may be locked up from preparation of site and plantation to harvest of ripe fruit. It may take upto three years.

Most of the farmers of pineapple in Manipur are poor living in the hills. It is difficult for them to mortgage the farm land in the hills to access credit for farming. Difficulty is due to non-survey of hill land and non-existence of title or ownership recognized by banks. Farmers will have to explore credit from less formal financial institutions like micro-finance institutions, non-banking financial institutions, local informal credit structures, etc.

Buyers of pineapple may also extend credit for cultivation of pineapple to farmers based on contract farming. In Manipur, cooperative credit structure has disappeared due to various reasons like non-repayment of loan, mismanagement of Primary Agricultural Credit Societies, etc. The state government should try to revive cooperative credit societies in the larger interest of farmers.

Apart from credit, there is need to switch over to organic farming as preference for organic products is growing. Appropriate grading, packaging according to acceptable standards, branding of horticultural products will fetch better price. In order to package and process horticultural products, post-harvest management requires entrepreneurs with necessary technology.An ecosystem of entrepreneurship has to be created by the state government and private sector to prepare a generation of business class in Manipur. They have to be trained and guided by the government. It will be appropriate to create a new department of business and entrepreneurship.

Black rice(Chakhao) of Manipur is unique in taste, aroma, stickiness, and presence of antioxidants. There is a huge market for it in India and abroad. What is lacking is backward and forward linkages. Small farmers in Manipur cannot grow black rice on bigger areas now as risks are high. Consumption of black rice in Manipur is limited to small quantities in local feasts and as such, market too is small. Unless there are buyers from outside the state, it is difficult to conceive of consumption of black rice on a large scale. There are reports of some arrangements for sale of black rice. Online sale of black rice is happening in small quantities. It is necessary to upscale it. When it is successfully marketed, the income of farmers can increase manifold.

Production of zinger in Churachandpur district is huge. Because of lack of post-harvest management and facilities for storage and evacuation, farmers are not able to realize reasonable price for the produce. With appropriate assistance from government and promotion of entrepreneurship, it will be possible to export zinger in different forms-raw, powder, dehydrated, spice.

There are many other aromatic and medicinal plants, which may be planted on commercial scale. Floriculture is suitable in all parts of the state. Plantation of stevia, a sugar substitute, on a large scale is found to be suitable. Extracting stevia powder from the leaves of stevia is possible. There is a huge market for stevia powder-India and the rest of world.An entrepreneur in Mao has set up a factory for extraction of stevia powder from stevia leaves. Because of some issues of technology transfer, the plant is yet to commence production of powder. The soil and climate of Manipur is suitable for stevia plantation. Its plantation can change the economic status of farmers.

There are many other aromatic plants, whose oil extracts can be used in cosmetic industry. For instance, lemon grass grows very well in Manipur. Kachai lemon is unique in many respects. Its essential oil can be used in cosmetics. Its peel can find many applications. There are many other plants and fruits, which are different and can command a premiumprice if we are able to market them in the right way.

Manipur has great strengths in healthcare. Medical tourism by people from other states of North East and Myanmar to Manipur will boost the economy of the state. There is need for identification of products and services, where we have competitive strengths in order to reap full benefits of Act East Policy. A holistic approach is the need of the hour.


Views expressed are personal.


* Oinam Nabakishore Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on 29 October , 2018 .


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