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Kaladan: A sea gate for India's Northeast!

Dr Jajati K Pattnaik *



Kaladan corridor as an important component of Act East policy is poised to link India’s North-East with the Southeast Asia through multi modal transit system based on road, river and sea ways.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also described North-East as Natural Economic Zone (NEZ) and has focused upon the region’s development through cross country economic corridors. In this context, the Kaladan multimodal Transit Transport (KMTT) corridor could be developed as a potential sea gate for the Northeast.

The corridor is named after river Kaladan which originates in Chin state of Myanmar and passes through the southern districts of Mizoram before falling into the Bay of Bengal. The Ministry of External Affairs of India which acts as the nodal agency for the Kaladan transit corridor signed the Framework of Agreement with the Myanmar Government in 2008 for the implementation of this ambitious project. This transport project would link Kolkata sea port and India’s Northeast with the Sittwe Port in Myanmar. The passage covers a total distance of 907 km.

As per the DONER road map, the goods are to be transhipped from Kolkata Port in India to Sittwe Port in Myanmar (539 km); from Sittwe to Paletwa by inland water transport (158 km) on river Kaladan; from Paletwa to the India-Myanmar border in Myanmar by road (110 km); and National Highway 54 to Lawngtlai (Mizoram) in India (100 km). Further, Lawngtlai would be connected by road via National Highways to the major Northeastern cities including their state capitals. The following table explains the road map for Northeast-Sittwe multimodal corridor drawn from my field trips and google maps.

Northeast-Sittwe Multimodal Transport Corridor

At present, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and Essar Group working as the executing agencies of this transport corridor intend towards creating an integrated port and inland water transport (IWT) terminal at Sittwe, smooth navigational channel from Sittwe to Paletwa and highway transshipment terminal at Paletwa.

To make sure that, it becomes an active pillar of the country’s Act East policy, the Government has approved the revised cost estimate of Rs 2, 904.04 crore for the early completion of this strategic port in the larger interest of India’s Northeast.

In the long term perspective, the corridor would not only link Northeast with Myanmar, but also it would link the region with Phuket, Bangkok, Phnom Penh , Saigon ,Penang, Johor and Singapore sea ports securing India’s interest in the larger Southeast Asian free trade architecture.

As the External affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj at the inaugural session of Delhi dialogue VII said: “We also have maritime boundaries with several ASEAN countries, and this is particularly important from a trade perspective. We have started negotiations on an ASEAN -India Maritime Transport Cooperation Agreement, and hope that it will be finalised by the end of the year.

Likewise, work is in progress on the Kaladan Multimodal transport Project which will provide a road and riverine link between Myanmar ad Mizoram as well as connect Indian ports to Sittwe port in Myanmar. Our experiment with a dedicated fortnightly freighter service with Myanmar has proven to be a commercial success.

We plan to commission a study soon if this experiment can be replicated , both for cargo and passenger services, with other Southeast Asian countries.” She further added “we are simultaneously endeavouring to see how we can transform the corridors of connectivity into corridors of economic cooperation.”

Thus, with the change of regime in Myanmar, it would be quite easier on the part of New Delhi to deal with the Yangon’s democratic dispensation for closer economic cooperation, and remove the situational hurdle, if any, for the early completion of the project.

This multimodal transport corridor, if implemented in time, would transform the geo-economic scenario of the region as well as end its maritime isolation. This project would create opportunities for the emergence of industrial clusters in the Northeast, provided the political leadership sets the agenda with a robust entrepreneurial culture and announce institutional reforms to mark growth and development in the region.

Then, only India’s NE region would be ready to kick-start its trade and economic cooperation with the (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) ASEAN, Mekong Ganga cooperation(MGC), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi -Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Bangladesh- China- India – Myanmar (BCIM) and other regional groupings.

Besides this, the Kaladan corridor would also raise the importance of the Northeast from the perspective of Act East policy and transform it from landlocked to sea -linked region in near future.


* Dr Jajati K Pattnaik wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Government Model Degree College, Jemi Notko, Roing, Arunachal Pradesh. He was formerly a Visiting Scholar at the Gulf Studies Programme, School of International studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
This article was posted on January 22, 2017.


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