Aiming to strengthen India's geo-strategic stand and transform the northeastern region into an economic powerhouse, the Centre has cleared a Rs 6,167 crore upgrade of a 352-km National Highway (NH) in Mizoram that will improve economic connectivity to Myanmar as also create an alternate trade route for mainland traders doing business in the northeast.
"The Aizawl-Tuipang NH is a major road development work at improving economic connectivity between Myanmar and India. This will also improve access to ASEAN markets for agro-processing, horticulture, dairy and fisheries, besides other industries based on the markets, availability of raw materials and other competitive advantages," Nagendra Nath Sinha, Managing Director of National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL), which is executing the project, said.
Sinha, a 1987 batch Jharkhand cadre IAS officer, who recently became the NHIDCL head, said the project will receive funding of Rs 4,487 crore from the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA). The agreement for the first tranche of Rs 3,690 crore was signed in March 2017.
"NHIDCL is making advanced preparations for starting the work by taking up land acquisition activities in earnest," he said, adding that the tender document for the upgrade has been readied and has been sent to JICA for approval "which is also expected soon".
NHIDCL sources said the tender would be floated in the first week of September and the contract awarded by December.
The cost of civil works has been set at Rs 4,164 crore while Rs 520.45 crore has been earmarked for land acquisition, the sources said, adding that once the project becomes a reality, it will improve access to ASEAN markets for agro-processing, timber and bamboo-based industries among other goods.
Myanmar, the only southeast Asian country which shares a 1,643-km-long border with India, serves as a gateway to the other 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Four northeastern states -- Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Manipur (398 km), Nagaland (215 km) and Mizoram (510 km) -- have an unfenced border with Myanmar.
Authorities at the Ministry of Road Transport Highways said the project is of utmost importance for Indo-Myanmar connectivity and environment clearance will be received by September before its tender is floated for bidding.
Environment clearance for the project is a must as 11.61 hectares of land for the highway is riverine reserve land.
Due to the hilly terrain and other difficulties, the government has set the construction cost at Rs 10-13 crore per km against the that of Rs 3.95 crore in the plains.
An expert on Indo-Myanmar affairs sees the project as a renewed commitment for the region's socio-economic development, where roads have mostly been in a dilapidated condition for decades.
"The Aizwal-Tuipang highway should be seen as an achievement, if done within the time-frame. It is important that it is an all-weather road. We already have a Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road in Manipur but several sections are not usable throughout the year," K. Yhome, Senior Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, told IANS.
"This project will aim towards building a strong BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) community and strengthen strategy for India's neighbourhood," Yhome said, adding the project will also help in reaching business to the main areas of Mizoram and other states in the Northeast, which too will result in the socio-economic development of the region.
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