On July 2, 2023, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said that seventy per cent of the work in the construction of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway has been completed.
India and its northeastern neighbour, Myanmar and Thailand, are working on about 1400km of long highway that would link the country with South-East Asia by land and will boost trade, business health, education and tourism ties among the three countries.
In reply to a question asked by the PTI (Press Trust of India) regarding the progress on the project, the Road and Transport Minister said, “Around seventy per cent of the Highway is already completed.”
The minister did not reveal the details of the timeline for the completion and operationalisation of the trilateral highway. The project was delayed, Earlier, the government was aiming to make the highway operational by December 2019.
The Indian Myanmar Trilateral Highway is a highway that is under construction and is an outcome project of the Look East Policy of India. The highway will be India’s gateway to the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) through land. It will start from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot City in Thailand. India and the ASEAN have planned to extend the highway to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam too.
The highway will generate an estimated US$70 billion in incremental GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and 20 million in aggregate employment by the year 2025. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has been appointed as the technical executing agency and project management consultant for the project.
There are four sections of the India-Myanmar Trilateral Highway. The first route is from Moreh In Manipur to Kalewa in Myanmar. It is a component of the India-Myanmar Friendship project and was first started and opened in 2001. As per the Trilateral Highway, the Indian government was tasked to widen the existing roads, whereas Myanmar will work on the development of the single-lane highways.
The second stretch is from Kalewa to Yagyi. This is the most challenging stretch. It has steep gradients and extremely sharp curves. In 2016, an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) was to develop the 120km road section. The NHAI awarded a 15 million USD contract to Punj Llyod and Varaha infrastructure for the construction and maintenance of this stretch.
Due to the multiple disruptions caused by heavy rainfall and the COVID-19 Pandemic, along with the political instability in Myanmar, the project was delayed. The third section of the highway is Myawaddy-Kawareik Section.
The Thailand government provided assistance for this stretch. The route is also part of an East-West Corridor that links the five Southeast Asian states: Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It became operational and active in 2015.
The fourth and last section is Ein Diu-Thaton Section. It is part of the National Highway -8 (NH-8) of Myanmar. The Thai and Myanmar governments signed an MoU in which Thailand upgraded this section at a cost of US$51 million. It became operational in 2021.
Other connectivity projects between India and ASEAN, such as Mekong-India Economic Corridor, which integrates four Mekong countries: Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and India. It will link Ho Chi Minh, Dawei, Bangkok and Pnom Penh with Chennai.
The other connectivity project between India and Southeast Asia is Kaladan-Multi Modal Transit Transport Project. It connects Kolkata in India to Sittwe and Paletwa in Myanmar by sea and river.
The Look East Policy was introduced by former Indian Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1991. The main reason for the acceptance of this policy was attributed to the fall of the USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republics). The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 caused a loss of a major financial partner for India. It urgently required a thriving economic potential growth region. The Indian government found South East Asian Region and ASEAN as strong economic partner.