Two weeks after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office for the second term, the Centre is giving final touches to a host of new initiatives – mini ICPs (Integrated check post), rail-based Ro-Ro service to decongest road traffic in Bangladesh border and bus service between Myanmar and Manipur – to improve connectivity with Eastern neighbours.

Trade and connectivity

It was anticipated that the new government will focus its attention on trade and connectivity with BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) and BIMSTEC nations (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan). There is now an enhanced focus on coordination between different Departments to ensure efficient implementation of projects.

While NITI Aayog is leading on the planning part, the recently formed Logistics Department under the Commerce Ministry is ensuring that different arms of the government do not work in silos.

This is expected to improve the efficiency of various trade facilitation projects, as in Jogbani where the Land Ports Authority under home ministry is building ICP on Indian side, while the Ministry of External Affairs is funding a mirror ICP on Nepalese side and the Railways is connecting the two countries.

Innovative solutions

A better coordination is bringing some innovative solutions. For example, the Railways proposed starting a service between Kolkata and the largest land border with Bangladesh at Petrapole-Benpole to allow loaded trucks to roll in and roll out (Ro-Ro).

The Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) is preparing an online platform so that Indian trucks can book parking spaces at the ICP Petrapole in advance.

The aim is to reduce road congestion on the 70-km stretch from Kolkata to Petrapole and end the local extortion racket at the border town of Bongaon.

An in-principle decision has been taken to upgrade 10 Land Customs stations — which barely see movement of goods due to lack of facilities — on Bangladesh and Myanmar border into mini ICPs enabling both trade and passenger movements.

This is over and above the existing ICPs (Moreh in Maniur, Petrapole in Wet Bengal and Akhaura in Tripura) and upcoming ICPs (Sutarkhandi in Assam, Sabroom in Tripura and Dawki in Meghalaya).

The proposed list for upgrade includes border gates at Nampong (Arunachal Pradesh) and Zokhawthar (Mizoram) with Myanmar. The Zokhawthar border has potential to connect India sponsored Trilateral Highway (from India to Thailand) bypassing Manipur.

On Bangladesh border, Mahendraganj (Meghalaya), Sheila Bazar (Meghalaya) and Srimantapur and Raghnabazar in Tripura are proposed to be mini ICPs.

While the list will be finalised after a detailed study, the government is looking for a suitable location to open a trade point between Nagaland and Myanmar. Nagaland does not have any trade facility.

Meanwhile, officials of India and Myanmar met last week to start a bus service between Mandalay (Myanmar) and Imphal (Manipur). To ensure quick launch and avoid the long negotiations for protocol movement, the two governments are looking to start synchronised services.

“Better coordination between ministries will help the north-eastern States the most,” an official said. Though different ministries are mandated to allocate 10 per cent of the budget to North-east; funds often remain unutilised due to lack of coordination.