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Is Manipur ready to face the wave of infra change?

Pratim Ranjan Bose Moreh | Updated on November 14, 2018 Published on November 14, 2018

Moreh Highway

 

Standing on the 160-km Tamu-Kalewa Friendship Road in Myanmar, right across the huge integrated border trade facility (ICP) at Moreh in Manipur, one can get a bird’s eye view of the future course of developments in this remote part of the world.

The story began in 2001, when India reopened its doors to Myanmar by building a narrow steel bridge, named as Friendship Bridge, over river Menal that divides the two nations.

Huge investments

Over the last decade, India handed over Myanmar the two-lane highway to Kalewa and is now pumping nearly ₹1,500 crore in converting it into Trilateral Highway connecting Thailand. Money is also pumped to improve connectivity of Manipur with the rest of India.

The proposed 111-km Jiribam-Tupul-Imhal rail link, which will have some of India’s longest tunnels and bridges, reached 40 km ahead of Imphal. It is expected to be completed in December 2020 serving a big blow to the extortion rackets on the highway. Eventually, this line may open rail connectivity to Thailand via Moreh.

Huge investments are underway under the ambitious Bharatmala project. A ₹1,630-crore project is rolled out to upgrade the 110 Imphal-Moreh Highway, to ensure future movement of large container trucks. Contracts were recently issued for a 46-km part (Wanginj and Khongkhang) of the project.

Will Manipur gain?

Radheshyam Oinam, President, Manipur Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), thinks the cross-border connectivity will open doors of opportunities to Manipur, which had to sacrifice its socio-cultural-economic ties with South and South-East Asia in 1947.

In a way, the opportunities have started coming. Nearly 1,000 medical tourists visited Imphal hospitals since August 8, when passenger movement was allowed. Some of them like Sobarkha (58) and his wife Maya covered roughly 1,000 km on road from Myitkyina, near China-Myanmar border, to Imphal via-Mandalay.

 

 

Eager to tap the opportunity, Business Excellence Group (BEG) — a body of young entrepreneurs — recently entered into an MoU with Chindwin Development Corporation Ltd which is setting up an industrial zone at Tamu in Myanmar.

The indications are clear. This part of the world will witness a sea change in a span of next 5-10 years competing with South-East Asia. Can they cope up with that? Will Manipur have exportables or should it be flooded with imports?

The State barely has any industry. Agriculture is restricted to single-crop. Militant conservatism has chased out investors from the rest of India. Screening of Hindi films is banned. All the hospitals and hotels here are locally owned.

Operating on area domination?

A Manipuri entrepreneur, with investment in healthcare, admits he doesn’t want reputed Indian hospital chains to set foot here.

N Mohendro Singh, who had been a member of many central committees on development of the North-East region in the past, thinks having operated on the principles of ‘area domination’, the local business lacks competitive abilities and may prove sitting duck before foreign competition.

Ch Priyoranjan Singh, a professor at Manipur University, admits that bulk of the narrative on gains from regional connectivity push are mere assumptions in the absence of credible empirical research. But he is optimistic that the changes will augur well.

Priyoranjan is riding on two major assumptions: First, the web of corruption in the North-East, in the past, led to accumulation of huge capital in pockets, which are now taking entrepreneurship. Second, the combination of money power and modern technologies will help Manipur to bridge the development gap.

This is the last piece in a three-part series. The first and second parts were published on November 13 & 14.

Published on November 14, 2018
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