Regional Connectivity Current Affairs
The fourth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit was held in Kathmandu, capital of Nepal. The theme of the summit was ‘Towards a Peaceful Prosperous, and Sustainable Bay of Bengal Region’. India was represented by Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi. This was his fourth visit to Nepal after becoming Prime Minister in 2014
Enhancing collaboration in areas of regional connectivity, coastal shipping, space, energy, transport and tourism were focus of the summit. Besides, countering terrorism, enhancing regional connectivity and boosting trade were dominant agenda of 4th BIMSTEC summit.
Other leaders who attended this summit are Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Myanmar President U Win Myint, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Bhutan’s Chief Justice and Chief Advisor to interim government Dasho Tshering Wangchuk.
Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)
BIMSTEC is regional grouping of seven countries in South Asia and South East Asia lying in littoral and adjacent areas of Bay of Bengal constituting contiguous regional unity. It was established on 6 June 1997 through Bangkok Declaration. It is headquartered in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The first BIMSTEC summit was held in Thailand in 1997, second in India in 2008 and the third in 2014 in Myanmar.
Member countries: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka from South Asia and Myanmar, Thailand from South East Asia. They are collectively home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22% of global population and has a combined gross domestic product of $2.8 trillion.
BIMESTC’s prime objectives: Promote technological and economic cooperation among south Asian and south East Asian countries along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. BIMSTEC is sector-driven cooperative organization, starting with six sector including trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism and fisheries. In 2008, it was expanded to embrace eight more sectors including agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter-terrorism, environment, culture, people to people contact and climate change.
India and BIMSTEC
India has been pushing for making BIMSTEC vibrant forum for regional collaboration as cooperation under South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) framework is not moving forward. India has been maintaining that it was difficult to proceed with SAARC initiative under current circumstances citing continuing support to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. Pakistan was also blocking connectivity initiatives such as SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA). BIMSTEC excludes Pakistan. India is now pushing for similar pact motor vehicle agreement in BIMSTEC with an aim to enhance regional trade.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has signed agreement for upgradation of Yagyi – Kalewa section of highway in Myanmar to two lane with earthen shoulder. This project is part of India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Trilateral Highway and will be NHAI’s first international project.
The project aims to provide seamless vehicular movement for enhancing trade, business, health, education and tourism between Indian, Myanmar and Thailand. It is being funded by Ministry of External Affairs, India and will be executed on Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) mode at a cost of Rs.1177 crores.
The project will have 3 new major bridges and 2 new minor bridges. Its existing 4 major bridges and 9 minor bridges will be repaired and strengthened and 6 existing minor bridges will be reconstructed. The Yagyi – Kalewa stretch will have 6 truck lay byes, 20 bus bays and passenger shelters and 1 rest area. The project will be executed and completed in three years.
India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highway
The IMT Trilateral Highway is regional highway being constructed under India’s Act East policy to boost connectivity in the region. It will connect Moreh in India with Mae Sot, Thailand via Myanmar. The highway is expected to boost trade and commerce in ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, as well as with rest of Southeast Asia.
National Highways Authority of India (NHAI)
NHAI is an autonomous statutory agency of Central Government, responsible for management of network of over 70,000 km of national highways in India. It was established through NHAI Act, 1988. In February 1995, it was formally made an autonomous body. It is nodal agency of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. It is responsible for the development, management, operation and maintenance of National Highways.