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India-Thailand road link to be a reality soon
Kalyan Barooah
 NEW DELHI, July 17 - In the near future, if you wish to visit Bangkok, one of the options on the table is likely to be taking a bus ride, as talks are in an advanced stage to implement a project promoted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to start a regular bus service between India and Thailand via Myanmar.

The bus service would be part of a transport agreement being negotiated by India, Thailand and Myanmar for completion of the historic 1,400-km highway currently under renovation.

Top ADB officials said the negotiations are expected to be concluded next year, as the Indian government has offered Myanmar financial assistance to upgrade bridges along the route linking India’s Northeast with Myanmar and Thailand.

Sources in the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that 73 bridges inside Myanmar, built during the Second World War, are being renovated, to ensure that the highway is safe to use.

The MEA has already invited tender for selection of a contractor for construction of 69 bridges, including the approach roads on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa road section of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar on engineering, procurement & construction (EPC) mode. The bid closes on July 19.

The highway runs from Moreh in Manipur to Myanmar’s Tamu city and reaches Thailand at Tak’s Mae Sot district. It will serve as the first major land route linking India with mainland Southeast Asia. Cargo transport is the first priority for this route, sources said.

Based on the master plan for ASEAN connectivity, the first strategy is to complete the ASEAN highway network. Regarding the ASEAN Highway network, the planned three-nation highway from India to Myanmar and Thailand will further extend ASEAN connectivity beyond member countries to India, as well as China with which Myanmar already has a land transport link.

According to the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways (MoRTH), the India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) is almost ready and will be signed soon. The agreement was to be signed last year, but it was delayed due to elections in Myanmar.

“Various rounds of negotiations were undertaken by India, Myanmar and Thailand on the text of MVA and protocol. After a meeting of focal points in Bangkok in September last, the contracting parties of IMT-MVA broadly agreed upon the text of framework agreement. Negotiations on the protocol to implement the MVA have been under way,” said a MoRTH official.

Enhancing connectivity in the Southeast Asia region is a key component in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Act East’ policy.

The IMT trial run under the aegis of proposed IMT-MVA was held during December 9-14 last year from Imphal in India to Mandalay in Myanmar. Thereafter, Thailand proposed the Mae Sot-Phitsanulok route for plying of vehicles, while Myanmar suggested extending the route up to Bangkok.

“The IMT will open the way for movement of cargo and passengers, including personal vehicles, from South Asia to Southeast Asia up to Thailand, said the official.

The IMT will open up landlocked Northeast India to Southeast Asia and allow freight and container trucks to move from Imphal to Mandalay. India has already built a 160-km portion of this highway.

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