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‘India’s Look East Policy needs concrete action’

New Delhi, Aug 5 India’s Look East Policy, in which Myanmar plays a key role as the route for major connectivity between India’s landlocked northeast and Southeast Asia, needs to rise above “mere academic talk” to show “more concrete action”, experts said.

According to experts, the connectivity corridors like the Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Project need to be fast turned into development corridors and stakeholders in the region involved in it.

Rajiv K. Bhatia, director general of the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and former envoy to Myanmar, said mere “academic talk is no substitute for concrete action” in the development of the connectivity corridors.

“Other stakeholders need to be motivated, and not just the ministry of external affairs,” he said at a talk on ‘Look East Policy: India and Myanmar Pitching for Greater Connectivity” Monday.

Bhatia said more funding is needed for the projects and better high-level management and visible and sustained action. He suggested that the authorities should issue “authoritative notes on when the projects, like Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Project, will be completed – or the deadlines will keep lengthening”.

Speaking at the event organised by the Institute of Social Sciences here, senior journalist and author B.G. Varghese said the government has “structurally not got its act together” on the connectivity projects that are meant to link the landlocked northeast with the Southeast Asian region.

He said the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER), which is meant for the northeast region, should be having its office in the northeast and not in New Delhi. “Why should’nt the ministry for the northeast be in the northeast? Why should northeast people or issues related to the northeast have to be dealt with in New Delhi,” asked the veteran journalist.

“Structural changes are needed in India’s Look East Policy, or no Look East can happen… It can’t be run from New Delhi,” he said, adding that the Look East Policy has “huge potential” and the constant delay in implementation of crucial connectivity projects is hampering forward movement.

Ajay Gondane, joint secretary, border connectivity in the ministry of external affairs, said the government has launched the division of border connectivity with a new emphasis of taking ties with neighbours beyond the borders. He said the connectivity projects in order to become connectivity corridors need to involve the people of the region in a major way.

Ash Narain Roy, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, said India’s ties with Myanmar are getting new emphasis. In May this year, the two countries inked an MoU on border cooperation to provide a framework for security cooperation and intelligence exchange between the security agencies of the two countries.

In the last week of July, the Fifth India-Myanmar Regional Border Committee meeting was held in Imphal for boosting bilateral ties. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is also set to travel to Myanmar to attend the ministerial meeting of the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Nay Pyi Taw next week.