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A take on India’s Act East Policy

The long cherish dream of of getting benefit through the opening of the Indo-Myanmar border trade still fails to serve its purpose. Almost all trades are on illegal goods and those with licence legitimate traders are not showing much interest as the authority who were supposed to improve the condition still fails to show and translate into action to what they promise.
A noted scholar Edmund Downie once wrote in this paper that Cross-border transit infrastructure deficits are a major drag on India-Myanmar trade. Redressing this issue on the Indian side will require substantial investment, especially in railways and roads, the most natural channels for large-volume trading in this region.
In the railway sector, such efforts are ongoing, but progress is slow. A November 2014 presentation by India-ASEAN connectivity expert Prabir De suggests that efforts to connect Imphal to India’s railway map, initiated in 2003, are slated to be completed by March 2018.
 An extension from Imphal to Moreh, likewise set in motion during the mid-2000s, finished its engineering survey only this year, according to the Bangkok Post; and links from Moreh into Myanmar are further off.
For roads, at least, the basic infrastructure of trade already exists. Manipur connects to mainland India via two major highways. National Highway 102 (NH-102) is the extension of AH-1; it goes northwards into central Assam. National Highway 37 (NH-37) runs westwards into southern Assam. These two highways are essential not just for overland trade to Myanmar, but also for providing Manipur with the rice, petrol, cement, and other basic commodities which the state imports from other parts of India. However, both highways are plagued by shoddy construction, especially NH-37: Even in the dry season, traveling the 220 km from Imphal to Jiribam on Manipur’s western border can take 13–14 hours.
The border trading environment itself is characterized by a combination of weak basic infrastructure and byzantine bureaucratic procedures.
 In 2006, central government authorities approved the development of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Moreh – a single complex for border management authorities, intended to improve inter-agency coordination and it still under construction.
A 2011 report on border infrastructure at Moreh suggested that maintenance of current customs facilities had dropped off since ICP development began. Such deficits work against the sort of professionalized trading operations that Delhi policymakers seek to encourage, and in fact, the vast majority of Moreh’s trade goes through informal and illegal channels.
Official statistics for these channels do not exist – both publicly available  and in my own conversations with experts in Manipur – indicate that the annual volumes moving through each of these channels today stands somewhere in the billions to tens of billions of rupees, far above the hundreds of millions of rupees in annual formal trade.
Indeed, the volume of informal trade can be understood to indicate the mismatch between the infrastructure of formal trade and the demand for trade at Moreh. Informal trade here consists primarily of “headload trade” – goods carried across the border on one’s head, which are largely exempted from standard customs procedures. But much of this trade is actually coordinated by high-volume traders, who hire large armies of coolies to carry goods across the border.
 Prof. Ch. Priyoranjan Singh, an economist at Manipur University, last year stated that, of the forty traders who obtained licenses to operate at Moreh’s formal customs station upon its establishment in 1995, just three still use them.
With the kind of delayed the Imphal-Moreh trade is going on illegal goods more than the legitimate goods. Above all Manipur still felt that are the promises made under the Act East Policy will be benefitted the people of this region or are they waiting for multi crore traders of the mainland to find a way by suppressing the local traders – a question to be pondered .

Rinku Khumukcham

Rinku Khumukcham, Editor of Imphal Times has more than 15+ years in the field of Journalism. A seasoned editor, was a former editor of ISTV News. He resides in Keishamthong Elangbam Leikai, with his wife and parents. Rinku can be contacted at [email protected] 

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