India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway

The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highway project will open the gate to ASEAN through the land. The project will boost trade and commerce in the ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, as well as with the rest of Southeast Asia. India has also proposed extending the highway to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam

The 1,360 km long India- Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway connects India with Thailand through Myanmar, the only ASEAN country that shares land border with India. The road will connect Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar. The project is a significant one for India and South East Asian countries as it establishes connectivity to further trade. With $70-billion trade, ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner.

The IMT trilateral highway project is largely funded by Indian government under the look-east policy. The highway is country’s second prime international road project for India, the first being Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) project. The project also helps to thicken Indian position as a counterweight to the strategic influence of the People’s Republic of China in the region.

Trilateral highway project details

India has taken up the construction of two sections of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar. The two sections include 120.74 km Kalewa-Yagyi road section, and 69 bridges along with the approach road on the 149.70 km Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section. Both the projects are being funded by Government of India under grant assistance to Myanmar.

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has been appointed as the technical executing agency and project management consultant for the project. Estimated budget for the completion of construction of IMT trilateral highway section between India and Myanmar is R1,177 crore.

The work on both these sections were awarded on Engineering, Procurement and Construction mode in May 2018 for Kalewa-Yagyi section and for the TKK section in November 2017. The scheduled time for completion of both the projects is three years from the date of commencement at the project site by the executing agency. The 160km long India-Myanmar Friendship Road, linking Moreh-Tamu-Kalemyo- Kalewa, was officially inaugurated in February 2001, and it now forms a part of the trilateral highway. The road was built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

In April 2018, Kalewa-Yagyi section construction contract was finally awarded to joint venture consisting Punj Lloyd and Varaha Infra, to be completed in 3 years through EPC mode under a special purpose vehicle. The Highway will be completed in compliance with international standards with two-lane in each direction with paved shoulders, entailing 6 truck stops, 20 bus stops and passenger shelters, 1 rest area, strengthening of 4 existing major bridges and 9 existing minor bridges, and construction of 3 new major bridges and 2 new minor bridges.

Though the project was already given to the JV in the year 2017, the work began in April 2019. The project includes work on a 120 km section that will go through rocky terrains and the design has several big and small bridges. There will also be 20 bus bays and a passenger shelter and rest area for the convenience of travellers. In addition to this, some of the existing bridges will also undergo some major reconstruction.

The funds released by India’s ministry of external affairs (MEA) for the project is R188.32 crore out of the approved cost of R1459.29 crore for the Kalewa-Yagyi road section and R4.84 crore out of the approved cost of R371.58 crore for the 69 bridges along with approach road on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section.

The IMT trilateral highway section in Myanmar is expected to be completed by December 2019.

A detailed project report (DPR) is underway to build the Rih-Tedim road that will help connect the trilateral highway through Zokhawthar-Rih border in Mizoram, where India has already committed huge sums for widening the highway. Currently, Myanmar is connected by road only through Moreh in Manipur.

A part of IMT trilateral project, the 25.6 km long Myawaddy- ThingganNyenaung-Kawkareik section of the highway was inaugurated by Thai and Myanmar officials in August 2015, reducing travel time between Thinggan Nyenaung and Kawkareik from three hours to 45 minutes. Construction on the section had begun in 2012. On the same day, a foundation stone laying ceremony was held at Myawaddy.

Myanmar is yet to commence the beginning of construction of the Myanmar-Thailand Friendship Bridge No.2 which will link Mae Sot, Thailand with Myawaddy.

Benefits of IMT trilateral highway

This project will boost trade and commerce in the ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, as well as with the rest of Southeast Asia. India has also proposed extending the highway to the entire Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) region. A preliminary survey has also been initiated for rail connectivity parallel to the Trilateral Highway. Japan has expressed interest in funding and collaborating with India in the trilateral rail project.

A Motor Vehicles Agreement along with protocols for regulating and facilitating movement of cargo and passenger vehicular traffic is under inter-governmental negotiations between India, Myanmar and Thailand.

Parallel to overseas connectivity projects like IMT trilateral highway, the Indian government has also rolled out multi-billion dollar projects to improve both road and rail connectivity to the North-Eastern States. As part of the project, a DPR is launched to build a new road-cum-rail bridge at Dhubri near the Bengal-Assam border. The proposed 15-km long Dhubri- Fulbari bridge will pave way for easy connectivity to the Garo Hills in Meghalaya and the neighbouring Northern Bangladeshi districts. India recently has also completed building a 9 km long Dhola-Sadia bridge at the Assam-Arunachal border, and another 5-km long bridge at Bogibeel over Brahmaputra is also nearing completion.

The IMT highway project will facilitate trade and promote production networks across the borders. It will boost trade and commerce in the ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, as well as with the rest of Southeast Asia.

Indo-ASEAN trade looking up

Over the past decade, trade relations between India and ASEAN have improved significantly. The total bilateral trade between the two regions increased more than three-fold from $21 billion in 2005- 06 to $81.33 billion in 2017-18. The region also emerged as India’s second largest trading partner in 2017-18, with a share of 10.58% in the world’s fastest-growing major economy’s overall trade.