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Mainstream, VOL LV No 38 New Delhi September 9, 2017

Kaladan Multimodal Corridor: A Catalyst for India’s North-East

Saturday 9 September 2017

by Jajati K. Pattnaik

The Kaladan multimodal corridor, as an important component of the Act East policy,1 is poised to link India’s North-East with the ASEAN2 through a multimodal transit system based on road, river and seaways.The corridor, initiated during the UPA regime under the canopy of ‘North-Eastern Region Vision 2020’,3

is being prioritised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reinforce the region’s development through cross-country economic corridors. Moreover, the timely implementation of the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport (KMTT) project could only prove a catalyst for India’s North-East.

It is pertinent to mention that India’s North-Eastern region abounds with natural resources accounting for nearly half of the country’s total bio-diversity. The region holds one-fifth of India’s hydrocarbon reserves and is affluent in hydropower reserve. Nevertheless, there is a crisis of development in the region due to a multitude of historical-political, economic and structural factors.

The partition of India in 1947 delinked North-East India’s land and sea connectivity with East Bengal, limiting the region’s geographical connectivity with mainland India only through the 27 sq km narrow Siliguri corridor, called Chicken’s Nake. The infrastructural bottlenecks of this landlocked hilly region have constrained the pace of development, isolating it from the mainland’s economic development. In this context, cross-country corridors, specifically; the Kaladan one remains significant for the North-East.

The corridor is named after river Kaladan which originates in the Chin state of Myanmar and passes through the southern districts of Mizoram before falling into the Bay of Bengal. The Ministry of External Affairs of India, which acts as the nodal agency for the Kaladan transit corridor, signed the Framework of Agreement with the Myanmar Government in 2008 for the implemen-tation of this ambitious project. This transport project would link the Kolkata sea port and India’s North-East with the Sittwe port in Myanmar. The passage covers a total distance of 907 km. As per the Ministry of Development of North-Eastern Region (MDONER)’s road-map, the goods are to be transhipped from the Kolkata port in India to the Sittwe port in Myanmar (539 km); from Sittwe to Paletwa by inland water transport (158 km) on river Kaladan; from Paletwa to the India-Myanmar border in Myanmar by road (110 km); and National Highway 54 to Lawngtlai (Mizoram) in India (100 km). Table no. 1 explicates the ongoing Kaladan multimodal corridor.

This multimodal transport corridor would also link the North-Eastern region to the Sittwe port in Myanmar and would pave the way for greater connectivity of the region with the ASEAN as well. Table no. 2 explains the road-map for the North-East-Sittwe multimodal corridor.

Source: Google Map

Image of North-East-Sittwe Multimodal Corridor

Source: Google Map

At present, the project is intended towards an integrated port and Inland water transport (IWT) terminal at Sittwe, smooth navigational channel from Sittwe to Paletwa and a highway trans-shipment terminal at Paletwa. To make sure that it becomes an active pillar of the country’s Act East policy, the government of India has approved the revised cost estimate of Rs 2,904.04 crore for the early completion of this strategic port in the larger interest of India’s North-East. In the initial stage, the corridor would link the North-East with Myanmar, but in the later stage, it would link the region with Phuket, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Saigon and Ho Chi Minh and Singapore sea ports in the free trade architecture.

As the External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, at the inaugural session of the Delhi Dialogue VIII, said, “We also have maritime boundaries with several ASEAN countries, and this is particularly important from a trade perspective. We have started negotiations on an ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Cooperation Agreement, and hope that it will be finalised by the end of the year. Likewise, work is in progress on the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport project which will provide a road and riverine link between Myanmar and Mizoram as well as connect Indian ports to the Sittwe port in Myanmar. Our experiment with a dedicated fortnightly freighter service with Myanmar has proven to be a commercial success. We plan to commission a study soon if this experiment can be replicated, both for cargo and passenger services, with other South-East Asian countries”. She further added: “We are simultaneously endeavouring to see how we can transform the corridors of connectivity into corridors of economic cooperation.” Thus, with the change of regime in Myanmar, now it would be quite easier on the part of New Delhi to deal with Yangon’s democratic dispensation for closer economic cooperation, and remove the situational hurdle, if any, for the early completion of the project.

This multimodal transport corridor, if imple-mented in time, would transform the geo-economic scenario of the region as well as end its maritime isolation. This project would create opportunities for the emergence of industrial clusters in the North-East, provided the political leadership sets the agenda with a robust entrepreneurial culture and announces institutional reforms to mark the growth and development in the region. Then only would the NE region be ready to kick-start its trade and economic cooperation with the ASEAN and other regional groupings. Besides this, the Kaladan corridor would also raise the importance of the North-Eastern region from the perspective of the Act East policy and transform it from a landlocked to a sea-linked region in the near future.


1. The ‘Look-East Policy’, which was initially shaped by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1991, was changed into the ‘Act-East Policy’ under the present political dispensation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This government has called for a robust and result-oriented diplomacy to attain India’s national interest in its Eastern neighbourhood. The piecemeal approach was supposed to be replaced by a proactive one to steer the course with a renewed spirit in order to secure tangible results in geostrategic as well as geo-economic terms. Contextualised in India’s North-East, the policy has remained a mere rhetoric; yet the recent stride has generated a lot of optimism among the academia, policy-makers and other stakeholders in the region for a relook at the policy with a new paradigm. See, Jajati K. Pattnaik, “Act East through the North-East”, Mainstream, April 12, 2015.

2. The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) came into existence through the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) signed by its original members, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand at Bangkok on August 8, 1967. Later, the membership got increased to ten with the entry of Brunei Darussalam in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic in 1997, Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999. The objective of the ASEAN is to augment ‘economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours’, develop ‘regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law’, increase ‘active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields’ and uphold ‘close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes, and explore all avenues for even closer cooperation among themselves’. See, Association of South-East Asian Nations, http://www.aseansec.org/about_ASEAN.-html

3. The NER Vision 2020 is a document prepared by a conglomerate of intellectuals, experts and policy-makers under the auspices of the North-Eastern Council (NEC) aims at bringing welfare and development of the people based on empowerment, participatory development, resource-oriented industries, skill development, public investment and the NER’s connectivity with the ASEAN through good neighbourhood ties. This was adopted at the 56th plenary session of the NEC at Agartala on May 13, 2008. (MDONER 2008)


‘Cabinet Approves Revised Cost of Kaladan Project with Myanmar’, Business Standard, October 15, 2015.

Ministry of Development of North-Eastern Region, Government of India (2008), “North-Eastern Region Vision 2020”, http://www.MDONER.gov.in/sites/default/files/silo2_content/ner_vision/Vision_2020.pdf

Ministry of Development of North-Eastern Region, Government of India (2014), “Kaladan Multi Modal Transport Project”, http://mdoner.gov.in/content/introduction-1

Pattnaik, Jajati K. (2016), “Look East Policy and India’s Northeastern region: Status of Cross-border Trade ad Connectivity” in Gurudas Das and C. Joshua Thomas (eds.), Look East to Act East policy: Implications for India’s Northeast, London and New York: Routledge.

Press Information Bureau, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India (2015), “Keynote Address by External Affairs Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj at the Inaugural Session of Delhi Dialogue VII”, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=116864

Dr. Jajati K. Pattnaik is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Jomin Tayeng Government Model Degree College, Roing, Arunachal Pradesh. He was formerly a Visiting Scholar at the Gulf Studies Programme, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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