The eagerly anticipated Kolkata-Bangkok Trilateral Highway is poised to officially open within the next three to four years. Spanning a length of 2,800 kilometers, this ambitious highway project represents a significant milestone in reinforcing the trade relations between India and Thailand.
In the near future, the bustling metropolis of Bangkok in Thailand and an eastern Indian city will be seamlessly connected by road, offering a novel means of travel between the two destinations. This groundbreaking development signifies a significant shift from conventional modes of transportation, such as air travel, and opens up exciting possibilities for enhanced connectivity and cultural exchange.
The upcoming massive project, which involves multiple nations, possesses the remarkable potential to revolutionize regional trade and transportation. This ambitious endeavor is poised to bring about a paradigm shift in how goods and services are exchanged, fostering economic growth and connectivity across the regions involved.
The construction of the Kolkata-Bangkok Highway represents a momentous milestone in the ongoing efforts to enhance connectivity and strengthen trade relations between India and Thailand. This ambitious project aims to establish a seamless connection between the two countries, facilitating smoother travel and trade exchanges.
According to News18, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) project serves as the umbrella organization for the highway project that aims to connect Kolkata and Bangkok. This collaborative effort among BIMSTEC member nations highlights the collective commitment to enhance regional connectivity and promote economic cooperation.
According to reports, the construction of the Kolkata-Bangkok highway project has already commenced, marking an important milestone in the realization of this ambitious endeavor. The project’s anticipated strategy and its potential to significantly boost the economy have garnered considerable attention.
The trilateral highway project, originally proposed by then-Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, emerged during a ministerial meeting held in Yangon, Myanmar, in April 2002. This initiative aimed to enhance trade and connectivity between India and the member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The project, as reported by Swarajya, was envisioned as a strategic effort to deepen economic cooperation and strengthen regional integration.
The Project Has Long History
The construction of the 160-kilometer-long Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road (Moreh-Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo) holds a significant place in the long history of the project. Swarajya magazine highlights that the project was undertaken by India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and was maintained by them until 2009, in adherence to the bilateral agreement between India and Myanmar. The project’s historical context sheds light on the early stages of collaboration between the two nations and sets the foundation for further developments in the trilateral highway project.
Following the maintenance responsibilities of the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road by India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) until 2009, the upgrading of bridges along the road faced financial limitations in Myanmar, preventing their improvement. In May 2012, during the administration of then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it was announced that India would allocate $100 million (~Rs 8.192 billion) to convert the existing highway into a four-lane road and rebuild the 71 bridges along the stretch. However, this development did not materialize until Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in 2014. The delayed implementation of the upgrade and reconstruction of the road and bridges reflects the challenges and changing dynamics that influenced the project’s timeline.
In August 2016, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between India and Myanmar, outlining India’s commitment to funding the construction of 69 bridges along the 146.28-kilometer stretch of the Tamu to Kalewa road. This agreement marked a significant milestone in the progress of the trilateral highway project. Subsequently, in November 2017, the upgradation of the 160-kilometer portion of the projected road was successfully completed at a cost of $27.28 million (~Rs 2.293 billion). These developments demonstrated India’s commitment to enhancing connectivity and promoting economic cooperation in the region.
Furthermore, in August 2017, India allocated an additional $256 million (~Rs 20.96 billion) to complete all outstanding work on the highway’s Myanmar sector. This allocation of funds showcased India’s continued investment in the project and its determination to overcome any remaining challenges. The financial commitment highlighted India’s recognition of the project’s strategic importance and its dedication to realizing the full potential of the trilateral highway.
In September of the same year, the Modi administration awarded a contract worth $150 million (~Rs 12.28 billion) for the upgrade and maintenance of the Kalewa to Yar Gyi stretch, covering a distance of 121.8 kilometers along the highway. This contract signified a significant step towards the overall improvement of the trilateral highway project and further highlighted India’s commitment to enhancing connectivity and infrastructure development in the region.
Additionally, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, the Indian government successfully persuaded Thailand to provide funding for a 68-kilometer section of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar. This particular section spans from Thaton in the Mon state to Ein Du in the Kayin state. The collaboration between India and Thailand in securing funding for this section reflects the collective efforts to promote regional connectivity and strengthen economic cooperation among the participating nations.
In recognition of Myanmar’s financial challenges in upgrading the Thaton-Ein Du stretch of the trilateral highway, an MoU was signed in February 2017, entrusting Thailand with the responsibility of upgrading this portion. The MoU outlined that Thailand would undertake the project at a cost of $51 million (~Rs 4.178 billion). This agreement exemplified the collaborative approach among the participating nations to ensure the completion of the highway and promote regional connectivity.
According to the Myanmar Commerce Minister, the signing of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicles Agreement is a priority and will take place at the earliest opportunity. The agreement, along with protocols to regulate and facilitate the movement of cargo and passenger vehicular traffic, is currently being negotiated between the governments of India, Myanmar, and Thailand. This development signifies the ongoing efforts and commitment of the participating nations to enhance regional connectivity and promote seamless transportation along the trilateral highway.
The construction work on the Kalewa to Yar Gyi stretch of the trilateral highway has faced significant challenges due to the conflict between rebels, primarily the Arakan Army, and the Myanmarese regime. This conflict has resulted in the suspension of construction activities along this stretch of the highway. In an effort to mitigate these challenges, it is reported that New Delhi, during the Modi administration, reached out to the Arakan Army to secure a commitment from the rebel group not to obstruct the construction of the highway section passing through the Sagaing province.
Kolkata-Bangkok Highway Route
The proposed Kolkata-Bangkok highway is estimated to span approximately 2,800 kilometers in total. Among the participating nations, Thailand would have the shortest section of the roadway, while India would possess the longest stretch.
The expansive trilateral highway project, as per reports, is envisioned to commence in Bangkok, Thailand, and traverse several significant cities and regions before reaching its destination in Kolkata, India. The proposed route includes key cities and locations in both Myanmar and India.
In Thailand, the highway is expected to pass through Bangkok, Sukhothai, Mae Sot, and other relevant areas, linking with existing road networks in the country. In Myanmar, the route would encompass Mandalay, Yangon, Kalewa, Tamu, and potentially additional regions as part of the journey towards the Indian border.
Once the highway enters India, it would encompass a range of cities such as Kohima, Moreh, Srirampur, Guwahati, Kolkata, and Siliguri. These cities are strategically located along the route to facilitate connectivity and maximize the economic benefits of the highway.
With a projected total distance ranging from 2,800 to 2,820 kilometers, the trilateral highway would cover a substantial distance, fostering closer ties and promoting regional trade and cooperation. It is worth noting that reports indicate the Indian section of the highway would have the longest stretch, while the Thai section would be relatively shorter.
Stimulate Trade, Tourism and Economic Growth
The trilateral highway project holds immense potential for enhancing travel convenience and transportation, thereby fostering trade, tourism, and economic growth in the region. The anticipated benefits of the highway project align with the broader objectives of promoting regional connectivity and strengthening economic cooperation among the participating nations.
By establishing a well-connected road network between India, Myanmar, and Thailand, the trilateral highway will facilitate smoother and more efficient movement of goods, services, and people. This enhanced connectivity is expected to have a positive impact on trade, enabling businesses to access larger markets, expand their operations, and engage in cross-border trade more easily.
The improved transportation infrastructure provided by the highway will also promote tourism and facilitate greater people-to-people exchanges. Tourists and travelers will have increased accessibility to various attractions, cultural sites, and destinations along the highway, contributing to the growth of the tourism industry and fostering cultural exchanges among the nations involved.
Moreover, the trilateral highway will serve as a catalyst for economic growth, opening up new opportunities for investment and economic development in the regions it passes through. The improved connectivity and transportation linkages will attract investment, stimulate economic activities, and create employment opportunities, thereby boosting the overall economic progress of the involved countries.
News18 has reported that the foreign ministers of trade, who participated in a business conference organized by the Indian Chamber of Trade (ICC) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), have shared that the official opening of the trilateral highway is expected to take place within the next three to four years. This announcement signifies a significant development in the progress of the highway project, which aims to enhance connectivity and strengthen trade relations between India, Myanmar, and Thailand.
Vijavat Isarabhakdi, the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs for Thailand, has stated that the majority of the work on the trilateral highway project has already been completed in Thailand.
Aung Naing Oo, the Trade Minister for Myanmar, has provided an update on the progress of the trilateral highway project in his country. According to him, the majority of the 1,512-kilometer highway in Myanmar has been constructed, signifying a significant accomplishment in terms of infrastructure development.
He has acknowledged that the process of converting a 121.8-kilometer section of the road between Kalewa and Yar Gyi into a four-lane motorway will require additional time.
The forthcoming opening of the Kolkata-Bangkok Highway heralds a new era of connectivity and economic cooperation between India and Thailand. This infrastructure marvel will provide a vital link in the Asian Highway Network, enhancing regional integration and stimulating cross-border trade. As we anticipate the completion of this ambitious project in 2027, it is clear that the Kolkata-Bangkok Highway holds immense potential to reshape the economic landscape, boost tourism, and foster closer ties between the people of India and Thailand.