New Delhi : The Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has its special focus on ensuring a peaceful neighbourhood and is also backed by development at its centre following the key principle of 'Vasudev Kutumbakam', External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday. "Right from providing free vaccines to India's neighbours during the Covid crisis to helping a cash-crunched Sri Lanka economic crisis, India has always been considerate towards its neighbours, "Despite the political situations all around India's standing with its neighbours has been a consistent one," Jaishankar told ANI.
"Whether it is neighbouring nations like Bangladesh or Nepal or Sri Lanka, India has helped with the development of infrastructure as well as sharing of technology amongst others. The people of Nepal and India have a huge connection culturally as well as geographically since it's an open border, seamless movement of goods and people needs to be ensured," he said.
Detailing the projects undertaken in the neighbouring countries, the EAM named the ones including those in Nepal and Bangladesh.
"Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) equipped with modern facilities at Biratnagar were inaugurated during the Modi government. Two others in Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa are under construction," he said.
"Jayanagar-Bijalpura-Bardibas rail link: The length of the Jayanagar-Kurtha-Bijalpura-BardibasRail Link is 68.72 km, out of which 2.98 km is in India and 65.75 km is in Nepal. Jaynagar-KurthaCross-Border Rail Section (34.9 Kms.), was flagged off and operationalised by PMs of India and Nepal in April 2022. Work on the Kurtha-Bijalpura section is complete and survey work is ongoing in the final segment," Jaishankar added.
The Minister said that the Jaynagar-Kurtha rail link is the first of its kind tourist train covering the Ramayana Circuit in India and Nepal.
"Using the Jaynagar-Kurtha rail link, Shri Ramayana Yatra "Bharat Gaurav" Tourist Train with 500 tourists reached Janakpurdham on June 2022. It was the first of its kind tourist train covering the Ramayana Circuit in India and Nepal. The tourists visited Janaki temple for Darshan, witnessed a cultural program in the premises of Janaki Temple, participated in Ganga Aarti and proceeded to Sitamarhi by road for the onward journey on the Ramayana Circuit route by Bharat Gaurav Train," he said.
He informed that the 7.74 km track between Bathnaha and Nepal Customs Yard has been completed.
"Jogbani-Biratnagar rail link: The length of the Jogbani-Biratnagar railway line is 18.6 km, out of which 5.45 km is in India and 13.15 km is in Nepal. The track of the 7.74 km section between Bathnaha and Nepal Customs Yard has been completed. The government of Nepal is expected to shortly take over this rail segment. Work is ongoing in the remaining stretch," he said.
"Raxaul (India)-Kathmandu (Nepal) broad gauge rail line: In April 2018, the Prime Ministers of India and Nepal had agreed to construct a newly electrified rail line connecting Raxaul to Kathmandu. Accordingly, a Preliminary engineering-cum-traffic (PET) survey was completed and its report was shared with the Government of Nepal (GoN) in May 2019. On October 2019, GoN formally requested the Indian side to carry out a detailed survey of the chosen Alignment number. As the next step, the Ministry of Railways is undertaking a 'Final Location Survey' (FLS) of the proposed Broad Gauge railway line at a sanctioned cost of Rs 39.72 Crores. The contract for FLS has been awarded to Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL) with a completion period of 18 months.FLS work is completed and report finalization is underway," Jaishankar added.
He said that the government of India had committed Rs 800 cr (Rs 500 cr) in 2016 for the construction of 10 roads (divided into 14 packages/contracts) with a total length of 306 km in the Terai region of Nepal.
"These roads connect the East-West Highway to the Indian border, thereby increasing the ease of connectivity between the people of the two countries. The project is now complete. 13 out of 14 road packages have already been dedicated to the people of Nepal jointly by Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport of Government of Nepal and the Ambassador of India to Nepal on March 2021," he said.
Talking about the ongoing bridge projects, the Minister said that Mechi Bridge was implemented by NHIDCL with ADB funding for the construction of a bridge/ upgradation of the road (1.5 km) across the Mechi River connecting Panitanki (India) to Kakarbhitta (Nepal).
"An MoU between the Government of India and the Government of Nepal (with the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways as the line Ministry in GoI and NHIDCL as implementing agency), was signed in August 2017. The project included construction of a new 6-lane major bridge along with approach road across the River Mechi along the India-Nepal border," he said.
"The bridge is the ending point of Asian Highway 02 in India leading to Nepal and provides critical connectivity to Nepal. GoI fully funded the project at a cost of INR 158.65 crore through a loan from ADB, effectively making it a grant project for Nepal. Construction work was completed in 2021 and the bridge is now operational," Jaishankar added.
Talking about the Motorable Bridge over Mahakali River, he said that the project will augment cross-border connectivity between the Sudurpaschim province of Nepal and the Uttarakhand state of India where close people-to-people links exist between communities on both sides of the border across the Mahakali river.
"This project is being executed by Uttarakhand Public Works Department with an estimated cost of Rs 33 crores. The construction of the 110 m long bridge is expected to be completed in one year," he said.
The Minister also mentioned the investment in the energy sector, and said that the first high-capacity Muzaffarpur (India) - Dhalkebar (Nepal) cross-border power transmission line (charged at 400 kV), with GoI LoC funding of USD 13.2 million, was in completed 2016.
"Two additional 132 kV cross-border transmission lines between Kataiya (India) - Kusaha (Nepal) and Raxaul (India) - Parwanipur (Nepal), built with GoIgrant assistance, were completed in 2017," he added.
South Asia's first cross-border petroleum products pipeline, constructed and funded by Indian Oil Corporation Ltd., connecting Motihari in India to Amlekhgunj in Nepal was remotely inaugurated by the two Prime Ministers on 10 September 2019 and is now operational.
"The groundbreaking of the Indian portion of the pipeline took place on 07 April 2018 during the visit of the Prime Minister of Nepal to India. IOCL has completed the project in August 2019much ahead of the scheduled time of 30 months. The pipeline has resulted in direct economic benefits to Nepali people (decrease of NRs. 2/liter in price) as well as spared the roads from congestion," he said.
The Minister said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have a good working relationship.
"We are committed to taking our relationship forward with Bangladesh. A great step in that direction is the use of inland waterways crucial for the transportation of goods and travel of people," he said.
"Both PMs jointly inaugurated 'MaitriSetu' over River Feni in Tripura in 2021 connecting Sabroomin Tripura with Ramgarh in Bangladesh by road. LCS Sabroom on our side is ready," he added while stating that the inauguration of LCS Ramgarh in Bangladesh is expected soon.
Mentioning the Railways sector, he said that both Prime Ministers inaugurated the newly restored railway link between Haldibari (India) and Chilahati (Bangladesh) during a Virtual Summit held in December 2020.
"'Mitali Express' as the third cross-border passenger train service connecting Dhaka to New Jalpaiguri through the Haldibari-Chilahati rail link was flagged off on 1 June 2022. With this, cargo and passenger movement through Haldibari-Chilahatilink are now operational," he said.
The Minister also touched upon the petroleum sector and said that 131 km of the India-Bangladesh Friendship pipeline for supply of 1 Million Metric Tonne Per Annum, High-Speed Diesel (HSD) is being constructed from Siliguri Marketing Terminal of the Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL) in India to the Parbatipur depot of the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC).
"The part of the pipeline in Bangladesh is being built under grant assistance of the Government of India. The Project is close to completion," he said.
The three additional cross-border bus services commenced in 2015 -Dhaka-Sylhet-Shillong-Guwahati, Agartala-Kolkata-via-Dhaka, and Dhaka-Khulna-Kolkata.
"There are a total of five bus services between India and Bangladesh including Kolkata-Dhaka and Dhaka-Agartala routes," he said.
"Commencement of cruise services between both countries (2019). World's longest river cruise "Ganga Vilas" is passing in its journey from Varanasi to Dibrugarh through Bangladesh," he added.
The EAM said that the Agreement on the Use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports (ACMP) was signed in 2015 and the Standard Operating Procedures for the use of Chattogram and Mongla Port for the transhipment of goods between North - Eastern Region of India and the rest of the country through Bangladesh was agreed in 2018.
"Fourth and final trial runs completed in 2022. Customs Notification to operationalise the movement of cargo using these routes to the Northeast is awaited from the Bangladesh side," he said.
Second Addendum on Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade between India and Bangladesh was signed in May 2020 adding the Sonamura- Daudkhandi stretch of Gumti river (93 Km) as IBP route No. 9 & 10 in the Protocol and connecting Tripura through the inland waterways, the Minister said.
"A trial run for the first export consignment from Bangladesh to Tripura, India, through inland waterways was conducted on 3-5 September 2020," he added.
There has been a commencement of container and parcel train services between India and Bangladesh since July 2020.
The Minister said that an additional 160 MW of power is being supplied to Bangladesh through a link in Tripura since 2015 (in addition to 1000 MW supply through the Behrampur-Bheramara link since 2013).
Elaborating on the trans-border infrastructure between India and Bangladesh, the Minister said that the overland movement of goods between India and Bangladesh is undertaken through more than 35 Land Custom Stations (LCSs) and four Integrated Check Posts (ICPs).
"Of these, three ICPs were operationalized after 2014. These are ICP Petrapole(WB), ICP Sutarkandi (Assam) and ICP Srimantapur(Tripura). ICP Petrapole was inaugurated by the Prime Ministers of both countries on July 21, 2016. About 40 per cent of India-Bangladesh border trade passes through ICP Petrapole," he said.
The Minister noted that while India wants to ensure development in Myanmar as well, the biggest hindrance has been insurgency.
"Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project: The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP) is a strategic project being undertaken by GOI in Myanmar. The project includes a waterway component of 158 km on Kaladan River from Sittweto Paletwa and a road component of about 109 km from Paletwa to Zorinpui on the India-Myanmar border in Mizoram State," he said.
"The inland waterway Paletwa has been completed. Sittwe Port is also ready for operation," he added.
Talking about the connectivity to Bhutan, Jaishankar said that 5 new trade points have been formalised in November 2021 for Bhutan's trade with India and third countries.
"In total India has provided access to Bhutan through 10 bilateral trading points and 06 transit points for trade with Bangladesh and 02 transit points for trade with Nepal. Out of these 3 are riverine routes in Assam approved for use by Bhutan - Dhubri (already operational), Pandu and Jogighopa(yet to be operationalised)," he said.
"LCS, Nagarkata and LCS Kulkuli were operating seasonally in December 2022 both have been notified as permanent LCS. Commodity restrictions have also been removed," the Minister added.
The Minister informed that there is no Integrated Check Post (ICP) currently on the India-Bhutan border.
"West Bengal Government has offered 54 acres of land recently for the development of ICP Jaigaon. LPAI is in the process of acquiring land. India has presently a Land Customs Station (LCS) in Jaigaon. (94% of Bhutan's overall trade happens through the land route and almost 70% of Bhutan's total trade takes place here)," he said.
"Bhutanese Dry port at Pasakha: Pasakha Dry port (15 acres) one kilometre away from the border is being developed as a part of the Transitional Trade Support Facility (TSF) program of GoI grant at the cost of Nu./Rs. 170 Cr. It is close to the proposed site of ICP Jaigaon. The new dry port will contain facilities for export processing, help reduce transit time and lower the cost of freight movement across the border. The port will also help reduce the risk of damage and pilferage during the processing, storage and transhipment of cargo," the Minister added.