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Indo-Myanmar Border Visits: Trade, connectivity still cause for concern


The present condition of the section of work in progress along NH -102 lying between Khongkhang village and Moreh in is not up to the mark. The works are moving on at snail’s pace and not systematically executed at all.

By Sanjoo Thangjam

Though we know of the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest on charges ranging from corruption to treason – reportedly and potentially carrying a combined sentence of 190 years – since the military takeover last year, a team of journalists visited Moreh to make a ground assessment of the border town on the Indian side and key areas in Myanmar closer to India on May 4 last.

We had many plans but after a day’s observation of the conditions prevailing in the Indo-Myanmar region, we decided not to venture deep into the foreign region despite the existence of many secret routes to enter Myanmar from Moreh. We were cautious of the fact that Myanmar is ranked as one of the world’s 10 worst countries for press freedom in Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) as per World Press Freedom Index.

The international border gates at Moreh were scheduled to open on February 1, 2021 but that very day, the Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup against the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. And the borders had to be shut again.

Namphalong border market in Myanmar is a cluster of permanent and semi-permanent structures where local residents set up shops every day. Each unit is not larger than 3 × 4 feet in width.  Foreign made goods are being sold across the Indian border after transporting the same via “illegal routes”. The works of the goods transporters are locally termed as “coolie work”. However, according to authorities “coolie works” are illegal, dangerous and difficult. But Myanmarese nationals living near the border markets have little choice. “Coolie works” begins at 11 pm and goes on till 4 am on a daily basis. In spite of the fear of getting caught by border forces of both India and Myanmar, they continue engaging in these works.

In Moreh, the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Gate provides two points for entry into Myanmar – Gate 1 and Gate 2, where the latter serves as the informal entrance most frequently used by small traders and daily-wage earners crossing the border every day. For 16 kilometres on either side of the border, free movement without passports is permitted by both the Indian and the Myanmar governments before the military coup in Myanmar.

However, transporting medium to large sized items across the border has never been easy as border guards would stop the transporters citing regulations. Now, with Myanmar completely sealing its border, movement has become impossible.

“Mostly, only illegal trades prevails along the India-Myanmar border. The official trade in terms of import and export of items is negligible in comparison to the items illegally transacted,” says a source familiar with the operations, requesting anonymity.

The extended border closures at Moreh, near the India-Myanmar border in Manipur have resulted in the loss of business for the approximately 200 shops tightly packed around the integrated check post on the Indian side although official trade routes were closed following the coronavirus outbreak, unregulated and illegal trade on a smaller scale continues between Moreh and Tamu, the first border town in Myanmar’s territory, till the military coup.

The journalist team decided to click photos of some important places within Indian boundary so as to represent the gloomy state of affairs that was and is still prevailing since the military junta took over Mynamar.

It may be mentioned again that Mynamar, apart from being one of the world’s 10 worst countries for press freedom in Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, it also ranked at 176th place out of 180 countries and territories, down from 140th in last year’s index

The world’s 10 worst countries for press country, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF), include China (175th), Myanmar (176th), Turkmenistan (177th), Iran (178th), Eritrea (179th), and North Korea (180th).

Certain developments on May 4 also disappointed us. The Supreme Court in military-ruled Myanmar struck down an appeal from deposed lea der Daw Aung San Suu Kyi against a five-year jail sentence she was handed last week on corruption charges.

It was said by a source with knowledge of the proceedings, ” adding that the court dismissed the appeal as soon as it was lodged without hearing arguments from either side and thus the appeal was summarily rejected,” said a source

The Nobel laureate had been found guilty in the past weeks, in the first of 11 corruption cases brought against her.

Moreover, we also came to know that the Supreme Court’s dismissal further diminishes any chance of a political comeback for the long-time symbol of resistance against the military government.

Therefore, in view of the above reasons, we took the situation to be still volatile. So we decided to quit venturing deep into Myanmar’s territory. We could not hit our target of doing a ground report on selling and buying of goods across the border despite knowing the fact that Myanmar is an important trade partner and it is also the only ASEAN country with which India shares both a land and a maritime boundary. Although seasonal agriculture provides income for some residents, it is the international trade, a significant part of which is illegal, that sustains.

However, all hopes were not lost as we still have stories to be heard and told of our own motherland – Kangleipak and we cannot cut the story short or will feel left out if we do not mention the things that we experienced and witnessed in our journey from Moreh and back to Imphal.

There is no doubt that India is working on plans of building economic corridors in its Northeast neighbourhood to boost foreign trade and give the economy the much needed leap forward. However, one wonders how India is going to implement such plans given the tardy works all visible along the Asian Highways. The present condition of the section of work in progress along NH -102 lying between Khongkhang village and Moreh in is not up to the mark. Even if we are not the authority to comment on it but we do have every right to address it because, taking into consideration of the present weather conditions and other liabilities faced by the people, the works that are going on are moving in snail pace and not properly and systematically done at all which is being constructed by Nitin Sai Construction Company, Andhra Pradesh.

As a result, commuters have to bear the brunt. Common people feel frustrated of the slow progress of the work because if the work is not complete before the rainy season though it has already come, the people of Moreh, visitors, commuters, traders, petty businessmen etc, will face a lot of trouble.

However,  it is worth mentioning that during the time when the construction were done by GE Infra, Rajasthan at NH-102 lying between Wangjing, Thoubal District and Khongkhang Village, Tengnoupal District constructed by GR Infra, Rajasthan, their works were commendable as they maintained quality, said by one of the passersbys but we wondered how the concerned authority have changed the company from GE Infra, Rajasthan to Nitin Sai Construction, Andhra Pradesh now though the centre has been saying that the Northeast can develop, prosper and eventually overcome its troubles by engaging its eastern foreign neighbouring countries.

Equally important for Northeast India especially Manipur is regional connectivity under the sub regional and regional cooperation such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Greater Mekong Sub-region cooperation.

But the question is – how long the vision of Act East Policy will come into reality taking into consideration of present trend of the work that is going on now. One has to wait and watch.

(The writer is a journalist based in Imphal)

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