Home Samurai culture Seamless Pavements in the Northeast: The Indo-Japanese Way

Seamless Pavements in the Northeast: The Indo-Japanese Way

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Japan is closely involved in infrastructure development in the Northeast. But to make it a great success, India must conquer inhospitable terrain, overcome obstacles and eliminate apprehensions of a sinister Chinese territorial design for the region.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. ANI

It was during a seminar on India and Japan that this author opened his speech by invoking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s elegant denomination of the Northeast as “Ashta Lakshmi”, or the eight forms of the goddess of the richness of our culture. Indeed, as there were senior delegates from Japan in the assemblage, Modi thought it was correct to compare Lakshmi with the Japanese Daikoku, the sixth pair alongside Ebisu in the Japanese. Shichi Fukujin, or the Seven Gods of Fortune. The comparisons between the two deities of the two cultures were perhaps not too apt, but this author nevertheless managed to state that Modi’s “Ashta Lakshmi” and Daikoku come together to bring good fortune to both India and in Japan.

The discussion and interaction between the two nations focused on crucial aspects relating to connectivity. The North East is the most important land bridge to the immediate and extended vicinity of India. Indeed, with the replacement of the old “Look East Policy” with the new and new “Act East” policy, India’s engagement through the North East would be much broader. It is expected that with a new artery passing through Bangladesh, the region will have a reach to the entire Asia-Pacific region, even Japan. Work has begun in earnest to build the crucial thoroughfares, the roads that would connect the two tracts, but there is still much to do and patience was called for. After all, the fifth form of “Ashta Lakshmi” is “Dhairya Lakshmi”, which means “patience, strategy, planning and objectivity”.

It should be noted that 67 billion yen of official development assistance (ODA) loan projects have been allocated for the improvement of the road network and connectivity in the Northeast region, and Mizoram and Meghalaya were the first two fortunes of the Northeastern States. The two road projects: the two lanes from Aizawl to Tuipang in Mizoram (380 km) and the other two lanes from Tura to Dalu in Meghalaya (48 Km) were under development and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) works closely together. with the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL) and other Indian construction agencies and it is expected that detailed project reports for the rest of the states will also see the light of day soon. However, a few points are worth remembering.

  1. Proper imagination requires road construction to be supplemented by ongoing maintenance. Future bilateral commitments between the two nations are to allow for the maintenance of roads that companies like JICA would have built by JICA itself or their Japanese franchises. This author has served on the board of Assam Electricity Grid Corporation Ltd and is aware, for example, that Fuji Electricals of Japan, which built the turbines for the Karbi-Longpi Hydel project in Assam, regularly visits the site to carry out work of maintenance. Therefore, the visualization is that some force-multiplier spillovers would also occur in the road building business. Japanese highway maintenance centers would dot the highways of the Northeast and with them might come Japanese sushi outlets. With the fetish the northeast has for fish, this tourist-like business would literally swim and thrive like the samurai crab. Thus, the case was for considering a Build-Operate-Maintain type of plan as a future strategy.
  1. Northeastern states should take advantage of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 to mitigate the threat of landslides that occur annually in the region.
  1. There have reportedly been disagreements between JICA and NHIDCL over the implication of the costs, how the environmental and social impact assessment is carried out and even which technique to adopt. It was expected that these would soon be smoothed out, but even this author’s non-technical mind understood that adopting the latest “slope protection techniques and methods to balance cut and fill volumes” was best suited to the northeast terrain, a technique the Japanese have mastered.
  1. Three phases have been planned for the construction and improvement of the roads. [First: NH 54 (Mizoram) & NH 51 (Meghalaya)/ Second: NH 127B, NH 40 NH 53, NH 39/ Third: NH 62, NH 102A & NH 44] There is talk of JICA’s reluctance about the third phase because the Japanese have expressed some apprehension about a corruption case in one of the sectors. It is recommended that the Ministry of Land Transport review the apprehensions and take corrective action without delay. In addition, this author felt that JICA should intervene in the crucial East-West Corridor and also help the railway network in the Northeast. The NEFR network comprises a route of only 2,600 km, of which 1,454 km is on BG (mainly in Assam) and the rest on MG. Japan can greatly contribute to the gauge and double liner conversion process.
  1. High-speed train capacity for the North East is expected to be New Delhi’s future focus. Now that SHINKANSEN is starting to work on such a link for the distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, it has been requested that a feasibility study be instituted for a high speed train between Dibrugarh and Delhi. In fact, there has also been a case for All Nippon Airways to start helicopter service to inaccessible areas in the Northeast.
  1. Japan’s expertise in building sustainable and environmentally friendly roads over difficult mountainous terrain is known around the world. However, there is some apprehension among the Japanese about undertaking construction work in Arunachal Pradesh, a state that is an integral part of India and a state where strong and durable roads are the most necessary, especially in the construction of the Trans-Arunachal. Pradesh Highway from Tawang to Kanubari [NH1412] which would connect 11 district HQs. The so-called “territorial dispute” between India and China should have nothing to do with the Japanese construction exercises in the strategic state. As far as India is concerned, Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India and not a single inch of land would ever be ceded to China. Therefore, a clear overhaul of the Japanese consideration to keep Arunachal Pradesh away should therefore be resolutely made. It is unclear why a full briefing is not provided to allies like Japan on India’s strong stance on groundless Chinese territorial claims over Indian territory. Such misperception stops squarely at the gates of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.

Once we overcome the inhospitable terrain, overcome the obstacles, and dismiss apprehensions of a sinister Chinese territorial design for the Northeast, it would be the start of a continuous journey from Dimapur all the way to Tokyo.

The author is a conflict analyst and author of several best-selling books on security and strategy. The opinions expressed are personal.

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