India Targets Capacity Building in Myanmar

India shares strong economic and social ties with Myanmar. In fact, the country, then known as Burma, was a province of the British India, till 1937, when the country became a self-governing and separate colony. For stimulating trade and facilitating changes, the British has brought Indians and Chinese to Burma. Even today, Mandalay and Rangoon in Myanmar have a sizeable ethnic Indian population.

India’s relation with Myanmar has witnessed several ups and downs in over the last 70 years. Ethnic Indians in Myanmar continue to face the wrath of Myanmarese, more so after the military junta usurped power in 1962. But foreign minister SM Krishna’s visit to Myanmar last month was aimed at augmenting food security and capacity building among others. Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, who accompanied Krishna, met Nobel peace prize owner Aung San Suu Kyi. This was the first high level contact between the Indian government and the torchbearer for democracy in several years.

Progress in India-Myanmar relations was stalled for many years, with New Delhi’s reluctance to talk to a military government. But following a nominally democratic government assuming power in Myanmar, the two sides have signed a deal for constructing the 80 km road connecting Mizoram in the North East to Riddim in the Chin province of Myanmar’s mountainous regions. The $60 million project will improve overland trade and give a boost to local economics. Besides, the $120 million Kaladan multi-modal transport and transit project, funded and constructed by India, is also on track. The project will link the landlocked north eastern state to the Sittwe port in Myanmar. New Delhi is already the port. Naypyidaw has agreed to New Delhi’s request for a minor realignment to the project.    

As regards capacity building, India has pledged $ 10 million to Myanmar. The capacity building would focus on the latter’s agro sector, which is backbone of the country’s economy. Agriculture employs over two-thirds of the Myanmarese population and contributes 58 per cent to its GDP and 48 per cent towards its export earnings.  A team of scientists, let by eminent agriculturist MS Swaminathan, will visit Naypyidaw soon to gauge the country’s agro needs and the type of assistance India can extend.

As a part of its efforts for reaching out to the Myanmarese masses on issues entailing human security, New Delhi has donated ten disaster-proof silos, four for the Yangon regions and seven for the Irrawaddy region, for storing grains. The silos are capable to withstand wind speeds of up to 150 km/hr and resist earthquakes measuring up to eight on the Richter scale. The silos are expected to significantly increase food security in the cyclone-prone country.

New Delhi has expressed concern to Naypyidaw over several insurgent groups, active in the North East, setting up training centres and bases in Myanmar. It’s common knowledge that the military junta of Myanmar had patronised insurgency in the North East for decades. But with democracy supposedly limping back in the country, Naypyidaw is expected to adopt proactive steps to reciprocate New Delhi’s extension of the helping hand.

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