High potential seen in Dawei-Chennai link
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, on her official visit to India in January, expressed her vision to see development of shipping infrastructure as an economic corridor linking India with Thailand and Southeast Asia.
In this context, the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu could become a connecting point to link the Thai-invested Dawei deep sea port and special economic zone in Myanmar.
Geographically speaking, it will be perfect to connect Tamil Nadu's capital city of Chennai and Dawei as the two cities are situated exactly on opposite sides of the Bay of Bengal with a distance of 1,940 kilometres separating them. Shipments from Thailand via the future port of Dawei to Chennai would take only a few days, rather than weeks currently from Laem Chabang.
Thai Foreign Ministry director-general of South Asian Affairs Narong Sasitorn led a small delegation last week to explore the possibility of connectivity between Thailand via Myanmar with India's Coromandel Coast.
He found that the southern state of Tamil Nadu has great potential for strategic economic linkage with Thailand but many obstacles needed to be overcome as well.
Senior officials at the Tamil Nadu government's Planning and Development Department said they were not aware of Prime Minister Yingluck's vision, but they already had their own plan under the Tamil Nadu vision 2023 to make it India's most prosperous and progressive state.
Chennai has already taking in trade and investment from foreign countries, they said. Foreign investors, notably from Japan and South Korea, were intensively invested in the auto industry in Chennai, said R Vijaykmar, additional chief secretary at the Planning and Development Department. Chennai has been dubbed as Detroit of India, he said.
Tamil Nadu was also called the Textile Valley of India and the Manchester of South India for its textile production.
It was also the Rice Bowl of South India for its paddy production.
Tamil Nadu will increase its per capita income six times, from US$1,628 (Bt51,000) last year to $10,000 in the next 11 years, according to the Tamil Nadu Vision 2023.
To achieve this tall ambition, the authorities in Tamil Nadu have mapped out 10 strategic initiatives to enhance and create economic activities for growth.
The initiatives include increasing the share of manufacturing, making small and medium enterprise vibrant, making Tamil Nadu a knowledge capital and innovative hub of India, improving agricultural productivity and encouraging public-private participation schemes.
Infrastructure is the key for development. Total investment requirement for infrastructure over the next 11 years, in accordance with the 2023 Vision, is $330 billion.
The Tamil Nadu government would contribute only one-third of the required investment while the rest would come from the private sector from both domestic and foreign investors.
Tamil Nadu, however, has a long way to go to reach the goal. Chennai in particular lacks sufficient infrastructure and facilities for more economic activities. Traffic congestion due to insufficient roads, water shortage and power blackouts are common in this port city.
The state government is building infrastructure, notably a road link for the trade corridor from Chennai to Mumbai and New Delhi as well as from Chennai to the cyber-city of Bangalore, according to R Vijaykumar.
However, building infrastructure in such a crowded city is not an easy task.
Authorities in Chennai had a headache trying to remove fishing communities to pave the way for the Ennore-Manali road improvement project.
This project was to ease the congestion facing container movement in north Chennai. Local media reported that port users expressed their disappointment over Chennai Port Trust's inability to clear the way for the project. Traffic congestion, notably at the port was a serious problem as it increased business cost for transportation and logistics.
Note: This is the first of a three-part series to explore the possibilities of Chennai-Dawei connectivity to link India with Thailand via Myanmar and other Southeast Asian nations.