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SEPTEMBER 15, 2017

Can India ignore the Rohingya crisis?

  • Over 379,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh. India should come forward to help the refugees. The reasons are threefold: maintaining a tradition of generosity, and economic and strategic factors.

A welcoming nation

  • First, not only as a major power in the region but also as the largest democracy in the world, there are expectations that India should extend help to the fleeing Rohingya, at least on humanitarian grounds, and contribute to help resolve the conundrum. India has been historically known to be benevolent to refugees. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, it welcomed thousands of refugees from Myanmar. New Delhi not only provided basic necessities such as food and shelter but also provided refugees the necessary logistics to continue their pro-democratic movement from India.
    • Another extant example of India’s magnanimity in welcoming refugees is the presence of approximately 120,000 Tibetan refugees, residing in different parts of India. From the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to the incumbent, Narendra Modi, India has been providing all necessary assistance to the Tibetans, including the government-in-exile in McLeodganj, a suburb of Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. India is also a home for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, internal refugees from Kashmir, and even some 40,000 Rohingya from Myanmar.
  • It is understandable about the concerns in some quarters in India that the Islamist terrorist groups may expand their networks through some hard-line Rohingya. However, since the refugees have no home to return to, at least at the moment, New Delhi should reconsider the idea of deporting them. The question one should seriously ponder is, where the refugees would go if they are deported at a time when both the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments are refusing to accept them as citizens?

Projects at stake

  • Second, peace and stability in the Rakhine state is important for India’s economic investment. During his September 5-7 visit to Myanmar, Prime Minister Modi said India shares Myanmar’s concerns over “extremist violence” in Rakhine.
    • He also emphasised the need to bring about overall socio-economic development in the state by undertaking both infrastructure and socio-economic projects. The continued violence in Rakhine state is affecting India’s Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport project, aimed at developing transport infrastructure in south-west Myanmar and India’s Northeast. The project includes the construction of a deepwater port at the mouth of the Kaladan river in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state on the Bay of Bengal. Reconciliation between the Rohingya Muslims and the Rakhine Buddhists is necessary for peace to prevail. It is therefore in the economic interest of India to show its generosity and reach out to all peoples of the state.


  • Third, it is understandable that India does not want a strained relationship with Myanmar at this juncture when New Delhi is exploring ways to enhance its presence and influence in Myanmar and the Southeast Asia region through its Act East policy. But this does not have to be at the expense of alienating or marginalising the Rohingya.
    • When there are growing calls from the international community to the Myanmar government to end violence in Rakhine state and address the Rohingya conundrum, it would not be a wise strategic move for India to ignore them. While the government may take a conscious decision to publicly support Myanmarese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, at the same time it should gently prod her government to adopt a positive attitude toward resolving the Rohingya problem with the help of the international community.


The new highways

  • As acquisition of land for national and State highways becomes scarce and the cost of construction of roads, flyovers and bridges goes up, the government is now exploring using water as a means of public transportation.

Some challenges

  • With the enactment of the National Waterways Act, 2016, the total number of national waterways is now 111. But providing infrastructure such as jetties, terminals, and navigational channels continues to pose a challenge.
  • Hence, the government has proposed an amendment to the Central Road Fund Act, 2000. The Central Road Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2017 implants ‘national waterways’ into the 2000 Act.The Bill proposes using a part of the cess collected on high-speed diesel and petrol for the upkeep of the national and State highways for maintaining the infrastructure of the national waterways.
  • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, which tabled the Bill in July 2017 in the Lok Sabha, said national waterways provide a cost-effective, logistically efficient and environment-friendly mode of transport, whose development as a supplementary mode would enable diversion of traffic from over-congested roads and railways. It is argued that the waterways project deserves better regulation and development across the country.



Finding the funds

  • In order to suitably develop national waterways, sustainable source of funding is imperative as budgetary support and funds from multilateral institutions are inadequate.
  • In a statement on objectives and reasons for the amendment, the Ministry said that “one of the sustainable sources of funding for the development of waterways is to earmark certain per cent of cess levied and collected on high speed diesel and petrol under the Central Road Fund Act of 2000”. It has proposed to provide 2.5% of the cess on high-speed diesel and petrol for the development and maintenance of national waterways. This would accelerate the development of national waterways by utilising the funds generated by way of cess. It also offers incentives and certainty for the private sector to invest in the inland waterways transport sector.
  • At the current rates of levy of cess, about Rs. 2,000 crore per annum is estimated to be available for the development and maintenance of national waterways. The administration of the cess collected will also involve some expenditure. It is not possible to indicate the quantum of expenditure involved at this stage. However, the expenditure involved for this purpose would be met out of the budgetary provision of each year by the Ministry of Shipping, as approved by Parliament.