All aboard in Burma

Under the headline “India Seeks New Rail Link through Burma, China, Russia”, The Irrawaddy‘s William Boot reports:

The Indian Railways Board has a plan to build 150 kilometers of rail track across its northeastern Mizoram state and another 200 kilometers inside Burma to hook up with a line the Chinese are said to be planning which will run through Yunnan Province…It’s the ambition of the chief of India’s railways, Jay Prakash Batra, who has also become chairman of the Paris-based International Union of Railways (UIC).

Announcements like this – whether to do with roads, bridges or the other infrastructure of trans-border linkage – are part of a century-long refrain in the India-Burma-China theatre. Big dreams to link “the region” together have very rarely got any wind in their sails. Occasionally, some scheme or another is made to happen. The most famous – the World War II-era Burma Roads – were built by the allies trying to find a conduit to supply Chinese troops fighting the Japanese. Since then, even these roads have, by and large, fallen into disrepair.

Today, building any type of trans-regional linkage across Burma is fraught with difficulties.

As I have remarked in the past, Burma, and particularly the parts of the north where this railway would run, have some of Southeast Asia’s most basic transport infrastructure. This newly announced Indian ambition for a railway should only serve to re-focus our attention on the Burmese government’s failure to provide adequate transport infrastructure for its citizens. It is often overlooked that one of the many sins of the Burmese regime is its lack of investment in the public goods that can foster a diverse and dynamic economy.

The junta has failed, in so many ways, to invest in the day-to-day needs of its people.

In the New Year, New Mandala plans to focus more attention on these needs – and some of the diverse aspirations that the junta has continued to ignore. If there are particular topics or issues that you would like to see covered in this new series, please do not hesitate to get in contact with me.