India talks of the 'Act East' policy but has done little so far to take up with Myanmar the issue of an easy visa regime.
"That is so upsetting for us in Manipur and the Northeast who want closer ties with neighbouring provinces in Myanmar. We spend much more than mainland Indians travelling to Myanmar or even getting a visa," said R.K Shivachandra, convenor of the “Operationalising Act East Committee" of Manipur.
Manipur has the best connectivity with Myanmar among all the states of India and a famous proverb in Manipuri says the state will become prosperous “only if the Eastern gates open”.
Indian PM Narendra Modi also referred to this 'Eastern gates opening to Myanmar' on Wednesday.
Shivachandra said India and Myanmar must have ‘visa on arrival arrangements' for nationals of both countries at border checkposts like Moreh and Tamu or atleast visa offices there.
"When Burmese nationals come to Manipur for medical treatment where good hospitals exist. They have to first get visa from an Indian embassy in Yangon or Mandalay. Even with a normal visa, they have to get a special permit," said Shivachandra, who is now in Yangon on a visit facilitated by the Indian ministry of external; affairs.
"Similarly when a Manipur businessman wants to go to Myanmar, he spends a fortune going to Calcutta for visa and often has to get into the country via Bangkok because of a lack of flights on all days of the week."
"How can Act East work if northeast Indians and Myanmars cannot reach other easily and cheaply. Physical connectivity like roads are not enough, we need soft enabling infrastructure like an easy visa regime to facilitate peoples-to-people connectivity, so Act East will work only when people-to-people connectivity is easy," he told Mizzima in an exclusive interview.
Giving his case, Shivachandra said to be in time for the Modi visit he had to purchase a ticket via Bangkok air for 750 US dollars.
"If I could come to Kalemyo from Manipur for a few dollars, it would only cost me $100 for a Kalemyo-Yangon flight," he said.
Shivachandra pitched strongly for the Imphal-Mandalay bus service.
"That is on paper now; it must happen soon. Manipuris, Nagas and Mizos should travel to Myanmar as easily as Bengalis do to Dhaka now with buses and trains," he told Mizzima.
He said the Myanmar National Airlines must land at Imphal on the way to Yangon from Calcutta and the Air India flight should do the same much as it touches Bodh Gaya on its way into Calcutta from Yangon.
"Physical connectivity and people-to-people contacts go hand in hand."