India, which recently bagged the strategically important Chabahar Port project in Iran, plans to develop Payra Port in Bangladesh as a part of its ‘Act East’ policy.

Indian Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari recently said that New Delhi is discussing different aspects of the project with Dhaka, as India Ports Global – a joint venture between state-run Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and Kandla Port for overseas ports – has shown interest in developing the Bangladeshi port. “Talks are on between our External Affairs Ministry and them (Bangladesh). Dhaka also wants us. We have sent a team there for studies,” stressed the minister.

In the past, China had shown keen interest in building the Payra port. However, the Sheikh Hasina government in Dhaka plans to award the deal to India. New Delhi has welcomed Dhaka’s move, describing the Hasina government’s decision as a reflection of the growing Indo-Bangladeshi ties.

Since becoming PM of India in May 2014, Narendra Modi has been talking about an ‘Act East’ policy. Although India is building maritime infrastructure in Iran (in West Asia), it is also eager to develop the same infrastructure in Bangladesh and other Southeast Asian countries in order to counter neighbouring China’s aggressive policy in the region. New Delhi is well aware of China’s plan to corner India in its own backyard by developing Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and Gwadar Port in Pakistan.

Gadkari told the media: “The Shipping Ministry is closely following the developments in regard to the Payra Port so as to secure our national and strategic interests.” He said that it would be important for India to counter China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy on the basis of which the Asian giant is creating assets across the circumference of the Indian Peninsula in the Indian Ocean Rim region.

Meanwhile, the minister revealed India started constructing a bridge over the Feni River in Tripura mainly to transport heavy machines and goods to and from the north-eastern provinces and the rest of India via Bangladesh through the Chittagong international port. Earlier, Dhaka had agreed to allow New Delhi to use the Chittagong port that is situated about 72km from Tripura’s southern border town of Sabroom. Prime Minister Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Hasina had jointly laid the foundation stone of the bridge on June 6-7, 2015.

Gadkari met the press a couple of weeks after India secured a deal with Iran to set up the strategically important Chabahar Port in the West Asian nation with an initial commitment of USD 500 million. The minister claimed that the Chabahar project would help serve India’s interests not only in the Persian Gulf region, but also in the broader region (read Central Asia). Experts opine that the immediate benefit of developing the Chabahar port will be cheaper gas availability that can help India reduce its subsidy bill by nearly USD 6-7 billion.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]