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India-Myanmar-Thailand highway: SC allows Centre to continue work

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court today allowed the Government of India to continue with its construction in the Trilateral Highway Connectivity Project between India, Myanmar and Thailand. The court clarified that owing to the importance of the project the work should go on.

The bench of CJI Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian issued the direction while hearing a plea by the Ministry of External Affairs, seeking a stay on the case proceedings going on before the Manipur High Court, which became a roadblock in construction of the road project connecting Manipur to Thailand.

The Bench observed that having regard to the importance of the project, the work should go on, and in the interest of justice the Manipur High Court should expeditiously dispose of the matter within a period of 2 weeks. The Court observed that there is no stay on the project as the work is important enough to proceed.

During the hearing Attorney General KK Venugopal submitted: “We have received a letter from our Ambassador in Myanmar, saying that China completed its projects swiftly and in time, but India’s credibility is under question. India needs to start construction of the first bridge so that Myanmar is not frustrated.”

Attorney General KK Venugopal/Photo: Anil Shakya
Attorney General KK Venugopal/Photo: Anil Shakya

In response to the court’s suggestion to order a status quo on the project, AG responded by saying that a status quo would lead to Myanmar government being very frustrated.

CJI Bobde suggested if the Manipur high court be asked to decide the case swiftly or the Supreme Court decides the matter, because transferring all records to Delhi High Court will take a long time.

There is no stay at this moment. We will start functioning on the first bridge. Our agencies can start on the project. Please do not pass any orders which would prevent us from taking advantage of the situation. “ – AG said.

Without getting into details at this stage, the Court stated that the Union of India is free to carry on its work because the stay expired in September 2019, and the Manipur High Court should hear the matter within 15 days.

The Apex Court on July 28, had stayed the proceedings of the case filed by the defaulting contractor before the Manipur high court, based on a plea filed by the Ministry of External Affairs.

On August 29, 2016 an agreement was signed between India and Myanmar, to construct and upgrade 69 bridges as part of the road project from Manipur till Thailand. In November, 2017, the project was given to a joint venture of Niraj Cement Structurals Limited and Manipur Tribal Development Corporation Limited. This was followed by the project being delayed which led to India (through project consultant IRCON Infrastructure and Services Limited) terminating the contract. The contractor challenged this termination before the Manipur High Court which is still pending.

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The Ministry in its plea before Supreme Court challenged the validity of this petition by the contractor. According to the government, Manipur HC lacks jurisdiction to hear the case and any further pendency of litigation before Manipur High Court will be harmful to India’s bilateral relations with its neighbours and effect its trans-nationally significant development and connectivity initiatives.

-India Legal Bureau

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