S Samy Vellu, 74, who assumed duties as Malaysiaâ€™s special envoy with ministerial rank on infrastructure to India and South Asia last month, has his task cut out. As he led a 240-member delegation comprising politicians, businessmen, non-governmental organisations and media to the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), the annual meeting of People of Indian Origin (PIO) held early January in New Delhi, he could not have asked for better exposure to Malaysiaâ€™s eager forays into the Indian infrastructure arenaâ€”especially in highways.
Malaysia is well known for its highway building expertise, and the countryâ€™s efforts to use Velluâ€™s position as a Malaysian-Indian leader to tie up with India in projects is a clever strategyâ€”one from which both countries can gain. Vellu believes Malaysian businessmen are keen on India because â€œin the next 10-15 years, roads [in India] will see a dramatic change.â€ Vellu already has a position on how India can go about its highway infrastructure development plans: he says cities should be connected through expressways, and toll collection should be awarded to a single company. â€œThe only problem,â€ Vellu points out, â€œis land acquisition.â€
Over the past 10 years, Vellu says, Malaysian businessmen had played a significant role in infrastructure development in India, completing projects worth about $20 billion, but that the figure has dwindled of late. During a meeting with Manmohan Singh here in October, Vellu had expressed the hope that Malaysian businessmen would be given more opportunities by the Indian government to participate in infrastructure development projects in India.
During Velluâ€™s official visit here last October, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said India welcomed greater Malaysian participation given Malaysiaâ€™s strength in the sector.