India should be more sensitive to local concerns about the Kaladan project if it is to earn the public’s trust and avoid the bitter acrimony resulting from major infrastructure investment by Chinese companies in Myanmar.
Critics of the US$214-million transport project, which is being constructed in Western Myanmar as part of a joint venture between the two governments, say that India is not doing enough to allay concerns that local people affected by the project face yet another land grab that will destroy their communities and alienate them from their traditional ways of life.
The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Project, which is financed by the Indian government, aims to connect Mizoram State in Northeast India with a deep-sea port at Sittwe, in Western Myanmar. The transport route will pass through Rakhine and Chin States. Along the transport project route are Sittwe, Pauktaw, Ponnyakyun, MyraukU, Kyauktaw, and Paletwa.
Once completed, the project is expected to be a cornerstone of India’s “Look East Policy,” which is aimed at expanding India’s economic and political influence in Southeast Asia.
“We hope that the more democratically developed India will hold itself more accountable than China on this project, as the latter’s investments in Myanmar have been subject to criticism. We would like to make this very clear to India: in all the time it has taken to implement this project, India has contributed almost nothing of benefit to the local community,” said a Kaladan Movement activist.
The Kaladan project, which was not cancelled despite religious violence that swept through Rakhine State, is set to begin soon.
The project will be implemented in four phases. In the first, jetties and ports will be constructed. In the second, the Kaladan river will have to be dredged, a port constructed in Paletwa in Chin State, and a cargo transferring center arranged. In the third and fourth phases, Myanmar-India highways will be built.
“We told Indian parliamentarians during a meeting last month to share details of the project with Myanmar people, but the Indian side replied they were unable to do so because we did not have any law [concerning impact assessment]. The transport minister even said that environmental impact assessment and social impact assessment records would be issued soon, but nothing has come out so far,” said Kalandan Movement activist Khin Salai Aik Zet.
“We want to believe more in the Indian project than the Chinese project. No transparency has been found in the Mwaytaung Phartaung project operated by China,” said Salai Kyeobeek Htaung, general secretary of Chin National Party.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the government agent signed the agreement in principle with the Indian External Affairs Ministry in 2008. The Transport Ministry has taken responsibility for the implementation of the project.