A multi-million dollar Indian transport project in Western Myanmar was criticised in a recent report by local civil society groups for lacking transparency and not benefiting local communities.
The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Project is financed by the Indian government and aims to connect Mizoram State in Northeast India with a deep-sea port at Sittway, Western Myanmar. The project is seen as a strategic step for building bilateral trade between the two countries.
The project recently came under fire by the Kaladan Movement, an alliance of civil society groups, who highlighted the need for wider transparency and accountability.
“Implementation of the Kaladan Project should be fully transparent, and should ensure full local consultation and participation; the benefits of the project go to the least advantaged communities; and accountability for ALL stakeholders be involved in the project. Unless and until these essential elements are fulfilled, the Kaladan Project should be suspended,” said the Kaladan Movement in a press release.
The Kaladan Movement comprises of the Arakan River Network, Chin Human Rights Organization and Zo Indigenous Forum, who prepared the report after extensive field research in Chin and Rakhine States in Myanmar and Mizoram State in India.
The US$214 million project has been hailed as a cornerstone of India’s “Look East Policy” aiming to expand India’s economic and political influence in Southeast Asia.
Due to be operational by 2015, it was part of an agreement signed between India and Myanamr 2008 and involves the construction of a combined inland waterway and highway transportation system connecting the isolated Northeast India with important trade routes through the Bay of Bengal.
Furthermore, the project aims to provide badly needed transportation access in Chin and Arakan states, some of the most impoverished regions in Myanmar.
However, local communities claim that there has been a lack of consultation and some have been forcibly relocated and had their lands confiscated. The project is also destructive to the local ecosystem and threatens cultural heritage, according to the Kaladan Movement. Representatives of the project were unavailable to comment.
“The environmental, social and health impacts (of the project) need to be analysed and the results should be informed to the public. If the project is not people-centred, it will not bring the benefits but tensions between Myanmar and India,” said Tartwan Zaw, Executive Director of Arakan Rivers Network.
The report listed a number of problems arising from the lack of transparency, and focuses on the concerns and hopes of the local people. It also made a series of recommendations for the project, including the need for participatory decision making with the public and welfare programs for local communities.
Salai Za Uk Ling, Program Director at Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organization, commented.
“Locals in Paletwa Township in Chin State weren’t even informed about construction of a highway in their area. How can they benefit from a project they are not informed? If there is no transparency and accountability to the public, Kaladan Project will have to stop.”