India mega-transport project lacks transparency – civil society

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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.”

Civil society slams political parties for resisting RTI

NEW DELHI: Civil society members and RTI activists sharply criticized political parties for their reluctance to accept the Central Information Commission (CIC) order bringing them under the RTI act. In a reflection of their cautious stance, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR was the principle applicant who sought information on donors to political parties) filed a caveat on Tuesday with the court to prevent any party from seeking an ex-partestay on the CIC order.

MKSS’ Aruna Roy supported the decision saying that financial transparency was necessary. She added, We have always demanded that NGOs, trade unions, political parties, religious bodies and cooperative societies who are using public funds should be brought under the RTIact.”

Political parties opposing the decision came in for sharp criticism from Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) Prof Jagdeep Chhokar who said, If RTI is applicable to the government then those who form the government must also be included. Political parties are not above the law.”

RTI activist S C Agrawal said, This was a landmark judgment that would increase transparency and accountability in the political system. The CIC order will also have implications on cases like DGCA and BCCI that have opposed being brought under the RTI act.”

National Commission for Minorities (NCM) chairperson and former Chief Information Commission Wajahat Habibullah described it as a constructive order.” Reacting to the parties’ opposition Habibullah said, Initial reaction is bound to be negative…the Supreme Court, army…all opposed it when they were first brought within the ambit of the act. But when they understand the merits of the order they will accept it.

There are no grounds for apprehension since a lot of the information that is sought is already available through the government.”

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National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI)’s Nikhil Dey said that financial transparency should be put up for public scrutiny. The order is important as the principle of ‘substantially funded’ interpreted by the CIC will have an impact on hospitals, schools and other public institutions that should be open to RTI as well.”

Former Information Commission in the CIC Shailesh Gandhi said that unless a political party was based on illegal activities or black money there was no cause for concern. Why are political parties opposed to transparency and RTI? In fact citizens must vote for only those parties that are transparent,” he said.

Pointing to the opaqueness among political parties, ADR pointed out how basic information like memorandum of association of parties, election manifesto, monthly remuneration of the party office-bearers was not available.