Security Concerns Delay Kaladan Project
The Union home ministry has listed security concerns and lack of access as the reasons for the delay in the mega-infrastructure project for enhancing connectivity to the north-east linking Kolkata to Mizoram via Sitwe port.
The Kaladan project, that is expected to be a big boost for connectivity and enhance infrastructure in both India and Myanmar, has been under threat from Myanmar-based insurgent group Arakan Army that is said to be backed by China.
India Today TV had earlier reported how a steady supply of weapons from China is reaching insurgent groups in Myanmar including the Arakan Army (AA), that has been posing a threat to the Kaladan project, setting up camps bordering the southern tip of Mizoram in India, according to recent intelligence reports.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs has expressed displeasure on the slow progress of the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport (KMTT) project that is being piloted and funded by the Ministry of External Affairs.
A recent report of the panel tabled in parliament on December 21 noted that the progress of road construction is not at all satisfactory.
In response to the observations, the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that the security situation in the region and lack of access from the India-Myanmar border in Mizoram are the main reasons for the delay.
“The adverse security situation at the project site has further deteriorated in the recent past. Access to the project site from the Indian side has been permitted by the Government of Myanmar after much effort and construction activities are currently underway from this end. The Project is being closely monitored,” the home ministry said.
It is also stated that “acute financial crisis” faced by the construction companies have resulted in delays.
The original waterways component of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP) has been completed in May 2017. The work for construction of road in the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP) was to take three years to complete. However, the current physical progress for the construction of the road is behind schedule.
While the Union home ministry’s response does not give out details of the security situation, the reference is to the threat from Myanmar based insurgent group Arakan Army.
The insurgent group has also been demanding a tax from workers at the project and threatening them.
An Indian worker part of the Kaladan project vital for connectivity in north-east died in custody of the Arakan Army earlier.
Last year, five Indian workers along with Member of Myanmar Parliament and four other Myanmar nationals were abducted by Arakan Army in the Rakhine State of Myanmar and one of the workers got killed.
Joint action by India and Myanmar
In February last year, Indian and Myanmar forces carried out operations to push back the Arakan Army cadres that had come extremely close to the border near Mizoram targeting infrastructure project.
Fresh inputs suggest that the Arakan Army is raising its head again in the area trying to target the Kaladan project.
“China is supplying high-quality sophisticated weapons including surface-to-air missiles to militant groups like Arakan Army fighting the Tatmadaw (armed forces) which is also a source of annoyance to them,” recent intelligence reports say.
Act East policy
The Kaladan project will be a new gateway to the landlocked north-east part of India, reducing the distance from Kolkata to Mizoram by nearly a thousand kilometres and bringing down the travel time by at least four days.
China has also been carrying out development projects at Kyaukpyu Port near Sitwe.
India has been looking to counter China’s influence in the neighbourhood through its ‘Act East Policy’ that is aimed at infrastructure development.
India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, Agartala Akhaura Rail link to Bangladesh are the other projects that are being closely monitored.
“The Committee understands that this project is an integral part of the Act East Policy of India and will contribute to the economic development in the whole Region. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the reasons for delay must be addressed soon and the project should be closely monitored,” the report said.
The committee further recommends that the progress should be reviewed regularly to complete the project at the earliest so that the connectivity woes of the North Eastern Region are resolved.