New hope for India-Myanmar transit Kaladan project with new consultant

A new Project Management Consultant coupled with Junta leader talking about holding elections could give an impetus to completion of the last leg of the KMMTT project in Myanmar

Published: 09th January 2023 07:56 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th January 2023 10:27 AM   |  A+A-

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Image of Myanmar flag used for representational purpose only.(Photo | AFP)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: Hope of the completion of the last 109 km of Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport (KMMTT) project has been rekindled after IRCON was recently appointed at the Project Management Consultant (PMC). This ambitious project would link India and Myanmar via the Bay of Bengal.

The project was first proposed by the ministry of external affairs (MEA) in 2008 and work began in 2010 – with an initial deadline of 2014. Its been over two decades and a six times cost escalation (Rs 535 crore to Rs 3200 crore), and the project is yet not complete.

The military-led Junta government and its skirmishes with insurgents has oft been cited as the main reasons for delay of the completion of the last leg of this project.

Recently the Junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, said he would have free and fair elections. Though he didn’t mention a time frame, its being presumed that it could be during the course of the year. The Junta took over the government on February 1st,2021. This announcement could give an impetus to this project too.

India has abstained from being critical of the junta, even when political prisoners were executed in Myanmar, but have maintained that they supported a democratic process be restored there.

As of now, in the project the waterways component has been completed, while the construction work on its road component had been slow mainly due to the security situation on the Myanmar side and the pandemic.

The $484 million project is being constructed by India, under the Grant in Aid Scheme. Once completed it will link Kolkata with Sittwe seaport in Rakhine state in Myanmar primarily over the Bay of Bengal – covering over 500 km. However, there is a stretch of land where a 109 km road needs to be constructed, between Paletwa(Myanmar) and Zorinpui (Mizoram’s border), to complete the project, but despite various bids and efforts there has been no breakthrough.

"The stretch of area where the road needs to be constructed is a bit challenging as it is an area that often sees a conflict between the Military Junta and the ethnic groups. This stretch of road is in Chin state parallel to Kalandan river. Post February 2021, after the military coup, the challenges intensified in terms of safety and security. Though bids have been invited again for construction of this road, one doesn’t know whether anyone would come ahead and accept the bid due to security reasons,’’ said an expert on Indo-Myanmar relations. The Kaladan river flows from Myanmar to Mizoram.

Once ready KMTT would ease India’s access to South East Asia via Myanmar. It would also reduce the time and distance of transportation of goods within the north eastern states.

"This project has seen the construction of roads, bridges, floating barrages. However, post February 2021, challenges intensified in terms of safety and security. Chin state which is close to where the road construction is to begin, has not been declared a safe zone by the government so there is no security cover,’’ says the expert.

There are eight ethnic races and over 130 ethnic groups in Myanmar. Their demands include seeking more representation in the parliament, recognition of their language and involvement in resource management. However, the government run by the military junta and the ethnic groups (who are now armed) have not been able to resolve any of their differences yet. Experts warn that if a resolution isn’t arrived at, the country would witness enhanced political turbulence in the coming months.

Meanwhile, as a result of this there is apprehension over whether the 2023 deadline for the completion of the KMTT project would be met. A further delay would also lead to an escalation of cost.

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