By DENE-HERN CHEN AND FELIZ SOLOMON 12 June 2014
An alliance of civil society organisations on Wednesday urged the Burmese and Indian governments to be more transparent in the planning and construction of the controversial Kaladan Project, a combined highway and waterway project that will traverse Arakan and Chin states into India.
Proposed by the Indian government in 2008, the project will connect a deep-sea port in Sittwe to Mizoram State in northeast India via inland waterways and highways through two of Burma’s poorest states, Arakan and Chin states. The objective is to create a more straightforward route for trade from the Kolkata seaport in eastern India.
The Kaladan Movement, a coalition of ethnic rights groups, believes that the US$214 million project – which is financed by India — will affect approximately one million people living along the Kaladan River, but very little information has been made public.
According to a statement released on Wednesday by the Kaladan Movement, the alliance submitted a “questionnaire” to Essar Projects Ltd, a Mumbai-based company overseeing the construction, and both governments, calling on them to provide details concerning the project’s timeline and how it would affect ethnic communities in the area.
“Thus far, the Kaladan Project has been implemented without an adequate community consultation process, and with no efforts made to achieve the free, prior, informed consent of affected communities,” the statement said, adding that it is important for the indigenous people living in the affected areas to be involved in the decision-making process.
Bawi Pi of the Chin Human Rights organization (CHRO) – a member of the Kaladan Movement – said in the statement that since the project broke ground four years ago, “no environmental impact assessments have ever been conducted for the project area in Burma, and no details regarding the route of the planned highway have been made public”.
The statement also said that residents around the affected areas are most concerned about compensation for their land, as well as the environmental and social impacts of dredging in Arakan State – which has been known to exacerbate soil erosion and place villagers under threat if they are not prepared.
Sam Cartmell, project manager with CHRO, told DVB in an email that since the project is classified under “development assistance” from India, the implementation must follow international best practices.
He urged Essar and the two governments to publicly release detailed information, especially regarding the construction of the highway linking Paletwa in Chin State to the India-Burma border.
“[T]here are a number of concerns about the potential for land confiscation along the highway route,” Cartmell said. “To date, local people have no information regarding the exact route of the highway, who will be building it or when construction will start.”
Rohit Chawla, an Essar representative based in Rangoon, said the project was mildly delayed because of a series of riots in Sittwe between “the Rakhine [Arakan] people and the Bangladeshi people.”
He also played down concerns of compensation, and referred these questions to the Burmese government.
“We are not concerned about the compensation given to the people affected by the project. It has been taken care of by the Myanmar [Burma] government personnel. This issue is taken up by them,” Chawla told DVB. “We are only the contractor of the project.”
He added the Essar Project has subcontracted construction out to “five to eight” local companies.
The deep-sea port in Sittwe is slated for completion by December 2014, said project director Anil Vishwakarma, while the construction of the highway from Paletwa to the India-Burma border should be completed by June 2015. He declined to provide further details.