Road to nowhere: Agitating Mizoram landowners, escalating costs, dearth of records stall Kaladan project
The strategic multi-crore Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project in Mizoram, envisaged as a key component of the Act East policy which will link India’s landlocked North East to Kolkata through Myanmar has hit a snag that could take time to resolve.
Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part series on the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project in Mizoram envisioned to provide an outlet to and link the landlocked North East to Kolkata through Myanmar.
The strategic multi-crore Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project in Mizoram, envisaged as a key component of the Act East policy which will link India’s landlocked North East to Kolkata through Myanmar has hit a snag that could take time to resolve. Residents of some villages near the state’s border with Myanmar are in no mood to allow the project to be implemented unless they are compensated for a slice of land to be acquired as part of the 87-kilometre highway originating from the district headquarters Ini. The Lawngtlai District Land Owners Association has even fixed 15 March as the deadline for the government to decide on the quantum of funds to be disbursed.
The bone of contention is over a plot measuring 40 acres near a border outpost of the Assam Rifles at Zochachhuah with over 300 landowners now demanding compensation. Meanwhile, the Mizoram government has approached the Centre, asking it to release funds.
“Once the Centre disburses the funds, we can give the compensation to them (landowners). Then the issue would be resolved and the project can move forward,” Lawngtlai deputy commissioner Dr Arun T told Firstpost. The demand surfaced soon after the survey for the project was completed in the border region in 2012. Bandhs have been called and blockades staged on several occasions in the past couple of years as the process of land acquisition began. With the passage of time, the number of claimants and associations demanding money from the government also swelled, leaving the government in a fix.
The budget for the Indian component financed by the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways has been revised for the third time with the initial estimate of Rs 507 crore swelling to Rs 1011 crore. Two deadlines for the completion of the project have also been missed and it is extremely doubtful if highway can be completed ahead of the third deadline of 30 December. Only 70 percent of the project has been completed between Zorinpui and Lawngtlai as per official records.
No land records
The imbroglio at the border also stems from the dearth of land records with the government. The land is a subject administered by the Lai Autonomous District Council: One of the three such bodies in Mizoram. The council has 18 subjects under its jurisdiction with a separate set of laws as provided under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Issuing land pattas is a complex and cumbersome process that also involves the village councils. An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that many landowners demanding compensation for the Kaladan project did not own even land in the region. He said many huts have suddenly sprung up near the alignment of the highway at the border.
Some landowners were compensated by the government a couple of years ago, but that only opened a can of worms with an association lodging a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Bureau that funds were disbursed to fraudulent persons. Echoing that official is David Thawngthanga, a senior functionary of the powerful Young Lai Association (YLA), who made a case for an immediate meeting between central government officials and the elected representatives of the autonomous council. “Otherwise, the problem will continue to drag and the idea should be to revamp the land administration. The district will have to be made ready for the ambitious project,” he explained.
Road to Nowhere
The demand for compensation has held up work on the highway for 3 kilometres from Hmaungbuchhuah to Zorinpui at the border. But work is on at a steady pace on the stretch beyond to Lawngtlai where men and machinery are deployed late into the evening hours after sunset. So, sooner or later, this highway would be completed. But what next?
No scheme has been sanctioned so far for widening National Highway 54 from Lawngtlai to the state’s border with Assam, which covers a distance of 515 kilometres via Aizawl and Kolasib. Although road conditions were found to be better than other hill states such as Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, it is unlikely the highway would be able to handle a large volume of traffic in current conditions. There were patches of unmetalled roads and potholes along the entire stretch considered the lifeline of Mizoram. At some places, it was difficult for two vehicles to pass one another without caution and deft manoeuvring.
The state government has submitted a proposal to the ministry for widening the highway till Silchar in Assam, which is also the point where the East-West Corridor begins. After it is sanctioned, a new survey would have to be conducted, land acquired and tenders floated: Which certainly would take a few more years.
In Myanmar, it is not known how and when the deadlock for construction of the 109-kilometre highway from Zorinpui to the river terminal at Pale`wa. According to a recent report in The Assam Tribune, the Indian government has drastically slashed aid to Myanmar from Rs 400 crore to Rs 120 crore, citing non-awarding of works related to the road component of the Kaladan project, Trilateral Highway Project and the Kalewa-Yargi Road.
The author is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Men
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