The multi-crore Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project envisioned as a key component of the Act East Policy has missed the deadline for the third consecutive time in Mizoram. The deadline for the completion of the 87-kilometre highway connecting Lawngtlai in south Mizoram with Zorinpui on the India-Myanmar border was 30 December which has been missed.
"About 75 percent of the project has been completed so far. The highway will be completed next year and the deadline will be finalised very soon," said N Sakhai, Deputy Commissioner, Lawngtlai.
Work on the Kaladan project began after the governments of India and Myanmar entered into a framework agreement in 2008. The project aims to provide an alternate outlet to the landlocked North East which is heavily dependent on the narrow 'Chicken’s Neck' at Siliguri.
An official working for a firm engaged in the construction of the highway attributed the slow progress to multiple factors. He identified the long rainy season as the primary cause which has hindered completion of work in time.
"We can work only for five months between November and March. And there have been occasions when work had come to a grinding halt during the dry season as well," he said.
The remoteness of the region in Mizoram where the project is being implemented also causes delays in the supply of fuel and spare parts, further delaying the project. It takes weeks to assemble the labour force every year which is dispersed with the onset of the rains. About 2,700 employees including officials have been engaged in the project.
In the past, there have also been periods when the execution of the scheme have been retarded due to the scarcity of raw materials like stones and cement. The firms have been compelled to form groups to search for boulders in the region which are crushed into stones with equipment installed at specific places.
The erratic situation has led to an increase in the outlay of the budget from Rs 507 crore to Rs 1,011 crore. The possibility of another revision of the budget cannot be ruled out given the current delay and the existing circumstances.
Other hurdles in the project
Sakhai informed that only 164 landlords in Lawngtlai who were demanding compensation for the highway that supposedly passed over their lands have been paid by the government so far. But there are more landlords in the district who are awaiting compensation.
The controversy is over a plot of 40 acres near a border outpost of the Assam Rifles at Zochachhuah. In the last 5-6 years, the number of landlords who began to demand money from the government began to swell and the delay has resulted in blockades on numerous occasions.
“A report specifying the number of landlords to be compensated has been submitted to the government. Now it is for the government to decide on the amount to be paid to them,” he said, adding that the landlords have decided to launch an agitation on 20 January.
Work for widening the National Highway 54 from Lawngtlai to the state’s border with Assam, which covers a distance of 515 kilometres via Aizawl and Kolasib, is yet to be started. Currently, it is a two-lane highway which may not be able to handle a large volume of traffic if trade picks up with and through the neighbouring country.
The government plans to widen the highway till Silchar in Assam which is also the starting point of the East-West Corridor. A new survey would have to be conducted, land acquired and tenders floated before the project is started.
Slow progress in Myanmar
In Myanmar, the construction and dredging of the Sittwe Port on the mouth of the Kaladan river in Rakhine State and the river terminal at Paletwa have been completed so far. Last April, the construction of the 109-kilometre road between Zorinpui and Paletwa was also started by a New Delhi-based firm after years of delay.
The Myanmar government was hesitant to begin work since the highway would pass through some areas where a rebel group called Arakan Army has a presence. Last year, hundreds of refugees streamed into Mizoram following clashes between the Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army. Media reports in the neighbouring country suggest that the conflict has increased since last month in the northern areas of Rakhine State with the Myanmar Army launching a fresh offensive.
Two months ago, both the countries signed a MoU which agreed to facilitate the movement of project personnel, construction material and equipment to expedite work on the highway. The MoU also laid down that a port operator would be appointed which would enable the Sittwe Port and the infrastructure at Paletwa to be used commercially for the development of the surrounding areas.
The writer is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Men and Lens and the Guerrilla: Insurgency in India’s Northeast
Updated Date: Dec 31, 2018 19:23:27 IST