Connecting Northeast with a seaport
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Guwahati: Once troubled, isolated and alienated, the Northeast will soon be able to use a seaport in neighbouring Myanmar for transport and trade. The Sittwe port in the Bay of Bengal is expected to link Mizoram in the far east of India with the ocean through riverine transport and roadways. 

Named the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, the venture includes the improvement of Sittwe port in the Arakan State of Myanmar, the construction of an inland waterway on the Kaladan river and the preparation for a highway transportation system connecting Aizawl on way to Guwahati.

Kaladan enters Myanmar and crosses two underdeveloped states, namely Arakan (Rakhine) and Chin, before culminating in the sea. A feasibility study revealed that the river is navigable from its confluence point at Sittwe to Paletwa. From there, the river becomes shallow and maintains curves. Hence road transport is being proposed from Paletwa to the Indo-Myanmar border. It is assumed that the vessels will arrive at Sittwe from different sea routes once it becomes operational and the goods will be transported via the Kaladan river towards Paletwa, covering 158 kilometres. Then the goods will be carried by trucks (109 km) to enter India through Zorinpui/Lomasu in southern Mizoram. From the Myanmar border, those will connect to Lawngtlai point (117 km away) on National Highway 54 and proceed further as needed.

Conceived by the Union government in New Delhi many years back, the project was formalised in 2008 under New Delhi’s Look East Policy and its primary aim was to develop trade with Myanmar and other south-east Asian nations. The political observers believed the initiative would help the people in both countries and Naypyidaw to be transformed into a multi-party democratic regime.

But New Delhi’s specific development initiative could not help Myanmar to emerge even as a quasi-democratic nation as the military rulers once again orchestrated a coup ousting a democratically elected government on 1 February 2021. Needless to mention that Myanmar today witnesses almost a civil war, where the generals are targeting the common people and a large number of civilians have taken guns in their hands to attack the military personnel along with their close relatives.

Thousands have been killed from both sides, a large volume of activists (precisely the leader-workers of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party National League for Democracy and many media personnel) have been jailed by the military authorities, rural areas being destroyed by the soldiers, millions of villagers rendered homeless in the last two years. Many localities are still under the direct control of ethnic armed groups and even the ruling military junta chief Min Aung Hlaing recently admitted that they are not solely running the show.

Although the Kaladan project was understood as a bilateral initiative (as India’s foreign ministry signed a framework agreement with the Myanmar counterpart ), the military regime showed reluctance about investing money in it after assuring the necessary land and security for the project. India was thus compelled to offer a soft loan of $10 million to Myanmar. However, New Delhi continues its emphasis on the project under its Act East Policy so that it can also counter the Chinese economic and political influences over the region.

Very recently, Union ports, shipping and waterways minister Sarbananda Sonowal commented that the Sittwe port has been readied for full operation. Designated as an international port for transporting general goods last year, it would help change the traditional trade routes to connect Northeast through the Siliguri corridor (which is just 20 km wide). The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently approved the revised cost for the Kaladan project.

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Final touches to the Paletwa water-to-land terminus have been given amidst all troubles inside the country and a 117 km two-lane road connecting the Myanmar border with Lawngtlai remains under construction. After its construction, the Kaladan project is expected to be operationally provided with the security scenario in western Myanmar significantly improves irrespective of the change of regime after the proposed national elections by this year or the continuation of the same military junta in Naypyitaw.

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