New Delhi, Sep 24 (IANS) India's ambitious Kaladan multimodal transit project, that seeks to connect its landlocked northeast with neighbouring Myanmar and become a bridge to Southeast Asia, is a welcome initiative, but India needs to be more "transparent" about it and not follow the Chinese example, says a Myanmar MP.
Pu Zo Zam, chairperson of the Chin National Party and member of the Chin state parliament, says that Myanmar has "not had a good experience working with Chinese companies" and the Kaladan project should not fall in the same category
"We had a bad experience working with the Chinese, who don't keep their promises on daily wages to the people," Zo Zam told IANS in an interview on a visit here. Chin state, in western Myanmar, borders the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram. Part of the Kaladan transit project will pass through Chin state.
Zo Zam said he first learnt that the Indian conglomerate Essar was involved in the over $200-million project when he travelled along the Kaladan river by boat. "I saw a signboard of Essar during my boat journey," said the MP, who was here for a conference on India-Myanmar relations.
Zo Zam said his people don't know which Myanmar company was involved in the joint venture with Essar. He alleged that "cronies" of those in the Myanmar government were involved in the Kaladan project. "We don't know who they are. My people don't know what kind of it is," he said, adding that they were going to demand that the government of President Thein Sein come out with "amendments" of all projects inked during the rule of the military junta.
He said with democratisation in his country, lots of foreign companies were "exploring" in his country for business. "That is ok, but they have to be more considerate about the people's interest, community interest," said Zo Zam, who had submitted his people's views to the Indian external affairs ministry that is funding the Kaladan project.
India and Myanmar had inked the agreement for the project, a key component of India's Look East policy, in 2008 and work commenced in December 2010. As part of the project, a deep-sea port is being built in Sittwe, Arakan, also known as Rakhine state, for Indian vessels. The Kaladan river is to be dredged to enable ships under 300 tonnes to navigate upstream. The Kaladan river originates from Mizoram, passes Chin state and crosses Arakan before emptying into the Bay of Bengal at Sittwe, Arakan's capital.
Zo Zam added: "We are not against the project. It is a very good project, but we want that the people should be satisfied.. the project should ensure job creation for them as compensation (for the land), generate enough profits for them.
"We also want that the project should be successful and the international company should get benefits from it," he said.
He said the road construction would entail cutting through swathes of thick forest, which he said would benefit the timber thieves. Myanmar teak wood is much sought after and exported to many countries. "The timber thieves, who are patronised by the government, are waiting for the road to be built; it would make their job much easier," he said.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)