The deepsea port will transfer cargo from large container ships to smaller 300 tonne barges (from 50 to 200 metres in length) that will ply the 160 km inland waterway north to a currently under construction port complex at Paletwa Town in Chin State. At the Paletwa port, cargo will be transferred to trucks, and driven on a yet to be built 130 km highway connecting to a new Land Customs Station at Zorinpui on the southern-most tip of the 1,634 km India-Burma border. The Project, classified as Indian development aid to Burma, is a cornerstone of India’s “Look East Policy” aimed at expanding Indian economic and political influence in Southeast Asia.
The report, titled One cannot step into the same river twice: making the Kaladan Project people-centred, provides an overview of the current on-the-ground impacts arising from the lack of transparency, and focuses on the concerns and hopes of the local people. The report also aims to highlight the potential benefits of the project, particularly for Arakan and Chin States, the two most impoverished regions of Burma. The report acknowledges the need for improved infrastructure and the potential benefits of increased trade opportunities for local farmers and producers, but raises tough questions about the prospect of further land confiscation and forced eviction, disruption and loss of existing livelihoods, and increased militarization in connection with the project.
“Local people must have full participation in major development decisions in Burma,” said Twan Zaw, Executive Director of Arakan Rivers Network, a core member of the Kaladan Movement. Twan Zaw added, “Comprehensive environmental, social, and health impact assessments should be conducted and made public before the Kaladan Project proceeds any further. Unless the Kaladan Project is implemented with a people-centred approach, it may lead to increased tension between India and Burma rather than improving ties.”
Zo Indigenous Forum Director C. Lalremruata said, “People living in the project area in Mizoram State want the Kaladan Project to be a sustainable development which brings local economic benefits and does not destroy the environment. Indigenous peoples in both India and Burma must be involved in all decision-making regarding their ancestral lands, and the principle of free, prior and informed consent must be the foundation of this kind of infrastructure development project. There must be fair compensation for land acquisition for the Kaladan Project.”
The report – based on the findings from field research conducted by the Arakan Rivers Network in Arakan State, the Chin Human Rights Organization in Chin State, and the Zo Indigenous Forum in Mizoram State – points out that negative impacts have already been experienced by people living along the Kaladan Project route, including land confiscation and forced relocation without adequate compensation in Mizoram State, and labour discrimination and destruction of local cultural heritage in Arakan State.
The report calls for full transparency and local public consultation and participation in the project. Salai Za Uk Ling, Program Director at the Chin Human Rights Organization, said, “Local people in the Paletwa area of Chin State haven’t even been informed about the route of the highway in their area. How can they benefit from the project if they know next to nothing about it, or how it might affect them?”
The Kaladan Movement’s report says that the 1.2 million people living along the route of the Kaladan Project should be the main beneficiaries of this large-scale infrastructure development. The report cautions that under no circumstances is it acceptable for human rights violations to be perpetrated during the implementation of the Project, and calls for accountability for all stakeholders involved in the project.
Salai Za Uk Ling added, “The benefits of this project should go to the least advantaged communities. Unless and until the essential elements of full transparency, public consultation and participation, and accountability are met, the Kaladan Project should be suspended.”