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New inland water transport route from N-E faces hurdles - 2012-08-27

A few days ago, Bhupinder Prasad, Chairperson, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), visited Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine in Myanmar, to inspect the port development work there. In March 2009, the Ministry of External Affairs appointed IWAI as the consultant to a port development project at Sittwe. This followed a framework agreement between the India and Myanmar in April 2008 to develop Sittwe port on the mouth of the Kaladan river as an alternative IWT (inland water transport ) route to move goods to and from India’s North eastern region through Mizoram. The project, known as Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, is being funded by the Ministry of External Affairs and has three components. First, construction of a port at Sittwe, undertaking dredging and installing navigational aids to make the Kaladan river navigable over its 158-km long stretch from Sittwe to Paletwa in Chin in Myanmar and construction of an IWT terminal at Paletwa and building six barges of 300-tonne capacity each to facilitate transportation of goods along the stretch.

The second component involves upgrading the highway from Paletwa to Myeikwa near the Indo-Myanmar border in Mizoram covering a distance of 125 km. The entire stretch will be within the Myanmar territory. The third component presupposes construction of a 100-km long road from the border to Lawngtlai in Mizoram, which is located on the National Highway 54. IWAI is responsible for the implementation of the first component estimated to cost Rs 342 crore. The detailed project report (DPR) prepared by Rites in 2003 was revised and updated to suit IWAI’s requirements. IWAI entrusted the job to Essar Projects India Ltd in May 2010, while the actual work started in December. “The progress of port development and other associated work at Sittwe and other places is satisfactory,” Prasad told Business Line on her return from the project site recently. “Nearly 30 per cent of the job is over and, hopefully, our portion of the job will be complete by December 2013. The Government of Myanmar as well as the local people are extending full cooperation. We’re very happy,” she added.

It has been learnt that Myanmar has provided the required land free of cost for port development work. The requirement, however, has not been much so far — about six hectares in Sittwe and another three hectares or so at Paletwa. The IWAI Chairperson sounded bullish about the project, more so because India’s bid to transport goods to the North-East through Bangladesh has not been much of a success. “Although we have a 40-year-old protocol on transit and trade with Bangladesh, our bid to have transit facility to move cargo by barges to Assam, Tripura and other parts of the North-East through Bangladesh met with limited success. The protocol route is used almost entirely for bilateral trade dominated by vessels carrying Bangladesh flag and hardly anything for the transit trade,” she said. “We, therefore, critically need an alternative transit facility for our people in the North-East.”

It was felt that the diversion of North-East bound cargo through Sittwe would benefit the North-Eastern states, especially Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur. Prasad was particularly emphatic about the movement of containerised cargo on the proposed route. “This will be in line with the current international practice,” she said. “Also, goods transported in containers will be fully protected from safety and security point of view.”

But the problem is that the issue of movement of containers is not incorporated either in the bilateral agreement or in the DPR and for this reason the Ministry of External Affairs is yet to take a call on it, although the Myanmarese authorities are believed to be enthusiastic about it. “We have taken up the matter with our External Affairs Ministry which is yet to respond,” Prasad said. But then, the port will not be able to function even if IWAI’s part of the job is completed within the scheduled time. This is because the construction of road, both within Myanmar and India, is also critical for the project. The work on the 125-km-long road between Paletwa and Myeikwa near Mizoram on the Indo-Myanmarese border is yet to start. The Ministry of External Affairs has got a DPR prepared separately for this stretch and, as inquiries reveal, a reputed Myanmarese company with proven track record will most probably be given the job. However, nothing has been finalised as yet. The construction of the 100-km-long road within India from the Indian side of the Indo-Myanmarese border to Lawngtlai on NH 54 has started. The entire job has been divided into three sections and given to three Indian firms and is being implemented by the Ministry of Roads and Highways.

Source : Hindu Business Line