News / Asia

Burma-India Transport Project Raises Opportunities, Concerns

Workers from Indian conglomerate Essar Group construct a new port  in Sittwe in Rakhaine state, Burma, May 19, 2012.
Workers from Indian conglomerate Essar Group construct a new port in Sittwe in Rakhaine state, Burma, May 19, 2012.
Daniel Schearf
An India-funded transportation network being built to cross Burma has been criticized for a lack of transparency and concerns about damage to the environment.  The Kaladan  project promises to connect India with Burma's remote and impoverished west and improve trade links.  But, activists and biologists warn, officials on both sides are ignoring risks to wildlife, the environment and people. 

When finished in 2015, the Kaladan project will connect a highway system and inland waterway from India's northeast Mizoram state through Burma's western Chin state to a deep sea port in Rakhine state.

The transport network will allow trade to flow more easily between the impoverished and isolated areas, increase incomes for farmers, lower food prices, and provide jobs.

But activists say officials are not providing enough information about the project to the public, and are ignoring risks to the environment and people.

Cultural, environmental impact

Cultural heritage sites in Rakhine were damaged during the port's construction and Burmese authorities have failed to make good on promises made a year ago to conduct impact assessments. 

The Kaladan Movement, a coalition of local rights groups, called last week for the project to be suspended until their concerns are addressed.

Twan Zaw, director of the Arakan River Network, spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.

"So far we haven't seen any report about the environmental and social and health, the impact assessment yet.  That's why it is concerning about the local social livelihoods in regards, in terms of the sustainability on the ground," he said.

The Indian government is financing the entire project, estimated at $214 million, as part of its "Look East Policy" to improve links with Southeast Asia.  It is India's largest development project in Burma.

But so far, the only known impact study was conducted in India on a 99-kilometer highway being built to connect Mizoram to Burma's Chin state.

Wildlife concerns

Kashmira Kakati, a wildlife biologist and author of the 2011 report, which focused on the effect on wildlife, told the FCCT the highway to Burma cuts through a wildlife sanctuary, a fact India's Ministry of Environment and Forests has ignored.

"I've written, I've faxed to the director of ministry.  Nobody has even acknowledged the report.  And, the next thing I know about, there's no information forthcoming from the ministry," said Kakati. "And, when it finally, I read about the Kaladan report, it's been passed in the minutes of the meeting, it says that the report has been approved with no objection from… the inspection committee, which is patently wrong."

Activists say the road construction in Mizoram is about half finished.  Kakati says, when completed, it will also pose a threat to wildlife outside the sanctuary.

"And one of the biggest fears that we anticipated in the report is that this would become a major wildlife trade route," said Kakati. "We're already talking about tigers disappearing.  There is a lot of illegal wildlife trade across the border.  And, we anticipate that this is going to turn out to be a major route for wildlife trade."

Indian officials have dismissed the need for independent impact assessments in Burma. 

Rajesh Swami, first secretary at the Indian Embassy in Bangkok, read out a statement in support of the project.  He says suggestions to provide more information to local people merits consideration but is no reason to suspend the project.

"The need for the project and the fact that the project will bring about only positive changes to the region are the basic facts accepted while commencing the project," he said. "The people of the project area and the local government are certainly competent and knowledgeable to discuss any aspect of the project and cooperate for speedy implementation of the project for the benefit of the people who urgently need proper transport connectivity."

Compensating farmers

The Kaladan Movement says farmers in India were not adequately compensated for land in Mizoram and they worry about worse abuses in Burma.

Burma is to provide land and security for the Kaladan project.  But, despite having only two years to finish, many locals in Chin state are still not aware of a plan to build a highway on their side of the border to India. 

Activists say that raises concerns of last-minute land confiscations as Burmese officials scramble to meet the deadline.

Salai Za Uk Ling, program director for the Chin Human Rights Organization, says increased military activity is another concern.  He told the FCCT the army may resort to forced labor to complete the project.

"Large-scale infrastructure development in Burma, especially road construction in past involved forced labor," he said.

Burma's army has a long history of forcing villagers to carry military supplies or build roads, and Chin state has a large military presence.

A survey released in 2011 by Physicians for Human Rights found nine out of 10 households in Chin state experienced forced labor, the highest recorded rate in Burma.

A Burma government spokesman was not available to comment on concerns about the Kaladan project.  But, a report last week in state media promoted the highway through Chin state.  The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said when completed, the new road would boost border trade and form a trade corridor connecting India to Burma and Southeast Asia.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: humactdoc
June 17, 2013 11:02 AM
Construction on the India-Myanmar-Government international development Kaladan Multi-modal Transportation Corridor started several years ago. Along the path of this development project there has been forced displacement and land confiscation. Rakhine and Rohingya employees with the Indian company in Sittwe quit because of irregular compensation, other labor problems and unethical business practices of the Indian company.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs