India has finished upgrading the Sittwe port on Myanmar’s Rakhine coast and has started the process of selecting a private operator to run the port.
Prabir Pandey, chairman of Inland Waterways Authority of India, said the process of selecting a private operator should be completed in six months at the most.
“By May next year, Sittwe should be operational,” he said.
Upgrading the Sittwe port, which is not far from the China built Kyaukphyu port, is part of India’s Kaladan multi modal project that intends to connect Indian mainland to its northeast via sea and up the Kaladan river into Mizoram state.
After years of delay, India has finally kicked off the construction of the 109-km road project that connects Paletwa river terminal to Zorinpui on the Mizoram border in Myanmar, as part of the $484-million Kaladan Multimodal project.
But completing it by 2019 will be a herculean task. The work on the road started in April but progress was slow during the long monsoon months . It has now picked up speed with approach of the dry winter season.
The ?1,600-crore road project that passes through dense forests and hilly areas was awarded to Delhi-based C&C Constructions in June 2017. But the contractor had to wait till January this year for the requisite clearances from the Myanmar government to start ground work.
On completion, the project will help connect Mizoram with the Sittwe Port in Rakhine State of Myanmar.
India has already completed the rest of the Kaladan project work in Myanmar. This includes the construction of the Sittwe Port on Kaladan river mouth in Rakhine, construction of a river terminal 158 upstream at Paletwa and dredging of the Kaladan river.
On the Indian side, work is on to extend the Aizawl-Saiha National Highway by 90 km to the international border at Zorinpui. Also, a ?6,000-crore project is under way for four-laning the 300-km highway from Myanmar border to Aizawl to ensure the faster movement of goods.
Completion of the Paletwa-Zorinpui road, therefore, holds the key to operationalise the Kaladan multi-modal project.
However, in a major planning faux pax, the project was not taken up till October 2015, when the Narendra Modi government escalated the Budget by nearly six times and roped in the state-owned Ircon Infrastructure as consultant.
Based on bids received in June 2016, Ircon Infra awarded the contract in June 2017 with a mandate for completion in 36 months. But the chances of completing the project by 2019 are slim.
To start with, the six- to seven-month-long delay to get the clearance to start work had already impacted the project’s schedule. Considering the prolonged monsoon season in Myanmar, the delay had cost the contractor much of the favourable weather time.
That’s not all. Myanmar granted security clearance for road construction for a 60-km stretch from Paletwa apparently due to alleged local political unrest in the Chin State bordering South Mizoram. This means the contractor could not start work from either end.
Practically too, starting work from either end may not be as easy, as the last leg of the new highway from Sahiha to Zorinpui on Myanmar border is not yet ready. A recent report attributed the delay to land acquisition hurdles in Mizoram. Also, the border doesn’t have customs and immigration facilities.
Left with limited option, the contractor is now focusing to work from the Paletwa end.
In the absence of road connectivity, it is imperative to carry heavy equipment by barges from Sittwe to Paletwa. But low end-season drought in Kaladan river made it impossible, meaning deployment of machines will be impossible before monsoon.
But transport analysts say they are more keen to use Sittwe to export to Myanmar and also use the port to export to China. Chinese port are on the country ‘s eastern coast and using the Rakhine-Yunnan rail-road network will cut down on cost of Indian exports to China and make them more competitive.
“Sittwe is more suited to route exports to Myanmar and China than to reach cargo to India’s Northeast. For that the Chittaging-Agartala corridor is better suited,” said logistics expert Atin Sen .
“Kaladan project is more a strategic statement than a logistic imperative,” said Sen , a former general secretary of the Asian Council of Logistics. ” Specially after Bangladesh has played ball on transit and use of Chittagong and other ports.”