India starts construction of ₹1,600-cr Mizoram-Myanmar Kaladan road

After years of delay, India 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 by2019 will be a herculean task.

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 Lakadan 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.

Completion delays

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 – from April-May to September-October in Myanmar – the delay had cost the contractor a good part of the favourable weather window.

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 cannot 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 ground report by “Swarjya” 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 focussing 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 draught in Kaladan river made it impossible, meaning deployment of machines will be impossible before monsoon.

Add to this the red-tape due to involvement of a number of government agencies of either country. The contractor had to wait for more than two months for getting due clearance to import some spares on an urgent basis from India.

Ray of hope

According to sources, the Ministry of External Affairs has taken a fresh initiative to convince Myanmar to allow construction from Mizoram end. As part of the plan, Delhi is also to open negotiation with Naypyidaw to open customs office at Zorinpui border.

The Ministry of Highways is also pushing for completion of the last leg of the highway project Sahiha to Zorinpui. This was the most ambitious and difficult road project undertaken in North-East India in decades. A substantial number of project workers died due to malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Source: The Hindu Business Line

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