Rivers are our lifelines, protect our rivers!

Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project

On April 2nd 2008 the Indian government signed an agreement with the Burmese military junta for the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project. The project will connect the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with Site-tway (Sittwe) port in Arakan State by sea; it will then link Site-tway to the land-locked region of Mizoram in northeastern India via river and road transport. The project is divided into three phases, the first and second of which are scheduled to begin in November 2010.

Construction Stages

Phase 1 – The port at Site-tway will be redeveloped to accommodate larger vessels and an increased shipping volume. This will entail dredging the approach channel and the port area (~562,000 cubic metres of material) to facilitate 6000 ton ships, as well as constructing two jetties and extensive loading and storage facilities that will significantly expand Site-tway’s current size and capacity.  The larger 219 x 15m port jetty will be capable of handling 20,000 ton ocean freighters, and a 54 x 15m inland waterway terminal (IWT) jetty will cater to the smaller vessels that will ply the river.  At present, Site-tway’s port consists of a 78 x 15m jetty and is appropriate for vessels of 2000-3000 tons.

Phase 2 – Dredging 158 km of the Kaladan River between Site-tway and Paletwa in Chin State.  Another IWT terminal will be built at Paletwa for transferring cargo from river to road transport.

Phase 3 – Construction of a 129 km highway between Paletwa and the Mizoram border.  Initial surveys and feasibility studies for the road were carried out by Indian authorities, concluding that “large-sized experienced construction firms of repute” would have to be hired to successfully implement the project.  However in June 2009 it was decided that the highway construction would “be executed by Myanmar government departmentally”.

Companies and Authorities Involved

The project is being piloted and funded by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.

The preliminary feasibility studies (hydrographic surveys, Detailed Project Reports, etc.) were carried out by Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES).

Construction work on Site-tway port and the jetty in Paletwa, as well as the dredging work, will be executed by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), with Essar Projects Ltd, a division of the Essar Group appointed in May 2010 as the main contractor.

Both RITES and IWAI are state-run Indian companies.

Road construction will be executed by a Myanmar government department.


Original Projected Costs*

  • Redevelopment of Site-tway port and dredging the Kaladan waterway to Paletwa (Phases 1 and 2) – US $68.24 million
  • Construction of highway between Paletwa and the India-Burma border (Phase 3)              -  US $49.14 million.

*These will now need to be adjusted according to the project changes announced at the end of August 2010 after a review meeting by the MEA and the Ministry for Development of the North-East Region. Revised projections have not yet been released.

Who will pay?

According to the April 2008 Framework Agreement, the Government of the Union of Myanmar will provide the required land and security for the Project, including security for all personnel and technicians, for free.  The Indian government will bear the full cost of the project, which was originally estimated at US $120 million. More recently the cost has been estimated as US$134 million. Under previous agreements, the Burmese regime was supposed to contribute US $10 million to the Project; in 2007 the Indian Government extended Burma a minimum interest loan in that amount to cover the costs of the latter’s commitments. The April 2008 agreement does not explicitly mention any financial obligation for the government of Burma regarding the Kaladan Project.

Who will use it?

According to the Framework Agreement: “…on completion, the project will be handed over to the Government of the Union of Myanmar on terms and conditions mutually agreed upon.”  Those terms and conditions are outlined in two supplementary documents which either have yet to be agreed or simply have not been made public.  It is anticipated that the transport system will remain fully owned by the Burmese state, but be primarily used by Indian companies to increase trade with Southeast Asia and link the land-locked Mizoram region to the sea.  It is further expected that the Kaladan will be used far less by local citizens, since they will not be able to afford the tolls the Burmese government will impose on vessels using the waterway.

Project Status

The actual construction of the port and IWT terminals at Site-tway and the construction of the IWT terminal at Paletwa will start in 2010 and will be completed by 2012-13.   While limited work on ports and the IWTs is expected to continue throughout the year, river dredging will have to be suspended each March for the rainy season, and recommence each November. This will be repeated each year until 2013.

The construction of the highway from Paletwa to the India-Burma border will start from the year 2011-12.  The project will be completed in three years (2014-5), with work suspended for five to six months of the year due to the monsoon.


Damage to Local Livelihoods

Approximately a million civilians live in townships along the Kaladan River. The large majority of these people make a living from fishing and farming, and rely heavily on the river for both. Moreover, due to a lack of good roads in western Burma, transportation and the trade in both fish and agricultural products in the region is dependent on the use of this waterway.

If the developments entailed by the Kaladan Project go ahead, thousands of people will be forced to drastically adapt their lives without any compensation or assistance from the authorities.  The developments along the river and around the Site-tway port area will damage and block access to fishing areas along the coast.  If residents are unable to access and use the river as usual, both during and after the construction of these projects, travel and transportation of goods for trade will be almost impossible, since no alternative means of transport exist.

Further, the self-sustaining ecosystems on which locals depend will be devastated by this project, likely causing a rapid decrease in food supplies in regions that are already highly food insecure: Northern Arakan and Chin States have been coping with critically low food stocks since 2008, when a severe famine struck those areas; in this period the Burmese authorities continued to export hundreds of thousands of tons of rice despite the devastating impact of Cyclone Nargis on crops and food stocks in the country’s main agricultural and rice-growing region.

Human rights

Time and again, development projects in ethnic areas throughout Burma have been the cause of severe human rights abuses.  Even during the preliminary stages of development, we have seen incidents of land confiscation and forced labour.

Once the development of the river and the construction of the highway are fully underway, we expect to see the following:

  • Widespread land confiscation

Private land such as homes and farmland will be systematically destroyed without any relocation assistance or compensation from the government. This is a particular concern to locals living near where the new port is to be constructed; this area is a densely-populated residential area, and where the Site-tway General Hospital is located.

  • Forced Labour

Men, women and children will be forced to act as labourers or porters, carrying heavy loads, without remuneration. Breadwinners of poor families will be forced to send their children to work so that they still have enough time to earn a living.  These are acute concerns in the construction of the Paletwa-Mizoram highway as that section of the project will be executed independently by the Burmese military government, which has historically been a prolific violator of its ILO obligations to refrain from condoning or actively perpetrating forced labour and child labour.  A detailed project report carried out by RITES concluded that “sufficient local labour” would be unavailable for road construction, due to the fact that the anticipated construction season coincides with the locals’ cultivation and harvesting seasons, and that imported workers would be unwilling to go to the isolated and malaria-prone area.

  • Militarisation

Among the conditions stipulated in the Framework Agreement 2008, the Burmese military have promised to provide “necessary security” to all foreign personnel as well as the project sites, materials and equipment.  A perceived need for higher levels of security in areas surrounding the Kaladan Project, as well as at other locations designated for large development projects (hydropower and gas/oil), has resulted in a significant rise in the military presence in Western Burma and Arakan State in particular.  This has in turn led to increased instances of unofficial “taxation” and extortion at military checkpoints as well as cases of rape and violence, which are committed by soldiers against civilians in Burma’s ethnic regions with almost total impunity.

There are currently over 30 military checkpoints along the river, compared with less than 4 in 2006. Merchants traveling the river are repeatedly stopped and forced to give up their produce, money, food and fuel for nothing in return. In many areas of Paletwa, villagers are made to accommodate soldiers by providing six cages of chickens per month, plus other domestic necessities.

Environmental Damage

If the Kaladan Project proceeds as planned, extreme environmental damage will certainly occur, as Burma’s military regime has historically practiced a policy of complete disregard for ecosystems, biodiversity and the migratory paths of important species. Even the smallest change to delicate ecosystems such as these can cause a long series of unpredictable changes, forcing villagers to adapt their lifestyles impossibly quickly, causing starvation and disease among those unable to adapt. The project will cause the following:

  • Extermination of benthic and nektonic species along the Kaladan River and in the area around Site-tway port; these organisms are essential sources of food for locals throughout the Kaladan River system
  • Destruction of mangrove forests along the coast and in the river estuary; these form the base of the region’s ecosystems and can protect against tidal surges such as those that killed thousands of people during Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
  • Rapid deforestation to accommodate river expansion and the highway.  This can increase the occurrence of floods or droughts, and will impact the habitats of endangered species such as tigers, elephants, rhinoceroses, gibbons, hornbills, and Arakan forest turtles, the latter two of which are already near extinction.

Links to Available IWAI Documents

Executive Summary of Detailed Project Report (DPR) for Port and IWT

Executive Summary of DPR for Highway for Kaletwa to India – Myanmar Border

April 2008 Framework Agreement

June 2009 Pre-bid Presentation to Sub-Contractors

August 2009 List of Contractors Short-listed for Participation in Bid Process

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Support the Kaladan movement!

The Burmese regime and the Indian government are about to launch a multi-million dollar transport project that the Kaladan Movement believes will result in human rights abuses and environmental damage in Arakan and Chin States.

Our demands

The implementation of the Kaladan Project should be fully transparent and should ensure:

  • full local public consultation and participation;
  • the benefits of the project go to the least advantaged communities;
  • accountability for ALL stakeholders involved in the project;
Unless and until these essential elements are fulfilled, the Kaladan Project should be suspended. Read More