Government departments working at cross purposes

A few weeks ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's maiden visit to Myanmar, India's showpiece joint venture that will provide an alternative route to the northeastern States is in trouble.

Finalised after years of tough negotiations, during which the then External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, ensured a breakthrough, the Kaladan multimodal transport project — which has already suffered cost overruns and delays — has landed in fresh problems because government departments have been working at cross purposes.

The project has been hailed as strategically significant because it will take the pressure off the sole route connecting the Indian mainland with the northeast via the Siliguri corridor. It was conceived at a time when New Delhi's ties with Dhaka were frosty and its signing in 2008 was stated to convey a strong message to Bangladesh that its withholding transit would not mean India did not have an alternative.

But now the Kaladan project is facing problems such as underestimation of the road length in Myanmar. Added to that South Block has come up against a bigger roadblock because the Power Ministry did not share with it information about plans to construct hydro-electric projects — Chhimtuipui and Lungleng — on two tributaries of the Kaladan river followed by another project downstream. That the first two projects are being built by one public sector undertaking and the third is being constructed by another PSU has also led to coordination issues.

The projects are located on the tributaries of the Kaladan on the international boundary between the two countries and involve some submergence within Myanmar territory. The Power Ministry has now asked the External Affairs Ministry to take up the issue with Myanmar.

This request not only displeased South Block but also led it to enquire about the impact of these projects on the Kaladan multimodal transport project. The External Affairs Ministry was informed that these two projects were conceived under the Prime Minister's Hydro Power Initiative and that there was a third project as well — Kolodyne-II, downstream.

Cleared late last year, Kolodyne-II must release about 80 cumecs (cubic metre per second) in the river to maintain the necessary depth of water for movement of ships in downstream reaches since navigation is an integral part of the Kaladan project.

While the Chhimtuipui and Lungleng projects have been planned as storage schemes, water release would not impact the Kaladan project. However, in case Kolodyne-II does not come up, necessary releases for navigation may have to be ensured from theChhimtuipui and Lungleng projects.

And if that is not possible, more work will be in the offing — a barrage would be required based on the discharge for navigation to ensure peaking operation of these projects.

This means that unless corrective measures are taken immediately and additional funds released, the Kaladan project may suffer another setback.

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