Saturday, May 26, 2012

Myanmar: India should gift generators to Myanmar

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Reports from Myanmar indicate that during his visit to Myanmar next week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be meeting Aung San SuuKyi at Yangon (Rangoon) on May 29,2012. She has reportedly re-scheduled a visit to Bangkok, her first visit abroad since her release from house-arrest, in order to be available at Yangon for meeting our Prime Minister.

2. This gesture of hers is indicative of the importance attached by her to Myanmar’s relations with India despite her past unhappiness over India’s close relations with the military junta that ruled the country till the end of 2010.

3. The Prime Minister’s visit comes at a time when there are reports of spreading public unrest over severe power-cuts in many towns. The unrest in the form of street demonstrations first started in Mandalay and from there has since spread to Pegu, Monywa and Yangon.The protesters have not taken the permission of the Police for holding demonstrations which is an offence, but the Government has chosen to ignore the violation of the law in order not to provoke them further. The protesters have been using their restricted access to Facebook and Twitter to call upon people in other towns to demonstrate.

4.It is not yet clear whether the street demonstrations are spontaneous or have been instigated by anti-democracy hawks in the Army to weaken the position of the TheinSeinGovernment which has been steadily moving towards greater political reforms and opening-out to the world.

5.However, in an attempt to project the demonstrations as spontaneous, the protesters have accused the former military government of selling off natural gas reserves to China and pocketing the profits, while 75 per cent of the local people have no access to electricity. Electricity consumption in Myanmar averages 104 kilowatts an hour per person—one of the lowest in the world.

6.Speaking during the opening of a local office of her National League For Democracy (NLD) on May 22,2012, SuuKyi said that the power shortages were the direct result of government mismanagement and called upon the Government to give priority to increasing the power supply and to creating jobs for the unemployed youth.

7.The Government announced on May 23 that it was purchasing six generators from U.S.-based Caterpillar Inc., which will be air-freighted within a week, and two 25-megawatt gas-turbines to be bought from General Electric Co. The Government has blamed the Kachin insurgency for severely damaging electricity production and distribution.

8.During his visit, our Prime Minister should offer to help the Myanmar Government on an emergency basis to increase the power supply and also gift a plane-load of generators of the required capacity needed by the Government. The Prime Minister could also offer a special credit to enable the Government to repair the damages to the power infrastructure. ( 26-5-12)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.