“BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity”
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On 3rd August 2022, Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) and Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement (NIICE) jointly organised a discussion on “BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity”. The speakers were from India and Nepal. The discussion session was chaired by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF and the speakers were Dr Sreeradha Datta, Head of Neighbourhood Studies Center, VIF, Dr. Pritam Banerjee, Logistics Sector Specialist Consultant, Asian Development Bank, Dr Pramod Jaiswal, Research Director, NIICE, Mihir Bhonsale, Policy Analyst and Prof. Meena Vaidya Malla, Member of Academic Sub-Committee, National Defense University Nepal.

The chairperson of the session Dr. Arvind Gupta highlighted how the Bay of Bengal connected people of the region for centuries and the connection was seamless. He stressed that the 4th BIMSTEC Summit held in Kathmandu and 5th Summit held in Colombo were a step forward., Dr Gupta requested panellists to give their views on how to involve the private sector, how to expedite policy decisions and how to make good project reports based on feasibility studies etc. which could mitigate future hitches. He stressed that the infrastructure construction has to be in accordance with the norms and should not create economic distress to the countries.

Dr. Sreeradha Datta discussed the BIMSTEC Master Plan in details. She stated that the connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, the rule of law, openness, transparency, financial responsibility and must be pursued in a manner that respects: sovereignty, equality, and territorial integrity of nations. She highlighted that road transport is one of the major sectors as 60 percent of the trade at present takes place through roads and there is need to take cargo away from road and the road should be left for tourism and religious circuits. Mentioning the Ports and Maritime Transport as one of the prime sectors in the Master plan, she highlighted that Nepal and Bhutan do not have access to ports and they will have greater advantage once this transport connectivity plan is implemented. Similarly, she stressed that Inland Water Transport is one of the means and economically viable medium of transport but except Bangladesh, others have not been utilizing it adequately. She emphasised that Railways and Rail Transport connectivity should be prioritized and India is focussing on railway connectivity with Nepal. She further stressed on the importance of coordination among all the members of BIMSTEC in order to really develop it as a successful arrangement.

Dr. Pritam Banerjee, Logistics Sector Specialist Consultant at Asian Development Bank said that the prioritization of the projects under BIMSTEC is a multi-layered issue and the priority depends on the national priorities. He spoke specifically about the relation between the BIMSTEC Master Plan (BMP) and the national plans. In this regard, he also explained the issues regarding the Gati Shakti Master Plan (GSMP) for Multi Modal Connectivity by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He explained the problems regarding the ‘scheduled passenger services’ and ‘non-scheduled passenger services’ in borders between countries. He stressed on the importance of taking into account the political economy and the importance of specific value chains in the implementation of BIMSTEC plans and projects. His presentation primarily focussed on operational aspects from a logistics perspective where he did the comparative analysis between the GSMP and the BMP. He explained that GSMP and BMP have a lot of commonalities such as Multi-sectoral Approach on Road/ Rail/ Air/ Sea/ IWT of both. Moreover, he focussed on Inter-Model Infrastructure and last-mile to key gateways (sea, air and land ports) that have lots of commonalities

Dr Pramod Jaiswal spoke of the BIMSTEC Master Plan from a Nepalese perspective. He highlighted BIMSTEC’s strategic significance to Nepal owing to the fact that Nepal is a landlocked country depending on regional connectivity for its economic development. He further stressed that BIMSTEC would allow Nepal to enhance its connectivity in the Bay of Bengal, and the rest of South Asia and South-East Asia through road, sea, air and rail linkages. He said that BIMSTEC is set to rejuvenate and amplify regional integration, a critical need of countries in the region as transnational connectivity projects which existed in the pre-colonial era such as the India-Nepal railway have since disappeared. He added that it would expand Nepal’s exports by connecting it to geopolitically significant port locations in Chittagong, Khulna and Kolkata. He furthermore explained that BIMSTEC in Nepal’s perspective was an ideal platform to enhance its visibility and stake in the Indo-Pacific region, broadly South Asia and South-East Asia. He concluded his remarks by highlighting some factors which would impact the effectiveness of the BIMSTEC Master Plan.

Mihir Shekhar Bhonsale started his presentation on “BIMSTEC on Connectivity: India’s Motif” where he highlighted the unique link between South and South-East Asia, Convergence of India’s ‘Act East’ and ‘Neighbourhood First’ policies and commitment to BIMSTEC driven by potential economic rewards of greater connectivity: he stressed on the National Waterways Act 2016 and enlightened the key strategies which are associated with BIMSTEC Projects. Moreover, he highlighted the 10 existing and proposed multimodal and intermodal transport corridors in the BIMSTEC region. He also explained about the synergies between national schemes and the BIMSTEC Master Plan. Professor Meena Vaidya Malla spoke about how connectivity can be enhanced between the countries and highlighted that Nepal and India shares open borders that run through five Indian states such as Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal and Bihar. She said that unregulated cross border movement is a grave threat to security of both the countries and results in authorized movement of people and goods. She said that focussing on border infrastructure and security is essential to bring about the promotion of enhancing connectivity. However, she said that the effectiveness of the strategy depends upon honest and time bound implementation.

Lt. General RK Sawhney, shared how India is investing heavily in infrastructure which will promote regional connectivity; he stressed that connectivity of the Indian subcontinent needs to be restored and greater efforts should be put in areas. He concluded the session stating that the think tanks can make change by putting in efforts and making the political actors aware of these necessities.

Event Date 
August 3, 2022

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