My esteemed colleagues, Dignitaries from neighbouring countries, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a matter of great joy for me to be present here in the first ever unique river festival NADI – Twenty Sixteen wherein representatives fromIndia,Bangladesh,Myanmar,Bhutan andNepal are meeting under a single roof to share ideas and views of common interest.
An efficient transport sector is vital for development of the economy of any country. In a large country likeIndia, efficient transportation is also pivotal to stimulate competitive business environment.
Aware of this, Government of India during recent times has emphasized that developing the Inland Water Transport sector is a priority. Accordingly, the National Waterways Act, 2016 has come into force. Under this Act, there are 111 National Waterways listed so far.
North East India has many big and small rivers providing facilities for water transport. From the ancient period until roads were constructed, theBrahmaputraand Barak rivers were commonly used as the medium of transport. During the British-India time, these rivers were extensively used for trade and transport between North East India and the outside world. It is ironical that postIndependence, they have lost their relevance in spite of the huge economic potential.
Investing in sound river basin management will drive economic growth, social development and political stability.
One of the biggest constraints has been funding. It is therefore, necessary to find the necessary resources both from Government and via the PPP Mode. Here let me reiterate the importance of reviving and giving a new impetus to the North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy (NEIIPP), 2007 to make up for missed opportunities. Our expectations are high as the Central government has spelt out many development schemes for the Northeast. Now, we want to see if the Centre’s development thrust is backed by sufficient budgetary allocation and implemented on the ground. We will be happy if the Centre restores NEIIPP, 2007.
So far,India’s inland waterways make up for only 3.5% of the total transport in the country. InChinait is more than 40%. We have to develop the huge river transport potential especially of the Northeast region which shares a long international boundary.
For Mizoram, we are sandwiched by two friendly countries Bangladesh and Myanmar and river transport used to be the only medium of communication between our people, now divided by man-made boundary, most of whom belong to the same ethnic groups. Realizing the importance of our State Rivers, Government of Mizoram has notified all navigable rivers as reserved forests as far back as 1956 to protect the basin and surrounding watershed to ensure their long time health. Half a mile or 800 metres on both sides of all major rivers are protected.
Other the economic dividend, the opportunity cost that comes for fostering old cultural ties with our neighbour is immense. This will also further strengthen bilateral ties through cooperation in various sectors. Tripura has already made a good beginning in this regard.
As stakeholders all, we are very much for the development of river transport to connect with our neighbouring countries, namelyBangladeshandMyanmar.
NADI 2016 is timely, especially at a time when the whole world is talking about environment degradation and climate change. We understand that river transport is not only safe (our record on road safety leaves much to be desired!) An efficient but also least polluting.
This is one important aspect ofIndia’s Look-East Policy (ACT EAST as renamed by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India). The time has indeed come now forIndiato look at Northeast not only from the SECURITY angle but see the economic potential and perspectives and develop a crucial riverine linked with its immediate neighbours.
My compliments to the organisers for coming out with this idea, which somehow had not been given its due importance, I feel. We have the INLAND WATERWAYS AUTHORITY OF INDIA (IWAI) which is responsible for development and regulation of inland waterways for shipping and navigation. They have to work harder with the necessary financial support for the development of this important sector.
My special thanks to Dr BB Dutta, former Member of Parliament and an old colleague, Sri P.P. Srivastava, an old friend Founders of Asian Confluence for inviting me to attend NADI 2016 and share my views. Thank you Dr Dutta and Sri Srivastava.
It is endearing to be in the company of eminent personalities, experts and friends. The whole world is wathchingIndia’s growing economy under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As a vast country, this is a welcome opportunity for the Northeast region to futher our ties with our immediate neighbours –Bhutan,Bangladesh,MyanmarandNepal.
Tourism, Cultural and Educational exchange programs can be a good beginning. Towards this, the governments, civil societies, NGOs and investors, are stakeholders, all need to come forward on common platforms such as the one we have today.
I wish the Confluence every success.
Thank you all