| Shyam Saran |
INDIA NATIONAL DAY FEATURE
OUR globalised and inter-connected world today revolves around connectivity in the broadest sense of that term. It includes physical infrastructure in terms of roads, railroads , waterways and sea ports that enable the carriage of goods, services, peoples and ideas both within and across national borders.
Connectivity enables proximity and proximity is an asset which generates prosperity. Within national boundaries, connectivity is indispensable to the creation of a national market. Nations which are connected with each other in this larger sense are then able to participate in the regional and global value chains which are the hall-mark of modern global economy. If connectivity is missing or is inefficient, then the comparative advantage a country may have in producing certain goods and services would be reduced or even wiped out because of higher transaction costs.
Even though some cross-border transport linkages are being re-established with both Bangladesh and Pakistan, they are not generating the benefits they should because of cumbersome customs, immigration and security procedures at border crossing points. Cargo movement is also held up due to lack of accompanying banking, testing and inspection facilities.
One such Integrated Checkpoints (ICP) has already been set up at Attari on the India-Pakistan border. Several others are in various stages of implementation on India’s borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The ICP at the Tamu-Moreh border point on the India-Myanmar border is already under construction. The back-end linkages in terms of modern highways and, where necessary railway connections are also being put in place with these countries mainly through Indian funding.
Of special note in this regard are the proposed Trilateral Highway connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport project linking the Myanmar port of Sittwe with Mizoram in our North-East and with Kolkata across the Bay of Bengal. Several highways across the India-Nepal and India-Bhutan borders are being upgraded and new rail links are planned. These transport links will bring closer the vision of a South Asia where there is a free flow of goods, peoples and ideas transcending political boundaries.
Leaders of South Asia have declared the decade of 2010-2020 as the Decade of Connectivity in the region. Two landmark agreements have been negotiated and are ready for adoption. One is the Motor Vehicles agreement and the other is a Railways agreement. When implemented, these agreements will go a long way in enabling the smooth movement of goods and peoples across national boundaries.
India has also given priority to its connectivity with Asean countries. The India-Myanmar transport projects are important because Myanmar is India’s gateway to South-East Asia. Asean has its own connectivity plan and India is working to align its own transport infrastructure development plans with Asean. These include cross-border rail and road connectivity, maritime, air and digital connectivity. These must be accompanied by better logistics and efficient border clearances. Only then would it be possible for India to participate in the regional and global value chains which are already highly developed in Asean and Asia-Pacific in general.
Ultimately what is required is a mind-set change in India. We must start looking at national boundaries not as impenetrable walls behind which we must protect ourselves from hostile influences beyond, but rather as “connectors”, bringing India closer to its neighbours and through them, the region and world. Cross-border links then become transmission belts for the free flow of development impulses. Transport corridors thus become economic corridors.
Through much of its history, India was a flourishing civilisation, leveraging its geographical location at the cross-roads of the ancient caravan routes connecting to Central Asia. Thanks to its peninsular character, lying astride the Indian Ocean, India was also at the centre of the monsoon-driven ocean routes both to the East and the West. India flourished because it was a connected nation. India’s future lies in learning the lessons from its own cosmopolitan past. – Courtesy of Indian High Commission in Brunei Darussalam)