Northeast India to play key role in BIMSTEC connectivity master plan: M. Shahidul Islam

Debraj Deb

BIMSTEC Secretary-General M. Shahidul Islam. (Source: Debraj Deb)

Northeast India will play a key role in BIMSTEC connectivity master-plan, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical & Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Secretary-General M. Shahidul Islam said here Friday. Shahidul came to join an international meet of Engineers Conference of India in Tripura.

BIMSTEC is an international organisation comprising of seven countries of South and Southeast Asia, working on multi-lateral free trade, connectivity development, counter-terrorism etc. to boost regional development and commerce.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, M.Shahidul Islam, who is also a senior Bangladeshi diplomat, said a transport connectivity Master Plan was drafted. It has several added features compared to a similar study from 2014, which identified 167 projects involving $50 million across the BIMSTEC partner nations.

“We have drafted a BIMSTEC connectivity master plan. This draft has been prepared and we are hoping to have a Working Group meeting at New Delhi next year for charting the connectivity area. The Master Plan will be finalised there," M. Shahidul said.

Speaking on new components of the Master Plan, he said it talks about connecting multi-lateral projects like Trilateral Highway involving India, Myanmar and Thailand and East-West Corridor. The idea is to connect India up to East Coast of Vietnam beside boosting connectivity within BIMSTEC region, he said.

The new plan also has provisions for massive emphasis on inland waterways connectivity. “A lot of countries like Nepal and Bhutan will have easy access to the Bay of Bengal by this plan. It not only deals with building roads but also to find out economic viability of those roads," the BIMSTEC chief said adding Northeast India will come to play a key role in this whole process.

“When physical connectivity becomes stronger, Northeast India will become the centre or economic hub of connectivity. For the NE, it is very important to be integrated in the BIMSTEC connectivity framework. Future of NE India is very closely interlinked with what neighbouring counties are doing, especially Bangladesh," he said.

BIMSTEC members are India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka in South Asia and Myanmar and Thailand in South East Asia.

A number of major routes connecting these nations will go through Northeast India. A road from Dawki-Tamabil Indo-Bangla border at Meghalaya would go all the way to connect all continental ASEAN countries. One of the other routes passing through Bangladesh and India has Agartala city as a crucial junction; it would connect a long way through Southeast Asia.

The Master Plan has provisions for economic activities and digital connectivity along with physician connectivity too. It aims at ensuring the seamless movement of goods, transport, people, cultural exchange across a multitude of borders to the benefit of all involved parties.

The BIMSTEC chief also said Bangladesh and Tripura has a lot of prospects in developing tourism and trade. “We consider all bilateral connectivity projects as building blocks of BIMSTEC connectivity. We don’t seek to duplicate them. All bilateral projects between these countries will be included in master plan. Our job is to find out missing links here more work is needed," he said.

At least three major Indo-Bangla connectivity projects are currently in progress in Tripura. These include Feni bridge, Agartala-Akhaura rail route and inland waterways port at Sonamura in Sipahijala district.

BIMSTEC’s origin can be traced back to BIST-EC or Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation formed in Bangkok in June 1997. After Myanmar was included in December 1997, it was rechristened BIMST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation). It was further renamed as Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation in 2004, 10 years before its Secretariat was established at Dhaka by Bangladesh premier Sheikh Hasina. The organization deals with 14 priority sectors of multi-lateral cooperation including a Free Trade Agreement or FTA.