June 23, 2021
Historically, trade through waerways has been one of the major pillars of economic growth and prosperity in Indian north eastern states and the adjoining regions in Bangladesh. However, there has been a dip in such practices and efforts to revive such trade mechanisms need to be thought of, said Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International.
“Private sector involvement becomes pivoital in such a scenario. Bringing small scale industries, entrepreneurs and traders on board will ensure sustainable and efficient cross-border river-based trade and tourism”, he added.
He was moderating a session on involving the private sector in cros –border navigation and trade in the Meghna River Basin. It was organised on 23rd June 2021 and was attended by more than 50 stakeholders various government departments, non-profit organisations, and political representatives.
It was organised as a side event in the Meghna Knowledge Forum, which is an annual scientific virtual symposium aimed at providing a learning exchange platform on water governance issues in the Meghna Basin.
In his introductory remarks, Biswajit Chakraborty, Director, North East, Advisory Council, Fedeeration of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) said that river, as a public good, should be linked to private sector mechanisms. Private sector will bring in efficiencies which may not be possible by the public sector. This will bring about extensive benefits to the masses.
“In addition to subsidies provided for industrial development, building and buying vessels shpuld be subsidised. This will attract the private sector.” he added.
He further highlighted the need to view the scenario in the Meghna Basin to establish cost effective technologies and increase reliability is pivotal.
Concurring with Mr. Chakrobarty, Ms. Selima Ahmed, Member of Parliament, Bangladesh stressed on the importance of private sector involvement for the enhancement of river-based trade and tourism.
“Trade through waterways is the survival of the residents in this region and the governmnets on both side of the border have always been supportive of the same. There is a need to put this support on paper and implement coordinated strategies to enhance the movement through waterways.”, she added.
According to Sujit Chakraborty, President, Centre for Aquatic Research & Environment and
Bureau Chief, Indo-Asian News Services, people on the ground are unaware of the benefits of trade through waterways.
He said, “there must be a system of continuous awareness genetaion programmes among the local and regional media, and other stakeholders to enlighten them about the purpose, utility and added benefits of the waterways. There have been some efforts by GoI in this regard.”
“The North-Eastern states have a strong television network, including both satellite and cable channels. These platforms can be utilised to broadcast the awareness programmes.”, he added.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Syed Monowar Hussain, Former Director, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority said that there is need to have appropriate regulatory reforms to allow small boats to participate in cross-border trade.
“Select small stretches and develop cross-border trade through wtaerwyas via small boats. The Fengchuganj-karimganj and Comilla-Sonamura could be considered for a pilot model”, he added.
He further highlighted that navigation of IWT is placed under the trade agreement and the protocol routes are already notified. The software for the same is different on both sides of the border. Thus, the standards and the norms need to be harmonised on both the sides to integrate navigation, trade and commerce.
Concluding the webinar, Bipul Chatterjee said that “Larger agenda is to have cooperation between the countries, this can not be achieved without the people on the ground realising the benefits and be aware of the purpose and utility of the cooperation and integration across borders.”
He further added “the countries should take specific and focussed initiatives and make incremental progresses. Thereafter, these initiatives can be expanded in terms of scope and location.”
In his final remarks, he highlighted that the purpose of such forums is to create and expand our knowledge base and then takng it forward to implement strategies and reforms.
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