September 29, 2021
Involving farmers, local traders, women, youth, non-government organizations and local indigenous communities in trade, navigation and cross-border transportation will reduce socio-economic and environmental concerns related to inland waterways as discussed by experts at a multi-stakeholder organised by CUTS International.
Private sector participation not just big businesses but also small traders, small vessel owners and small producers is necessary in the development of inland waterways in India and Bangladesh. Similarly, participation of people such as farmers, boatman, women, youth, local non-government organizations for the success of the initiatives related to sustainable development. Thus, there should be balanced economic needs, social needs and environmental needs said Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International while welcoming the participants. He further stated that the idea is to come up with clear policy messages to enhance policy and regulations and increase the participation of local communities in decision making processes related to inland waterways connectivity.
This multistakeholder dialogue titled “Promoting Cross-border Trade Through Trans-boundary Waterways between Bangladesh, Bhutan and India” was organised on 29th September 2021 at the Lily Hotel in Guwahati, Assam, India by CUTS International in collaboration with Oxfam and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). The dialogue was attended by more than 50 high-profile dignitaries and stakeholders from Bangladesh, Bhutan and various parts of India.
The dialogue is an initiative as a part of a regional programme titled “Trans-boundary Rivers of South Asia” (TROSA), which is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), managed by Oxfam and implemented by CUTS International.
Biswajit Chakraborty, Director, North-East Advisory Council, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry said that connectivity related initiatives are extremely important for the economy of the north-east region to grow. For river transport it is important that there should be some amount of certainty, efficiency and predictability. That can only happen when there is an active participation of private sector.
While delivering Special Address, Shah Mohammad Tanvir Monsur, Bangladesh Assistant High, Commissioner, Guwahati, Assam said that before participation north-east India was connected with rest of the India through riverways of Bangladesh. Now inland waterways connectivity related initiatives are taking momentum again. He further said that government agencies and people should realize the benefits of sub-regional connectivity through inland waterways. He raised the issue of very low level of trade between Bangladesh and India’s north-eastern states despite high trade potential in many products. He said that connectivity cannot be implemented all of a sudden thus first important ports and major trading centres needs to be linked.
Subimal Bhattacharjee, Director, Jookto said that it is very important to understand the context of North-east as a gateway Bangladesh, Bhutan and other East Asian countries for trade related activities. Thus India-Bangladesh relation remains critical and depend on how well infrastructure and connectivity is developed and how issues are dealt at local and national level.
Samudra Gupta Kashyap, State Information Commissioner, Government of Assam said that boosting cross-border trade through inland waterways needs a lot of awareness in India, Bangladesh and Bhutan about socio-economic benefits of such initiatives. He further said that public thinking and media involvement is also necessary to raise the issue of cross-border trade on different platforms especially about ease of doing business through inland waterways.
Ashutosh Gautam, Member (Technical, Logistics and Traffic), Inland Waterways Authority of India said that Assam is a high potential area for the cross-border trade. He further said that there are a number of trade routes which were functional before independence now needs to be revived for the transportation purpose. IWAI is concentrating on Brahmaputra river, and Barak river making them navigable for transportation purpose.
Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, Director, Marine Safety and Traffic, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority said that geographical location of Bangladesh is helpful for the transportation through rivers. He further said that among 54 transboundary rivers there are a number of rivers where cross-border trade and transportation can be started taking into account the environmental, social and economic viabilities.
Dipak Gyawali, Former Minister of Water Resources of Nepal, and Chair, Nepal Water Conservation Foundation said that people of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal must generate knowledge related to partnership of private sector, local people and spiritual people. He further said water transport is not only cheap mode but also environmental friendly if a correct approach for its development is adopted. If India has to compete with China than it has to develop the inland waterways and learn how best it can utilize its water resources.
Archana Chatterjee, Programme Manager, International Union for Conservation of Nature said that instead of water sharing approach, the approach of benefit sharing can work well for the management of biodiversity and environmental conservation when we focus on river related issues or on cross-border trade through inland waterways.
Captain Rakesh Singh, Secretary, Indian Coastal Ship Owner’s Association said that European countries have taken river-based transportation as a major priority while in India it has been considered as a last priority but over the past few years it has gained momentum again. But is still very low in comparison to the cargo transportation of China through inland waterways.
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