Better connectivity helps in boosting trade, attracting greater investments, as well as in bringing down business transaction costs and time

To explore connectivity and identify projects for linking India’s Northeast states with countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, India and the EU held a connectivity conference in Meghalaya on June 1-2.

Organized by the Ministry of External Affairs, the EU Delegation in India and the Asian Confluence, the conference, inaugurated jointly by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conard Kongkal Sangma and MoS for External Affairs Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, laid emphasis on connectivity initiatives of the Indian government both within the country and abroad under development partnership.

The Meghalaya Chief minister in his address emphasized the importance of interstate and cross border connectivity for the North-East region as a whole, and for Meghalaya in particular. In that regard, he referred to India’s ‘Act East’ Policy, within which Meghalaya has an ‘Act South’ Policy focusing on the need to improve connectivity between Meghalaya and Bangladesh.

He also suggested a ‘Zonal Approach’ to connectivity, involving neighbouring states that caters to the needs of each state.

MoS for External Affairs Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh in his address stressed on the importance of connectivity as both the driver and an outcome of economic growth. He said better connectivity helps in boosting trade, attracting greater investments, as well as in bringing down business transaction costs and time.

“It also leads to structural reforms, increased movement of skilled professionals, development of Global Value Chains (GVCs), enhancement of the role of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and reduction of various disparities,” the MoS for External Affairs said.

The Minister added that India’s foreign policy priorities, reflected in its ‘Act East’ and ‘Neighbourhood First’ policies, also bring the North-East region into focus as a connectivity gateway to the wider Indo-Pacific.

He highlighted connectivity initiatives undertaken by the government in the recent past. In this regard, he listed projects like Sagarmala Programme’ (port-led development to bring down logistics cost for local and foreign trade), ‘Bharatmala Pariyojana’ (road development), UDAN - Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS)’ (affordable air travel through better regional air connectivity), ‘Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY)’ (helping in the operational and financial turnaround of Power Distribution Companies), various Industrial Corridors and Dedicated Freight Corridors, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (quality all-weather road connectivity to uncollected habitations to help alleviate poverty) and Jal Marg Vikas Project (inland waterways).

The Minister said India has also taken its connectivity projects to its neighbours giving a fillip to better people – people and trade ties. India currently operates Maitri, Mitali and Bandhan Express between India and Bangladesh, and work is underway for more linkages, including Agartala and Akhaura is expected to be operationalized later this year.

India has also developed rail and road connectivity networks with Nepal and energy links with Nepal and Bangladesh. These are just some of the few examples, he said.

“Digital connectivity with our neighbours includes the India – Bangladesh Internet link which would improve the internet quality in North eastern states of India by commissioning international bandwidth for internet connectivity through Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh India is also energetically rolling out its Digital Public Infrastructure which is revolutionizing everyday life by wide adoption of DPI for public service delivery in India,” Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh maintained.

“India’s DPIs have also been looked upon as a model by countries in the Global South. We are keen to partner with our neighbours on roll out of DPI and work with our development partners to take DPI globally. I am glad that the recent India- EU Trade and Technology Council has taken upon itself this task,” he added.

The two-day India-EU connectivity conference saw technical sessions on the themes; Digital Connectivity, Energy Connectivity, Transport Connectivity and Connectivity and Beyond focusing on projects linking the Northeast with India’s neighbourhood, as part of the ‘Act East’ and ‘Neighbourhood First’ policies.

The sessions saw participation from senior officials of the Govt. of India, the EU Commission, Government(s) of the North Eastern States of India, North Eastern Council, stakeholders from Nepal, Bangladesh and executives from the private sector with presence in the region.

Deliberations in the panel on ‘Connectivity & Beyond’ focused on the hurdles and bottlenecks faced by these projects, and on ways to ameliorate their impacts.

The panel on ‘Digital Connectivity’ focused on improving the network penetration in the region by deploying infrastructure, and simultaneously building capacity of the various stakeholders to ensure meaningful connectivity.

Developing localized off – grid solutions through community participation was stressed as the way forward to promote ‘Energy Connectivity’ in the region.

Experts deliberating on ‘Transport Connectivity’ appreciated the several ongoing transformative infrastructure developments in road, rail and waterway connections in the region, but suggested there was need for more. Deliberations also focussed on identifying the right projects to source external funding.

Going forward, a study on the existing EU Member States driven projects would be brought out by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

The MEA, the EU Delegation and other stakeholders such as RIS would identify suitable projects for joint implementation under the framework of the India-EU Connectivity Partnership.

It should be remembered that the first-ever India-EU Trade and Technology Council Ministerial meeting held in Brussels on May 16, 2022 had prioritised - connectivity partnership as one of the important focus areas of cooperation between India and the EU.