‘Nadi Festival’ enunciates key policy dialogues on riverine connectivity

Stress on flights between Dhaka and NE region

Meghalaya coffee packaged and exhibited at Nadi Festival Exhibition Centre at Sri Aurobindo Institute of Indian Culture on Friday. Coffee is sold under the brand name of Smokey Falls Coffee.

SHILLONG: Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister of Bangladesh Rashed Khan Menon has stressed on the need to introduce direct flights between Dhaka and Shillong, Dhaka and Guwahati and Dhaka-Kolkata-Agartala, to promote tourism between India’s Northeastern region and Bangladesh.
Speaking at the two-day Asian Confluence led Festival – NADI 2016 here on Friday, Menon said both the countries are working to introduce a direct flight between Dhaka and Guwahati and both the governments can also think of connecting Shillong with the Bangladesh capital.
Stating that collaboration between India and Bangladesh in the tourism sector can be a win-win situation, he asserted that Bangladesh and India are jointly trying to end the isolation by way of railway connectivity.
Reiterating that there is a lot of scope for cultural exchanges between the two countries, Menon said this is yet to take off even as he added that a Buddhist tourism circuit can also be developed between Bangladesh and Arunachal Pradesh.
He also pointed out that the present practice of granting visa to tourists of both the countries is not conducive from the tourists’ point of view and there is need to introduce the system of visa on arrival in both the countries.
He also lamented that only three border check posts exist along the 1741 kilometre Indo- Bangla border and stressed on the need to open up more border check posts and land custom stations along the border.
Chief Minister Mukul Sangma said he was excited at the prospect of collaboration between Meghalaya and Bangladesh and rued the fact that sometimes rivers instead of being sources of cooperation turn instead into sources of conflict.
He specifically mentioned the Teesta water sharing project that had been shelved due to the adamant attitude of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. “On account of such conflicts the prospects of sharing the Chittagong port by states like Meghalaya is delayed.”
He pointed out that the river basins in both the counties can become the source of prosperity and not a source of conflict even as he added that the natural course of river if scientifically utilized can be a medium of trade and commerce.
He said the festival would foster dialogue and engagement with the stakeholders and would pave the way for effective convergence and “actionable” points in using rivers for mutual benefit and prosperity in the region.
Stating that every livelihood activity revolves around sources of water, the chief minister said it is important to ensure that everyone who lives upstream understand the ramification of their activities on those who live downstream. Unless those who live downstream are not made beneficiaries of upstream activities, there will always be conflicts.
He pointed to the hydel projects signed in Arunachal Pradesh which have now run aground because they did not take into consideration the impact on those residing downstream in Assam.
He also called for reviving the river routes that once existed and were so efficiently managed in the past and expressed his happiness that National Waterways Authority of India has approved four inland waterways to connect with Bangladesh through Brahmaputra in the northern slopes and other rivers in the southern slopes of Meghalaya.
“To ensure that the hydrology of these rivers remain sustainable, we also need to see that the State is capable of taking care of the sustainability of the livelihoods of people who are in upstream and catchment areas,” he added.
Bangladesh Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shahriar Alam, said rivers do provide better transportation than land transportation, adding that rivers are facing crisis and many of the rivers in the world have been harmed due to construction of dams.
High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India, Syed Muazzem Ali, pointed out the need for the joint basin management for the sustenance of the rivers.
He also said both the countries would probably have to subsidize the air services initially even as he admitted that the bus service between Guwahati-Shillong-Dhaka is not fully efficient as of now since the services are not cost effective and therefore not viable.
High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, pointed out that the concept of border haats have been very successful for trade and commerce between two countries and the Union government is trying to increase the number of haats to 24 along the Indo Bangla border.
“The potential for tourism is there but it has not been tapped so far,” he said. Pointing to the new grouping of Bangladesh-Bhutan-India and Nepal, Shringla said there is need to have a joint river management plan to generate hydel power since the Bangladesh-China-Myanmar-India group looked more at connectivity.
Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and former Water Resources Minister of Nepal also spoke during the programme.
The two-day Asian Confluence River Festival – NADI 2016, is the first of its kind in the region, where noted speakers and high level observers from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and India and experts on rivers and rural development came together to explore the possibilities of enhancing cultural ties and amplifying the creative use of riverine connectivity by catalyzing environment friendly trade and tourism between the Northeastern region and surrounding neighbours.
The festival – organized by the Asian Confluence, India, East Asia Centre, Shillong, in collaboration with the State government and the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies – is a celebration of the spirit of commonality between the Northeastern states and neighbouring countries through the rivers of the region, which had for long been the treasured highways of culture and unison among the people.
The highlights of the two-day festival, besides policy dialogues and stakeholder meetings, include live exhibitions on yarns and dyes, cultural programmes, crafts bazaar, performing arts of the border areas, special evening performances by top dance, music and theatre troupes of Bangladesh and NE region.