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Bay of Bengal initiative completes 24 years, PM Modi lauds connectivity and health initiatives of the grouping

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BIMSTEC leaders at the Leaders’ Retreat, in Kathmandu, Nepal on August 31, 2018 (Image courtesy: PIB)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday praised the new road and rail links that are being forged by  seven Bay of Bengal countries that comprise BIMSTEC.

Established in June 1997, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which celebrates its 24th anniversary today, forms a unique link between South and South-East Asia with five members from South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) and two from South-East Asia (Myanmar and Thailand).

PM Modi hoped that the regional grouping will continue to grow and scale new heights of cooperation in the common pursuit of building a secure, peaceful and prosperous Bay of Bengal region.

"The people of BIMSTEC are bound by shared history and age-old cultural and civilizational linkages. As a manifestation of our collective will, BIMSTEC has emerged as a promising regional grouping to fulfill the common aspirations of its people and serve the shared interests of the Member States," said the Indian PM while extending his warm greetings and felicitations to fellow citizens of BIMSTEC on the occasion of the 24th BIMSTEC Day.

He expressed happiness over the regional cooperation under the BIMSTEC framework intensifying substantially in recent years, including the "unprecedented challenge" amidst a difficult phase of the Covid pandemic.  

"Progress has been made on several fronts including the finalization of the BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity and the text of the BIMSTEC Charter," said PM Modi.

BIMSTEC
With its 'Act East' and 'Neighbourhood First' policy as the main driving force, India continues to make giant strides in integrating countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal by leading the efforts to restore the historical connectivity through enhanced transport and trade linkages.

The BIMSTEC Transport Connectivity Master Plan aims to create seamless connectivity between and across countries in the Bay of Bengal through air, sea, and land linkages. The Master Plan has already been approved by the 17th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting and it will be adopted by the 5th BIMSTEC Summit, which is expected to be held later this year. Successful implementation of this Master Plan will bring BIMSTEC much closer to achieve its goal of seamlessly connecting the Bay of Bengal region, further strengthening India's resolve to revive the global maritime trade and make the region a hub of commercial and cultural exchange.

As many as 137 'flagship' projects out of a total of 267 involving construction, expansion and modernization of transport infrastructure, have been identified to enhance connectivity in the Bay of Bengal region.

It includes the likes of the Kaladan transport project, the Trilateral Highway Project, an East-West corridor connecting India's Northeast with Myanmar and Thailand, the Rhi-Tiddim road in Myanmar, construction of India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline and dredging of inland waterways in Bangladesh, the Biratnagar integrated check post with Nepal, reconstruction of railway tracks in Sri Lanka, road projects and power transmission lines in Nepal, etc.

BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and the BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement will ensure seamless multi-modal transportation linkages and smooth, synchronized and simplified transit facilities through the development, expansion and modernization of highways, railways, waterways, sea routes, and airways in the region.

Reiterating commitment to the BIMSTEC process, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina reminded everyone today that the country joined the forum during the Awami League-led government in 1997 "in the spirit of realization of the dream of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to achieve collective economic and social progress for the neighboring countries" through building a stronger cooperation with them.

Hasina said that the time has come now to "work faster" to turn BIMSTEC into a result-oriented organisation to achieve collective goals.

"It is my firm conviction that the BIMSTEC process will intensify further with the holding of the 5th summit soon. I hope it will generate new impetus in stepping forward the progress we have already made in various important sectors of cooperation including trade and investment, connectivity, agriculture and energy, public health, and technology," said the Bangladesh PM.  

Bangkok, a key partner in the 1360 km long India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway initiative, insists that the Master Plan on Transport Connectivity remains the all-important foundation on which further cooperation will be built.

The Trilateral Highway initiative represents the most significant step in the establishment of connectivity between India and the South East Asian countries. This was visualized as a 'highway of opportunity and friendship' that would facilitate not just the movement of goods and services, but also of people and ideas.

It traverses from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand through Myanmar. India is undertaking two sections of the Trilateral Highway including the construction of the Kalewa-Yagyi road section in Myanmar and construction of 69 bridges on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section in Myanmar.

Besides stressing on connectivity, Don Pramudwinai, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, also urged that BIMSTEC must continue to be a platform to assist Member States with their socio-economic recovery from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"For Thailand, such recovery can be accomplished through the 'Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model', which emphasizes investment in new technology for a balanced and sustainable growth path. Thailand will be exploring this concept during our Chairmanship by focusing cooperation in efficient use of resources, waste reduction and low-carbon emission. The BCG could be a new economic paradigm that strives for a balanced and sustainable growth for us all," he said.
 
Bhutan, which saw massive support extended by India to tackle the challenges posed by Covid-19, expressed "sincere appreciation and gratitude" to BIMSTEC Member States for the solidarity shown during the difficult times.

Nepal also called on the member nations to pool their strengths and stand in solidarity with each other to build a better resilience across the region as the raging second wave of Covid-19 has "exposed our vulnerability".

Home to 22 percent of the global population, BIMSTEC is a region with huge potential for meaningful cooperation and strengthened partnership, said Kathmandu.  

"We are racing against time to ensure the required supply of personal protective equipment, therapeutic drugs and vaccines, arrange respirators, oxygen, ventilators and ICU beds, and provide critical care to the patients. I believe that vaccination is a key part of the solution to such a pandemic. Our region should muster further efforts in ensuring timely and affordable access to Covid-19 vaccines," Nepal PM K.P. Sharma Oli said in his message on the BIMSTEC 24th anniversary.

Sri Lanka, the current chair of BIMSTEC and the host for the fifth summit later this year, reassured that it remains committed to all the initiatives of the grouping.

"Although BIMSTEC represents 22 per cent of the world population, it only contributes 4 per cent of the world GDP. Therefore, I strongly encourage the Member States to continue to deepen cooperation to address the region's challenges and to seize the many opportunities for shared progress," said Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Myanmar said that it views BIMSTEC as a key platform for peace, prosperity and sustainability in the Bay of Bengal region.

"We are committed to active cooperation in response to new and emerging challenges, together with other Member States in a spirit of friendship, solidarity, mutual respect and mutual understanding," said Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairman of the State Administration Council of Myanmar.  

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