Friday, December 19, 2008

Press Release Day I from Sikkim University Conference

International Conference on Sub Regionalism Approach to Regional Integration in South Asia: Prspects and Opportunities

Organised by Sikkim University in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, New Delhi

A three day International Conference organised by Sikkim University and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, New Delhi began on 19th December 2008 at Chintan Bhawan, Gangtok, Sikkim.

The first session of Day I focused on the ‘Genesis and Rationale of sub-regionalism’. The opening remarks were made by hon’able Vice Chancellor Prof. Mahendra P. Lama. Prof. Lama in his opening remarks welcomed the delegates from all parts of the region and abroad. This was the fourth major international engagement of Sikkim University, just in its second year of existence. In the opinion of the Vice Chancellor, the focus on sub-regionalism and integration is an exercise of immense value and in tandem with the regional integration occurring throughout the world. Regional Integration and cooperation has benefited a significant number of member countries of regional groups, like the EU, NAFTA, SADC and ASEAN which has brought prosperity to a vast numbers of the world’s population.

The session was chaired by His Excellency Shri BP Singh, Governor of Sikkim and the Chief Rector of Sikkim University. There were two presentations in this session, Dr. Suman Sahay, Gene Campaign, New Delhi, spoke on the salience of sub-regional cooperation discussing the necessity to preserve the bio diversity and bio resources of the region and cooperate to make sustainable use of them in an integrated and transnational manner. Dr. Sahay also emphasised on the need to learn from, preserve and work according to the rich indigenous traditions and knowledge of the region. In Dr. Sahay’s opinion, bio-resources have become the new oil. Thus, while developed countries have the technology to harness the bio-resource, they do not have these bio resources which are largely located in the developing world in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Among the countries, India is one of the rare countries with a rich bio-diverse wealth as well as the technology to harness and make beneficial use of this increasingly rare natural wealth.

Prof. VBS Kansakar, Department of geography, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal was the second speaker. Prof. Kansakar focused on the geographic and natural resource of the region. Highlighting, the geographic setting of the Himalayas and the fact that the region of North Asia remains the source of all the major rivers in Asia, Prof. Kansakar, brought into focus the catchment areas of these rivers and its neglect and therefore the greater need for cooperation in the sub-region. The present day challenges of global warning threaten the region from two sectors, the first through glacier melting as well as rising sea levels which is going to affect the coastal regions of South Asia and in particular Bangaldesh which has not been studied well.

His Excellency Shri BP Singh, the Governor of Sikkim, in his address suggested the sharing of experience and expertise to format the sub regional cooperation. The world was moving towards a greater degree of cooperation and mentioned that they are challenges and opportunities and specifically pointed out, health and education. There was a need for sub regional cooperation in order to have a bottoms-up approach to the process of globalisation and liberalisation that has resulted in a never before integration of the world into what is often called a global village. This approach from the sub regional level can feed into the regional approaches, especially the Look East Policy which aims at integrating the North Eastern region of India with the successful economies of South East Asia.

The plenary session followed the first session and was chaired by Mr. PD Rai, Hon’able Deputy Chairman, Sikkim State Planning Commission.

Mr. KPV Nair, Director, Asia Centre, Kolkata lamented the fact that Bangladesh-China-India and Myanmar (BCIM) and the Kunming Initiative were not taking off. Mr. Nair suggested that the conference be called the ‘Sikkim Initiative’ as this will kick off for sub regionalism. Many regional level groupings like BCIM, BIMSTEC were not working effectively due to several inadequacies. He cited the opening up of China by Deng Xiaoping in December 1978 and pointed to the lead of China in bringing prosperity to people and India was lagging. But despite the general level of prosperity brought about by the liberalisation and opening up in both India and China, some sub regions within them have been left behind as seas of backwardness with dotted islands of prosperity. In the effort to bring in these neglected regions into the prosperity trajectory, Mr. Nair, cautioned and mentioned the need for conflict management within the regions, on issues of heritage, identity and religion. Mr Nair concluded that geography alone should not be a motivation for sub regional cooperation. Rather we ought to go about creating, nurturing a collective consciousness that is necessary for the region to think of itself as one.

Prof. Li Tao from the Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan, China, spoke on the need for both India and China to let go of the past and concentrate on geo-civilisational links rather than on geo-politics and harness the opportunities for economic development and to face the challenges together with the countries of the region.

Mr. Gem Tshering, General Manager, Transmission Department, Bhutan Power Cooperation spoke on the vast potentialities in the sharing of energy resources in this region of Bhutan, Nepal and North Eastern India, especially on hydro-electricity. He also stressed the need to use these resources cautiously and intelligently in the light of climate change and environmental damage.

Prof. Chandan Mahanta, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati spoke on the need to learn from other country experience. The need for sub regional cooperation is well established and this region is a late in coming to understand this idea while the world moves ahead to various levels of integration. He stressed the need to increase the number of stake holders and concentrate on hydro-regionalism, eco-regionalism and learning from the problems of other organisations so as to avoid the pitfalls. Prof. Mahanta suggested that sub regionalism in this area could focus on low impact technology to preserve the rich bio- diversity and claim for itself through its well structured and enlightened policies and a green identity.

The Chairperson of the plenary session, Hon’able Deputy Chairman Sikkim Planning Commission, Shri PD Rai, in his address mentioned that local solutions have to be enhanced to tackle the challenges brought about by globalisation and sub regionalisation could be a mid way approach. Shri Rai delved into the challenges to sub-regionalism in terms of infrastructure, connectivity, growth, food sufficiency and raising education quality.

The last session of the day was also chaired by Mr. PD Rai.

Dr. Saswati Choudhary, Reader, OKD Institute of Social Change and Development, Guwahati spoke on, political economy of connectivity, wherein she discussed three important aspects of federal structure, demography and economic structure which will impinge heavily on any approach to integration.

Dr. R. Dayal, Senior Fellow, Asian Institute of Transport Development, was the last speaker of the day and his presentation focussed on the transport and connectivity aspect of sub-regionalism. Dr. Dayal examined the historical importance of linking South Asia with other regions of South East Asia and China with North East as the focal point. In this aspect he lamented that Asian countries are rather slow to respond to the global trend of regionalism and highlighted the emerging patterns of regionalism elsewhere in Asia.

The session concluded with a question and answer in which a range of questions and comments were directed towards the paper presenters and a lively discussion followed.