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
The three day International Conference organised by Sikkim University and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, New Delhi which began on 19th December 2008 is into the second day.
The four sessions on 20th December, 2008 was held at Hotel Royal Plaza. The four sessions focussed on Sub-regionalism -Trade and Investment, Energy, Tourism and Natural Resources and Environment.
The first session, Sub-regionalism- Trade and Investment, was chaired by Mr. Kishalaya Bhattacharya, Bureau Chief, New Delhi Television, Guwahati. The chair in his address suggested that the section ought to be called ‘Opportunities and Crisis’ in view of the existing scenario in North East India and the neighbourhood.
In this session, Prof. Jayanta K. Gogoi, head of the Department of Economics, Dibrugarh University spoke on the “Analysis of Regional Trade and Economic cooperation among Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM)”. In his presentation, Prof. Gogoi using data from the past decades explored the possible impact of sub-regionalism on the social economy of North East India. Using data for the past decade, Prof. Gogoi, examined the composition of trade, the type of trade, the opportunities that regional or sub-regional integration like the Look East Policy offer to North East India and the strategies to harness the potential. In his conclusion, Prof. Gogoi cautioned for taking in consideration the social costs that such a regional integration would result in.
The second presenter was Mr. Nitya Nanda, Fellow, Resources and Global Security Division, TERI, New Delhi. Mr. Nanda’s focussed on “Sub-Regionalism, Trade and Investment Potential”, citing the examples of Mexico-USA, Nordic countries, spoke about the cooperative potential that such sub-regionalism could result in. He listed out the advantages of sub-regionalism and the possible mechanisms by drawing to the need for a spill-over effect of development to other areas of the region. Energy, environment, agro-based industries and engineering goods as such areas where spill-over could take place.
The second session, Sub-regionalism and Energy, was chaired by the Vice Chancellor of Sikkim University, Prof. Mahendra P. Lama. The chair suggested that energy was one of the key components that could ride this agenda of sub-regionalism that we are discussing. Prof. Lama pointed out the political hesitation that exists at both local and the national levels. But he cautioned against letting it determine the agenda of sub-regionalism as this region is rich with hydro-electric potential and gas reserves and an energy grid can help us pool the potential and marketed to get over deficiencies and the need for energy resources for continuing with a galloping economy and growth.
There were three speakers in this session beginning with Mr. Rakesh Kumar, Executive Vice President, Power Trading cooperation of India, New Delhi, who made a presentation titled, “Sub-Regionalism Approach to Regional Integration- Energy”. Mr. Kumar drew the close correlation between energy and the economy, pointed at the current energy scenario in the region that is grim. He suggested that in terms of hydro-electric potential of the North east region there was vast potential and also suggested the need for development of power projects with storage capacity.
The second presenter was Mr. DN Raina, Director, Entecsol International, New Delhi. Mr. Raina after an introduction about Entecsol and his functions spoke on the essential characteristics of the South Asian Energy ring and the relevance of sub-regional energy cooperation in the formation of the South Asian energy ring. According to him, such energy ring will led to a continuous balance of energy flowing from different sources while at the same time enable competitive pricing, constant supply and creating a sense of energy security for the customers. The three areas Mr. Raina marked out for cooperation were electricity, gas and technology transfer/cooperation.
Mr. Gem Tshering, General Manager, Transmission Department, Bhutan Power Cooperation, Thimpu, Bhutan, spoke on the experience of Bhutan in harnessing hydroelectric power as a major component of Bhutan’s foreign exchange. Mr Tshering while highlighting the benefit of the current Indo-Bhutan Treaty in energy cooperation, proposed the pooling of resources in the area of energy cooperation in the sub region especially with regards to Sikkim and Bhutan.
The third session of the day concentrated on sub-regionalism and tourism and was presided Mr Pema Wangchuk, Editor, Now, Gangtok.
Mr Phuntsho Gyaltshen, Planning Officer, Tourism Council of Bhutan Secretariat, Government of Bhutan was the first to speak and in his presentation, “Sub-regionalism and Tourism”, shared with the gathering the experience of Bhutan as an emerging tourist destination. He also noted the need for promotion of circuit tourism between countries in the region while taking into consideration of culture, tradition, environment which he called ‘responsible tourism’. While appreciating the various regional fora like BIMSTEC, SAARC in promotion of culture and tourism, Mr Gyaltshen called for capacity building between countries in the region.
The second presenter was Dr Nimmi Kurian, Associate Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and her focus was on the discourse of regionalism and tourism in the border areas. In her paper, Dr Kurain argued that tourism in the border communities are marginalised over a period of time and space. To her understanding, the problem of sub-regionalism emanates from the issue of looking at tourism only from a Delhi-centric view. The discourse on development of tourism or other policy towards the region should be start from within the regional level itself where North East India by itself would be the primary actor. It was only in this context, she believed, that local communities can be given a major role in cross-border sustainable development and sustainable resources.
The third speaker in the session was Prof Li Tao, Executive Dean, Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University, China and she spoke on the importance of ‘culture’ as a connecting bridge between nations in the region. In this regard Prof. Tao, highlighted the similarities of the Indic and Sinic civilization and culture, both in terms of its antiquity and in terms of their influence on the rest of Asia. Prof. Tao stressed on the need of reviving the age-old cultural link between China and India and called it indispensable to mutual interests for the construction of a common Asian world. She added the importance of the five principles for peaceful co-existence and an equal and mutual respect for culture.
Mr KPV Nair, Director, Asia Centre, Kolkota chose to speak on ‘Asian Union’. Mr. Nair gave tourism the central role in providing the crucial link to unify the entire Asian continent and promote harmony. Intangible Heritage Tourism was the way to sub regional integration and Nair mentioned that there were many conferences touching on the issue of promoting tourism. His suggestion was of the need to improve infrastructure in the region to boost regional potential. Tourism can also be promoted through art and exhibitions and having a cross cultural/national movement of artists and art. Nair used the platform of the conference to call for a strong effort towards achieving this end of sub regionalism by concentrating on tourism development.
Dr Jyoti Prakash Tamang, Reader, Sikkim Government College, Gangtok, was the last speaker of the session. In his paper on “Food and Tourism”, Dr Tamang pointed out the importance of food as a component of tourism culture. Citing the example of Europe and specifically France apart from other Asian countries, he said that North East India posses an immense opportunity in developing similar tourism centered around food culture. Dr. Tamang presented some conclusions of the research that he has worked on the development of food culture in North East and elsewhere in the world. In his opinion, North Eastern India with its unique food culture and due to its similarity to the wider East Asian world, can become a destination for both domestic and international tourist traffic. Towards this idea, during the discussion the participants agreed that food tourism is one segment in which both the government and travel and tour operators need to actively promote.
Prof. Lama in an interjection during the discussion brought to attention the pivotal role that educational institutions have played in Darjeeling in order to develop and promote tourism and attract tourists through the students, faculty and their respective linkages across the world. Using the example of Nalanda University, he cited how education can used to promote integrated development around trade, tourism and culture and the role of private players in achieving the desired end.
The last session of the day was chaired by Dr. Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign, New Delhi and had four presentation on the theme “Sub regionalism, natural resources and environment.
The presentation of the session by Dr. Nakul chettri, ICIMOD, Kathmandu, Nepal focused on the regional initiatives in NRM (natural resources Management) and also delved into ICIMOD’s experience in the Hindu Kush Himalaya which is an ecological buffer zone and also a highly prioritised area for conservation. Discussing about the region, he highlighted the rich biodiversity in the region such as eco-system, agro-biodiversity, cultural diversity etc. He also emphasised on the water resources for it provides the lifeline to the region. Regarding the challenges faced he pointed out four major challenges-physical, climate, demographic and economic change. In terms of meeting to such shared some of the experiences of ICIMOD and its many global initiatives.
Prof. Chandan Mahanta, Indian institute of Technology, Guwahati made the second presentation on sub regionalism and water resources. In his presentation, he emphasised on water as an embedded resource and collective management of this resource. Identifying the many issues of water resources like hydro-power, agriculture, fisheries, industrial etc. He emphasised on the benefits of hydro power.
Providing an alternative perspective of water management, the importance of regional and the local participation through a sub regional approach was highlighted, by which many institutions and basin organisations could be linked. Concerned about the impact of climate change on many rivers, he posed some of the important questions on how vulnerable are the water system and how can we prepare ourselves for such a challenge.
The third presentation by Ms. Usha Lachungpa, Conservator of Forests, Government of Sikkim, on sub regionalism-natural resources and conservation focused on the state of Sikkim and admitted regionalism as a phenomenon is happening. Highlighting the rich the natural resources and biodiversity in Sikkim she emphasised the importance of preserving these values and ethics through political commitment.
The last presentation of the session by Dr. HK Badoli, GB Pant Institute, of Himalayan Environment and Development, Gangtok, focused on the environment and natural resources and co operation in the sub region highlighting the Himalayan sub-region and its natural wealth. He also list some of major threats on natural resources like population growth, habitat fragmentation and most importantly, the challenges of global warming and its impact on plants and animals. He averred that even creation of protected area can now ensure long term viability of natural resources in the sub region under the global warming reality.
He discussed some of the medicinal plants like rhododendrous and the need to adopt ethnobiological practices with effective utilization and application of indigenous iand community alone. The session concluded with intervention from three discussants questfollowed by series of questions from the audience and answers by the presenters