Millennium Post

Rewriting the South Asian narrative

Recently, Union power minister Mr Piyush Goyal pressed for a seamless power connectivity among SAARC countries, at a meeting in Delhi. There has been a positive response from Nepal and Bangladesh, apart from valuable co-operation extended by both Nepal and Bhutan in setting up hydro power projects. All countries in the region suffer from varying degrees of power shortages especially during peak hours.

The power deficit is most acute in Nepal, where hydel power schemes are to be implemented with Indian assistance. At present, Nepal receives about 150 megawatts daily from India. Power availability is expected to improve after some of the schemes now on stream are completed.

The demand for power keeps increasing in Bangladesh with growing industrialisation. Bangladesh currently receives 500 megawatts from India, mainly through West Bengal. However, it needs more and has asked for at least 100 megawatts more from the Palatana power plant at Tripura. An agreement has been worked out between India and Bangladesh. At present, Palatana is yet to reach its full production capacity of around 700 megawatts. Apart from meeting Tripura’s requirements, it also serves Assam and other NE states.

Once hydro power development projects to be set up with Indian help go on stream in Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, the NE and India’s national power scenario would improve significantly. However, the Chinese have objected to several development projects announced by India for Arunachal Pradesh, claiming that the area was once known as southern Tibet.

Better understanding between Bangladesh and India has helped expedite the Palatana power plant construction in Tripura, which in turn will help Dhaka as well. Bangladesh’s decision to let India use the river route to send industrial equipment and other essential goods to Tripura from the mainland, overriding objections its pro-Pakistan religious extremists, made this possible.

In August, a consignment of 5000 tonnes of rice from Andhra Pradesh was sent to Tripura, from the Haldia port to Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh. Another 5000 tonnes is being sent soon by the same river-cum-land to be followed by another 10,000 tonnes of supply, by the Food Corporation of India. Bangladeshi lorries carry the cargo from Ashuganj to Nandannagar, in Tripura. Dhaka also earns good fees by allowing such traffic.

Such trafficking of goods helps foster good neighbourly relations, not to mention aiding economic development. The trend of co-operation seems to be catching on, with India about to import rice from Myanmar Chin hills area for Mizoram and Manipur shortly. The reason: railway movement within the NE states would not be possible from Lumding, for another 18 months or so, beginning from Oct 1 this year.

In the Northeast, there is broad gauge Railway connection at present up to Lumding, from Guwahati. The centre had plans to extend the BG system right up to Dharmanagar , Tripura, from Lumding. This part of the linkage, about 430 kilometres long and running through very difficult, uneven, hilly territory, crisscrossed by numerous creeks and water flows, is of metre gauge width. The decision forms part of the general objective to improve and expand, road and rail connectivity between the NE states and the mainland, to speed up economic integration and development.

According to open source media reports, the Railways carry about 70 per cent of the foodgrains needed for the NE states, mostly from the North India. Railway movement will come to a near standstill, while the gauge conversion work is on. Even as efforts to move more foodgrains from the mainland to the NE states are explored, the centre has approached Myanmar and Bangladesh to finalise the import of rice Mizoram and other states. Mizoram officials recently visited the neighbouring Chin hills areas in Myanmar for preliminary talks.

It may be mentioned that while Kolkata is 1650 kilometres away from Tripura by road/rail and Delhi, 2637 kms, the distance between Kolkata and Agartala, using the river route through Bangladesh, gets reduced to 350 kms only, resulting in the saving of considerable time, precious fuel and labour.              

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