PM wants better Saarc connectivity

Dhaka, Nov 12 | Updated: Nov 13 2005, 05:30am hrs
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has proposed that all South Asian countries provide transit facilities to each other on a reciprocal basis. Speaking at the 13th Saarc summit here on Saturday, Mr Singh said this would allow Saarc nations to improve connectivity and allow member countries to reach those outside the group.

He also suggested that a South Asian car rally be staged in the run-up to the next summit to help the region rediscover its old road links. We need to recharge and regenerate the arteries of transport and communication that bind us together and in turn link our region to the rest of Asia to reclaim the prosperity that is undoubtedly our due, the Prime Minister said.

He added that India was willing to adopt, on a reciprocal basis, a liberal open skies policy towards air traffic in the region. Singh said India was willing to allow one flight a day by designated airlines of member countries to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Flights would also be allowed to 18 tourist destinations. The proposal is similar to what India offered Asean members two years ago.

The Prime Minister suggested that bilateral air services agreements among member states should include multiple designation of airlines, allowing private carriers to launch additional services.

Mr Singh said he favoured liberal movement of people and goods, but added that this required greater sensitivity to other pressing concerns. No member country should allow its territory to be used against the interests of another member country. There should be a zero tolerance for cross-border terrorism and for the harbouring of hostile insurgent groups and criminal elements, he said.

Other proposals made by Mr Singh include creating a South Asian university with world class facilities and a professional faculty, establishing a regional food bank to tide over shortages and losses caused by natural calamities, an umbrella South Asian development fund for poverty alleviation, setting up a Saarc high economic council to promote economic, trade, finance and monetary initiatives, and creating a Saarc museum of textiles and handicrafts.

Mr Singh welcomed the move to set up a Saarc disaster preparedness centre in India but urged member nations to act decisively on the groups economic agenda. If our region wishes to be part of the dynamic Asia, which is emerging in our neighbourhood, then we must act now and act speedily, he said.