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CPD study on infrastructure and connectivity cited

On its part Bangladesh alone will require US$ 2.3 billion to develop the facilities, reckons a researcher from the Centre for Policy Dialogue, one of the country’s leading think-tanks. Beside roads and highways, the country’s ports and land ports will have to be developed and upgraded in order to cope with the extra pressure.

Published in The Financial Express on Tuesday, 20 October 2015.

Obstacle to four-nation connectivity

If the observations made by experts at a seminar on ‘Regional Connectivity: Opportunities and Challenges for Bangladesh’ are correct, one gets the impression that the Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) was signed by four South Asian nations rather prematurely.  So far as the merit of the proposed connectivity is concerned, it could not be extolled more. But the problem lies with the capacity of infrastructure, roads in particular, of the countries involved.

On its part Bangladesh alone will require US$ 2.3 billion to develop the facilities, reckons a researcher from the Centre for Policy Dialogue, one of the country’s leading think-tanks. Beside roads and highways, the country’s ports and land ports will have to be developed and upgraded in order to cope with the extra pressure. Other countries, particularly Nepal and Bhutan, will also require similar remodelling and refurbishing. Even the largest of the partners, India will also have to add or renovate some of the facilities.

Countries like Bangladesh are not economically strong enough to spend so much money on the infrastructure concerned unless the benefits accrued from it are substantial and for a long time. Time will not be a bar because the proposed connectivity will continue. The amount of financial gains will, however, prove to be a major factor. In today’s world, trade barriers are left wayside in order to maximise benefits for the parties involved. Where neighbours are concerned the issue of proximity certainly has an edge. On that count, the two land-locked countries Nepal and Bhutan will desperately look for such transport outlets. This does not necessarily rule out the benefits Bangladesh and India will enjoy in a frontierless regime of vehicular movement. India’s vast territory has its disadvantages as well because of the outlying north-east seven sisters. In terms of time lag and carrying cost, transportation of goods becomes highly costly. It is exactly here Bangladesh’s role proves crucial. It stands to gain by allowing transportation of Indian goods through its territory.

All this points to the fact that the countries need heavy investment for developing the right kind of infrastructure aimed at realising the dream of a sound and well-coordinated system of vehicular movement across their territories. None of the countries boasts a highly developed transport system in the four-nation group. They are yet to manage their domestic transport system in a rational manner. The roads leave much to be desired. When internal vehicular movement faces obstacles for underdeveloped infrastructure, transnational load of heavy-duty vehicles will prove too much for the existing facilities.

Clearly there is no option other than improving the condition of roads and ports. But it cannot be done overnight. It would be wise, therefore, to start the movement of vehicles across neighbours’ territories in a limited way first. At the same time the task of improving road and port conditions have to be taken up. The better the condition of such facilities will be, the greater the flow of such traffic can be permitted. Boosting connectivity means strengthening capacity for greater collective gains from economic and trade cooperation and collaboration. The potential is there; it has to be realised gradually.

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