"India has a very big role to play in BIMSTEC and I am happy to inform you that in my experience, India has been very committed," BIMSTEC Secretary General Tenzin Lekphell told NDTV on the side-lines of the two-day meet of BIMSTEC countries being held in Kolkata.
Besides India, BIMSTEC or Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation comprises Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.
"In the last summit in Colombo, PM Modi stressed the importance of BIMSTEC and committed extra voluntarily besides the normal member states' contribution. India gave $1 million to the BIMSTEC so that institutional development could take place and BIMSTEC moves forward. So, India is playing a very important role and I am quite confident it will take the lead and take BIMSTEC forward," he added.
Speaking at the 2nd ISCS BIMSTEC Conference in Kolkata, Minister of State for External Affairs Rajkumar Ranjan Singh said, "Kolkata is strategically one of the most prominent cities of India and for promotion of Act East Policy Kolkata should be the prime area and the regional head to lead the Act East policy."
Dr. Constantino Xavier, Research Fellow, Centre For Social and Economic Progress, CSEP, New Delhi added, "Kolkata should strive to become the connective capital of India. This is a city that is deeply tied to the Bay of Bengal, to the Himalayas, the Eurasian Hinterland, to the Indian Ocean region, to Southeast Asia, and East Asia, so certainly this is if not one among but deep most prophecies place for us to discuss connectivity and hopefully, Kolkata can reclaim its place historically over centuries as a connectivity hub for Asia."
He added, "We must not let politics of the past impact the connectivity of the future in the region."
India's Act East policy has also led to renewed focus on the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC.
BIMSTEC Secretary General told NDTV, "Right from the time BIMSTEC was conceptualised, connectivity was identified as one of the core areas where all the member states thought it was critical. Only if the region is connected, whether it is by land, air or water, I think other sectors like trade, health and agriculture as sectors of cooperation can be realised. That's why the member states have given a lot of importance to connectivity, and the masterplan took three long years to formulate. It was supported by Asian Development Bank and finally in the fifth BIMSTEC summit the masterplan was adopted. The masterplan has identified 267 projects and some of them are ongoing and some of them are new. It aims, as I said earlier, the whole idea is to connect BIMSTEC. "
Arindam Mukherjee, Director, ISCS, India told NDTV, "The Second BIMSTEC Conference provides a unique opportunity for all of us to reflect on the achievements of BIMSTEC over the past 25 years and to identify areas where we can further enhance our cooperation and partnership."
India is building connectivity infrastructure in the northeast and much of that is also linked to the connectivity projects that BIMSTEC is backing to improve cooperation and connectivity in the Bay of Bengal area.
BIMSTEC, establishment in June 1997, was then known as BIST-EC and named after its founding member states of Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The EC stood for Economic Cooperation.
In December 1997, Myanmar joined the organisation thus extending the acronym to BIMSTEC. Further by February 2004, Nepal and Bhutan were extended full membership.
Today, BIMSTEC operates with the objective of technological and economic cooperation among the member states.