Steps under way to make travel within South Asia seamless: Mukherjee

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New Delhi, Jul 24 (UNI) Seamless travel from Kabul to Male, the capital of Maldives, an island country in the Indian Ocean, is now in the realm of possibility.

This good news was given by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee today while inaugurating a seminar relating to upcoming SAARC summit in Colombo in August.

Mr Mukherjee said the 2nd SAARC Transport Ministers Meeting in Colombo is likely to ratify the draft Regional Motor Vehicles and Railway Agreement proposed by India.

The reasons for hope for seamless travel from the recently war ravaged Afghanistan to scenic Male eminates from the fact that the SAARC member States have commented favourably on these drafts.

The 'Regional Conference on Deepening South Asian Economic Integration' was organised by FICCI, RIS and the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI).

''We have upgraded our railway linkages up to the border points of Raxaul-Birganj and Jogbani-Biratnagar, as identified by the SAARC Transport Ministers Meeting last year. We also propose to accelerate the upgradation of the road at Akhaura-Agartala border point shortly,'' Mr Mukherjee said.

He called upon the SAARC governments to collectively ensure that growth and development of the region takes place in a crime-free atmosphere where people feel secure.

''The recent bomb blast in Kabul that targeted our embassy emphasises how vulnerable South Asia continues to be to terrorism,'' he said.

Mr Mukherjee said India has initiated discussions on a draft Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. This will enable to implement actions against such crimes in the neighbourhood with regional cooperation.

On sub-regional projects on key areas of food, water, energy, and environment, India's policy on non-reciprocally initiating these projects, using a hub-and-spoke- mechanism, has generated enthusiasm among SAARC member states.

He said SAARC projects on tele-medicine, tele-education and rainwater harvesting are at various stages of implementation.

The Minister earlier launched the RIS South Asia Development and Cooperation Report 2008.

Mr Mukherjee pointed out that with the negotiations on the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) having been finalised and its Interim Cell set up at the SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu, projects have been launched for benefiting the most needy in South Asia.

Mr Mukherjee said India would be handing over the Chair to Sri Lanka at the 15th SAARC summit.

In this context, he said, India has transferred the first tranche of 19.2 million dollars out of its assessed contribution.

In addition, to its assessed contribution of nearly 100 million dollars, the Minister said, ''We also propose to transfer the entire amount of 100 million dollars of our voluntary contribution within this financial year.'' Mr Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP and President, FICCI, noted that for SAARC to become relevant, it must become more economically relevant and everything else including security and other aspects of relationships will flow from that.

He also underlined the need for creating a mechanism for sharing capacity, technology and information for governance and public services, healthcare, education and disaster management across the region.

Mr Chandrasekhar called for a South Asia Regional Security Dialogue, for which FICCI is launching an annual forum, tentatively called the New Delhi Dialogue, from this year.

UNI MP SG AS1705

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