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Vol. 21 No. 4 - October 2015

Economy, progressive culture and support better environmental protection
and conservation initiatives for the Indian subcontinent

By: Saikat Kumar Basu*

The Indian subcontinent region is inter-connected through its spectacular geology and geography, majestic flora and fauna, dynamic socio-cultural diversity and unique history and heritage. The classical definition of the Indian subcontinent has been contested by several scholars over time and several definitions have been provided over the ages from geographical, geological, biological, socio-cultural, anthropological, historical, economical and geopolitical perspectives. However, avoiding all complexities, a broad and holistic definition of the subcontinent could be ascertained as the continuous landmass of the Indian plate, stretching from the mighty Himalayas in the north to the tip of the peninsular India including all the island chains and archipelagos encircling it in the west, south and east encompassing the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal respectively. If we include Afghanistan (also considered to be part of the Central Asian landmass) in the west to the modern day Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) on the east, the majestic subcontinent includes a wide diversity of complex inter mix of numerous ethnicities, socio-cultural diversities, different time and economic zones, rich biodiversity, spectacular landforms and several micro-climatic regimes. The modern day union of SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) member nations including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka uniquely represents the traditional and historical Indian subcontinent with interdependence on one another for various purposes. If in the future, Iran (in the west) and Myanmar (in the east) of this gigantic economic union be successfully endorsed through memberships into SAARC; the economy, trade and commerce, politics, education, environmental and socio-cultural enrichment of the so called subcontinent would increase many folds beyond our slightest imagination.

Not only dynamic trade and commerce or geopolitical strategic union between the current and potential future members would be successfully established; but, several perennial issues between the member nations could be easily resolved through engagement and discussion across supportive political environment. Massive roadways, railways and waterways connecting Central Asia via Iran to mainland India; and establishing connectivity to China (in the north) and Thailand and South East Asian nations (in the south) through Bangladesh and Myanmar could economically, socio-culturally and politically connect the entire region for peace and economic prosperity. Several rivers and their numerous tributaries and distributaries cut across the adjoining countries of the subcontinent. For better management of such cross border resources, if treaties are negotiated for joint management of different rivers systems for tackling the challenges of flood and draught control would be great; furthermore, irrigation facilities and water transportation could be revolutionized. If comprehensive arrangement for introducing joint management approaches in reducing environmental pollution, mitigating climate change issues, conserving forests and wildlife, protecting vulnerable and marginal communities settled across porous and unprotected borders be established among the member nations; that would provide long term sustenance and conservation of the rich natural resources and amazing ecological diversity of the nations comprising this proposed, extended SAARC economic zone.

Comprehensive regional cooperation and negotiations for making multi-party treaties in the realms of economics, trade and commerce, connectivity, environmental protection and wildlife conservation, mitigation of climate change and global warming issues; joint management and sharing of key natural resources such as watershed and river management, management of freshwater, estuarine, marine and energy resources, education, research and training for generating efficient human resources necessary for building the economy and working without restrictions in different member nations of this economic zone; promoting tourism and unrestricted, legal human movement between the different regions can successfully establish long term socio-cultural contact among the communities across this unique and culturally diverse economic zone. This will not only settle several cross border issues among member nations but would help in the long term future and sustainability of both people and environment of this mega economic zone that represents substantial percentage of global human population.  Such arrangements will definitely reduce cross border conflicts, illegal encroachments, illegal migrations and insurgent activities along the borders; will put checks on smuggling of contraband commodities, human trafficking, illegal wildlife trade and subsequent poaching of several wildlife species within different pockets of rich biodiverse ecosystems of this eco-zone.  Joint management means added expertise with multiple layers of cooperation between member nations and would certainly benefit issues from successful border management, sharing natural resources sustainably to effectively protecting and conserving the local environment and vulnerable ecosystems better.

Collaboration, cooperation and coordination between different academic and research organizations of the region on jointly developing different space programs; promoting various aspects of the agricultural, industrial, medicinal, pharmaceutical and environmental sectors; developing and sharing different energy and marine technologies would benefit all members. Similarly, collaborations among different socio-cultural institutes and organizations can help boost different business such as tourism and entrainment industry;  promote studies about different ethnicities, languages and regional cultures for better understanding and conserving them for future generations; and in bridging the existing cultural gaps can greatly help in uniting numerous communities sharing this huge economic zone.  Overall, an extended and enthusiastic membership and cooperation drive between members of the subcontinent sister nations and new potential members along western (Iran) and eastern (Myanmar) frontiers could pay big dividends for the long term political, economic, socio-cultural and environmental sustenance of Central, South and South East Asia significantly.

*UFL, Lethbridge AB Canada, <[email protected]>

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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