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Calcutta to host South Asian pvt sector forum meet

Our Bureau

NEW DELHI, Nov. 22

THE Asian Development Bank (ADB) is sponsoring and taking part in the first private sector forum on South Asia Subregional Cooperation in Calcutta from November 28-29.

According to the Manila-based regional development bank, the event will bring together public and private sector representatives as a step towards identifying an investment programme to develop what has been dubbed the South Asia Growth Quadrangle (SAGQ) , consisting of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. The event is being organised by the Chambers of Commerce from this subregion.

ADB would be represented by a large delegation led by the Programmes West Director, Mr Yoshihiro Iwasaki. The sub-region has the greatest concentration of Asia's poor -- but also great potential for rapid development and ADB believes a public sector-priv ate sector partnership is the key to unlocking the sub-region's potential.

Broadly, an investment programme for the sub-region would comprise an economic corridor around the Bay of Bengal, linking ports from Chittagong to Dhaka, Mongla, Calcutta and Haldia. It would also include a transport grid of east-west railroads and highw ays linking the eastern Indian hill States with West Bengal through Bangladesh, as well as north-south transport corridors linking Nepal, Bhutan and the hill States of eastern India to ports on the Bay of Bengal.

This grid would be linked to the rest of India at Calcutta through India's top priority Golden Quadrilateral project of superhighways joining Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta. Similar grids could be developed for power, hydrocarbons and telecommunicat ions.

The Calcutta Forum aims to begin translating these broad concepts into specific, bankable investment projects. ADB would prevail upon Government and private sector representatives to prepare a regional development master-plan to identify specific project s in different sectors and prioritise them for financing.

ADB said SAGQ is of special interest to the Bank which has made poverty reduction its overarching objective. It is estimated that over half of Asia's 900 million people subsisting below the poverty line live in the SAGQ countries. Given the chance to be productively employed with suitable investment to develop their skills, this huge workforce could be a major competitive advantage.

Besides, SAGQ is rich in natural wealth which include the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basins, one of the largest graineries of the world. With investments to improve agricultural productivity and efficient water management, this grainery could feed the sub- regional workforce at reasonable prices.

Other resources include the hydrocarbon potential in Nepal and Bhutan, the coal resources of West Bengal and Bihar and the hydrocarbon reserves in Bangladesh, Assam and Tripura. Besides, there are large non-energy mineral deposits, forest resources, live stock and marine resources and a network of ports in Chittagong, Mongla, Calcutta and Haldia.

ADB said its robust commitment to the sub-region is reflected in its investment portfolio of over $16 billion in the SAGQ countries, over and above the $340 million in technical assistance grants.

Most of these loans and technical assistance are for physical infrastructure such as roads, railways, inland water transportation, power and energy as well as social investments in education, health and urban environment.

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