India will soon be connected with Nepal by two railway links while it will have six such networks with Bangladesh, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Wednesday.
In an address at a leading institute, Mr Shringla said the railway links between countries are causing a “rapid shrinking of South Asia’s geography” and that the neighbourhood comes first and foremost for India amongst all its foreign policy priorities.
Mr Shringla extensively delved into the importance of connectivity for the expansion of India’s overall engagement with the countries in the region.
“Connectivity within parts of our neighbourhood by road, by water, by rail and by air, and often by multimodal transport, has steadily improved,” he said.
“Railways between countries are causing a rapid shrinking of South Asia’s geography. India and Bangladesh will soon be connected through six rail links and India and Nepal by two rail links,” he said.
At present, a number of rail links between India and Bangladesh are operational.
“Travel between India and three of its neighbours – Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives — does not require visas. Our diplomatic Missions in Sri Lanka and Yangon report an increasing trend in the number of visas being issued,” Mr Shringla said.
He said the second area of focus has been the energy sector.
“The Indian grid is connected to Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh through high-capacity connections. Trans-national movement of electricity in the neighbourhood is a reality,” he said.
The foreign secretary said the countries in the neighbourhood are of special significance to India.
“Our ties with these countries are underpinned by a shared history and culture. Policy initiatives taken by India – and its neighbours — have implications for each other,” he said.
Mr Shringla noted that the neighbouring countries have direct relevance to India’s states bordering these countries, adding that India realises that its prosperity and growth are linked to that of its neighbours.
“We cannot develop unless our neighbours develop. It was in this spirit that the Cabinet Secretary wrote to all government ministries and departments asking them to accord priority to India’s neighbours in their international activities, programmes and projects,” he said.
The foreign secretary said mechanisms have been created to enable greater inter-ministerial coordination and enhanced focus on ‘neighbourhood first’.
“India’s foreign and security policies in this space operate at several levels and dimensions. We have separate bilateral relationships with each of our neighbours. We also interact with them on plurilateral constructs. We work with them within multilateral frameworks,” Mr Shringla said.