Kathmandu: Outlining India's initiatives in key sectors for South Asia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday made a series of announcements for SAARC countries -- from granting business visa for 3-5 years to immediate medical visa -- and assured all possible help to the grouping.
In his address to the 18th SAARC summit in this picturesque Nepalese capital, Modi said that as SAARC "we have failed to move with speed that our people expect" which some argue was due to a development gap.
"Or, is it because we are stuck behind the walls of our differences and hesitant to move out of the shadows of the past," he asked, asserting that "this won't resolve our differences, but will certainly deprive us of opportunities."
Noting that for India, the vision for the region rests on five pillars - trade, investment, assistance, cooperation in every area, contacts between our people -- and all through seamless connectivity, Modi said barriers of boundaries inhibit progress and international partnerships add speed to it.
"Because, in the life of an individual or a nation, a good neighbourhood is a universal aspiration," he said in his maiden address at a SAARC summit.
During his nearly 30-minute speech, Modi assured level-playing field to companies in the member countries to do business in India.
"We will address your concerns and give you a level playing field in India. But, I encourage you to attract Indian investments to produce for the Indian market and create jobs for your youth."
"I also look to a future when your companies can easily raise funds in India for investments at home; and, when we have cross-border industrial corridors, so that we can take advantage of the natural synergies and connected lives in our border states," he said.
Modi also announced that India will provide immediate medical visa for patient and an attendant coming for treatment as well as business visa for 3-5 years for SAARC nations.
Identifying health as a major sector for cooperation among the member countries, Modi said India will support monitoring and surveillance of polio-free countries and provide vaccines where it might reappear.
"In the area of health, India will meet the shortfall in funds to establish the SAARC Regional Supra Reference Laboratory for TB and HIV. We offer the five-in-one vaccine for the children of South Asia," he said.
Talking about education, he said India was prepared to connect the South Asian students through online courses and e-libraries and offered to extend India's National Knowledge Network to SAARC region when it was ready.
Referring to space technology, Modi said India's "gift" of a dedicated satellite for the SAARC region has been planned for launch in 2016.
Underlining the need for removing the perception of "cynicism and skepticism" about SAARC, Modi said Indian companies were investing in billions abroad, but less than 1 per cent flow into the region.
Talking about India's bilateral ties with each of the SAARC nations, he said India and Bangladesh have deepened their links through rail, road, power and transit while India and Nepal have started a new era of cooperation in energy.
"We will soon launch a new arrangement to meet Maldives' need for oil," he said.
Identifying infrastructure bottlenecks as the region's "greatest weakness" and its most pressing need, the Prime Minister said he wants to set up a Special Purpose Facility in India to finance infrastructure projects in the region that enhances connectivity and trade.
"When I thought of coming to Kathmandu by road, it made many officials in India nervous. Because of the condition of roads at the border," he said.
Modi said India has a huge trade surplus with SAARC countries and felt it was neither right nor sustainable.
Noting that there was a need to ensure easy movement of goods to fuel economic growth, Modi said India has given five South Asian countries duty free access to 99.7 percent of their goods and prepared to do more with others.
"Today, goods travel from one Punjab to the other Punjab through Delhi, Mumbai, Dubai and Karachi - making the journey 11 times longer and the cost four times more. India, too, has its share of responsibility - because of our size and location. I know that many of your goods, too, have to do a Parikrama of India to reach their destinations," he said.
"Just think of what we are doing to our consumers -- and to our environment! We must shrink the distance between our producers and consumers and use the most direct routes of trade. I know India has to lead, and we will do our part. I hope, each of you will, too," Modi said.
The Prime Minister said India was trying to ease norms for doing business in the country and favored the same for the entire region.
"Let's extend this to our region. I promise to ensure that our facilities at the border will speed up, not slow down, trade. Let's all make our procedures simple, our facilities better, our standards common and our paper workless burdensome," Modi said.