The two-day Asian Confluence River Festival - NADI 2016, the first of its kind in the region, began at the State Convention Centre on Friday.
Speakers and observers from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanamar and India, besides experts on rivers and rural development have come together to explore the possibilities of enhancing cultural ties and amplifying the creative use of riverine connectivity by catalyzing environment friendly trade and tourism between the North-East region and surrounding neighbours.
The festival organized by the Asian Confluence, India, East Asia Centre, Shillong, in collaboration with the Meghalaya government and the Maulana Abul Kamal Azad Institute of Asian Studies is a celebration of the spirit of commonality between the north eastern states and neighbouring countries through the rivers of the region, which had for long been the treasured highways of culture and unison among the people.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Dr. Mukul Sangma, Bangladesh Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Rashed Khan Menon, Bangladesh Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, former Water Resources Minister from Nepal Dipak Gyawali, former Ambassador of Bhutan to India, Dago Tshering, High Commissioner of Bangladesh in India, Syed Muazzem Ali and High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh Harsh Vardhan Shringla were among many noted speakers during the inaugural session on the first day of the festival.
Delivering the inaugural address, Chief Minister Dr. Mukul Sangma said that the festival through dialogue and engagement with the stakeholders would pave the way for effective convergence and "actionable" for using rivers for mutual benefit and prosperity in the region.
He was of the view that rivers are not only source of prosperity, but a source of disaster and conflict and referred to the River Teesta hurdle with a sense of sadness as the NE states being land locked have no access to seaports and expressed hope that this kind of platform would facilitate to bring solutions to such problems. "We need to look at holistic system of managing our rivers and have a comprehensive action plan involving all the stakeholders to ensure that the rivers through scientific usage become a source of prosperity to all through trade and commerce and other activities.
Stating that every livelihood activity revolves around sources of water, the Chief Minister said that every livelihood activity around the sources of water can have both negative and positive impact on the ecosystem. Therefore it is important to ensure that everyone who are in upstream area understand the ramification of their activities, he said.
Speaking of many possibilities for mutual benefit of the region, the Chief Minister called for reviving the river routes that once existed and were so efficiently managed in the past and expressed his happiness that National Waterways Authority of India has approved for inland waterways to connect with Bangladesh through Brahmaputra in the northern slopes and other rivers in the southern slopes of Meghalaya.
"And to ensure that the hydrology of these rivers remain sustainable, we also need to see that the State is capable of taking care of the sustainability of the livelihood of the people who are in upstream and catchment areas", he added.
He informed the gathering about the programme conceptualized by the State Government based on Green Economy because "we think about the people who are affected by what we do in the upstream", he said, adding there is a need to integrate our approach and convergence of ideas to enrich ourselves through such platforms.
The highlights of the two-day festival, besides a policy dialogue and stakeholder meetings, include live exhibitions on yarns and dyes, cultural programmes, crafts bazaar, performing arts of the border areas, special evening performances by top dance, music and theatre troupes of Bangladesh and NE region.
It may be mentioned that the Asian Confluence is an initiative of Divya Jeevan Foundation to promote an open space for cultural and intellectual exchanges towards creating better understanding of the North Eastern region of India in the larger context of India as an emerging power in East Asian geopolitics. Since its inception, it has hosted a large array of events to reach out to a large cross section of the people across the region.