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Connect universities, hospitals of South Asia: Sibal

Saturday September 10, 2011 08:25:34 AM, IANS

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New Delhi: Ahead of the SAARC summit in the Maldives in November, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal Friday suggested connecting the region's educational, health and research institutions through an optic fibre network.

"The union (in South Asia) will come through not economic integration, but by creating strong networks," Sibal said while delivering the valedictory address at the two-day South Asia Forum that concluded here Friday.

The forum, which focused on creating greater integration in South Asia, started Thursday with an inaugural address by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.

Envisaging South Asia as a potential hub of cutting-edge research and innovation, Sibal suggested connecting universities and institutions in the region through an optic fibre network.

"By 2030, the Indian government plans to connect all gram panchayats through a fibre optic network. It will cost around Rs.30,000 crore, but that's not a lot of money for the country's future," said Sibal.

"We can use this model to connect universities, hospitals and research institutions," he said.

Touted as a Track 1.5 initiative, the South Asia Forum brings together government functionaries businessmen, media and academics to generate "out of box ideas" for facilitating greater regional economic integration and people-to-people contact in the region.

Over 100 delegates from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries participated in the first South Asia Forum.

The problems of countries in the region are essentially the same: low level of literacy, poverty and a huge migration migration from rural to urban areas, said Sibal.

"Unless we respond as a region, we won't be able to win the battle," Sibal said while underlining the need for greater cooperation to solve socio-economic issues afflicting the region.

Summing up the discussions, Lalit Mansigh, former foreign secretary, said the forum brought for the first time representatives of the political leadership face to face with civil society stakeholders in the region. For the first time, there was a complete absence of political issues and bilateral disputes, he said.

The forum will present its recommendations to the SAARC standing committee that will meet ahead of the two-day SAARC summit the Maldives will host at its capital Male beginning Nov 10. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bhutan and Afghanistan are part of SAARC.

Speaking at a dinner a dinner in honour of representatives participating in the first South Asia Forum, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Thursday pushed for "progressive economic integration" of South Asia and underlined the need for expanding intra-regional trade and investment.




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