Fifth summit conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians

The four-day conference was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The themes chosen for discussions at the conference include 'Consolidating Democracy, Strengthening trust between Parliament and People, and Sustainable Development in SAARC Countries - The Way Forward'.

Full text of the PM's speech at the 5th Conference of Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians:
“I warmly welcome all the distinguished delegates at the Fifth Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians in India. I extend a special welcome to the delegates from Afghanistan, who are participating in this Conference for the first time.

South Asia has seen many changes since the first Conference was held in 1995. The winds of democracy have swept across the length and breadth of South Asia. In some cases, there has been a peaceful transition from an old order to a new one. In some, the end of war and conflict has opened new opportunities for political accommodation and devolution of powers. In others, the struggle for the hearts and minds of the people is underway to defeat the forces of terrorism and extremism.

The picture is a mixed one, but what is common is the optimism about the future and the abiding faith of our people in universal adult franchise and free and fair elections.

Parliament is the supreme organ of democracy that reflects the collective will of the people and the sovereignty of the state. Today, more than ever before, a tremendous responsibility rests on our parliaments to safeguard political liberties, protect fundamental human freedoms and the rule of law.

At the SAARC Summit in Thimphu in April last year, SAARC Leaders had agreed that a Conclave of SAARC Parliamentarians be established in order to benefit from the democratic and participatory tradition represented by the Parliamentarians of South Asia.

We had also agreed to form a ‘South Asia Forum’ with representatives from Parliaments of SAARC countries to engender debate, discussion and exchange of ideas on South Asia and its future development.

These are initiatives worthy of our wholehearted support.

We in South Asia face common challenges of mass poverty, unemployment, lack of adequate health care, illiteracy and environmental degradation. Each of us has rich and varied experiences in tackling these challenges. We should learn from each other’s experiences, and reinforce each other’s efforts to deal with these challenges.

One of the lessons history has taught us is that no country can prosper in isolation. We live in an inter-connected world, and this is especially so in South Asia. We share common borders, whether on land or sea. What happens in one country necessarily affects the other. Our destinies are bound by history as well as by geography. If we act with wisdom and sagacity, we all stand to benefit.

The free flow of information and the explosion in communication technologies imply that physical borders can no longer divide our nations. We must not only keep pace with technology, but also harness its benefits to bring down the psychological barriers that separate us.

We have a shared civilizational and cultural heritage going back many centuries. We celebrate our pluralism and diversity of religion, language and culture while finding our strength in unity. We must learn to speak with one voice on the common challenges that face us.

South Asia is home to perhaps the most youthful population in the world. They demand and deserve a better future, and it is incumbent on us to respond to their aspirations. We can reap a rich demographic dividend if we can equip our youth with the right skills, make them employable and channel their energies to productive ends. Disaffection and alienation provide a fertile breeding ground for intolerance, violence and terrorism which then threaten our societies and rupture the social fabric.

The establishment of the South Asian University is a most timely initiative in this context. I am happy that it has started its academic session in 2010. With the support of all SAARC nations, the University has the potential to become an important centre of learning in the region.

Economic development is a fundamental prerequisite for human progress. Economic growth has to be inclusive and balanced. We cannot allow pockets of poverty to persist either within our countries or within the broader region. India provides opportunities for all of South Asia to benefit from its economic growth and vast market. We have opened our market and we are committed to pursuing policies that benefit the entire regional economy as a whole. South Asia must prosper as a whole.

Intra-regional trade since the introduction of the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006 has grown to 1.2 billion US dollars. We have declared 2010-2020 as the ‘Decade of Intra-regional Connectivity’ in SAARC. The SAARC Development Fund is now well-established. The SAARC Regional Food Bank has been set up to meet food emergencies in the region.

We are moving in the right direction, but we need to move much faster.

Perhaps no region is more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and other challenges to sustainable development than ours. Regional cooperation is vital for improving the quality of governance in managing our natural resources, in preventing land and water degradation and in strengthening our food, water and energy security. We should do this at all levels – bilaterally, sub-regionally and as a region as a whole. The SAARC Convention on Cooperation in Environment agreed upon at the SAARC Summit in Thimphu in 2010 deserves to be implemented in full.

I am glad that this Conference will focus on the issue of sustainable development. South Asia cannot afford to copy western lifestyles. We have to tap our own genius to develop models of growth which correspond to our resource endowments, and yet enable us to banish the scourge of poverty from our midst.

South Asia cannot realise its full potential until and unless we solve our differences peacefully and develop the culture of solving our problems ourselves. Others cannot solve our problems for us. The scourge of terrorism has taken a huge toll on all our societies. It is a cancer that if not checked, will consume us all. I would like to believe that we have the will and foresight to prevent such an outcome.

Resolving differences and reconciling different viewpoints are what Parliaments and their Presiding Officers do on a daily basis. This is a job Smt. Meira Kumar has done with outstanding success in our own Lok Sabha and I congratulate her. As Parliamentarians you are uniquely placed to help inculcate the sense of a common South Asian destiny in your countries. We would like to see many more exchanges among our Parliamentarians.

India remains firmly committed to principles and ideals of SAARC. We will go the extra mile to make SAARC an effective organisation that benefits all citizens of South Asia.

In conclusion, let me say that we would like our Parliamentarians to act as the conscience keepers of South Asian cooperation and integration. I wish you all success in your deliberations and look forward to your valuable recommendations.

With these words, I have great pleasure in declaring the 5th Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians open.
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The summit was held in New Delhi during July 9-12. Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar had set up a reception committee for the conference, with K. Rahman Khan, Rajya Sabha's deputy chairman, as its chairman and Deputy Speaker Karia Munda as the co-chairman. The committee comprised 38 members, including Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Pawan Kumar Bansal, besides sitting and former members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

During the Third SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, 2-4 November 1987), a Regional Study on the Causes and Consequences of Natural Disasters and the Protection and Preservation of the Environment was commissioned by the Leaders. The Regional Study was completed in 1991.

The Fourth SAARC Summit (Islamabad, 29-21 December 1988) decided that a joint study be undertaken on the “Greenhouse Effect and its Impact on the Region”. This study was initiated to provide a basis for an action plan for meaningful cooperation among Member States and was completed in 1992.

A Technical Committee on Environment was established in 1992 to:

- examine the recommendations of the Regional Study

- identify measures for immediate action

- decide on modalities for their implementation

The Technical Committee on Environment was mandated to monitor the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the two Regional Studies.

Since 1992, the SAARC Environment Ministers have met eight times. In addition, a Special Session of the Environment Ministers in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami was held in Malé in July 2005 and a SAARC Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change was held in Dhaka in July 2008.

SAARC has also adopted common positions at various international meetings related to environment and climate change. Most recently, a common SAARC position on Climate Change was presented by Sri Lanka as the SAARC Chair at the COP 15 Conference on Climate Change (Copenhagen, December 2009). A Joint Statement on Climate Change for COP15 was also issued by the Permanent Representatives of Member States of SAARC based in New York. Pursuant to the decision taken at the Sixteenth SAARC Summit (Thimphu, 28-29 April 2010), an Inter-governmental meeting held in Thimphu, Bhutan in August 2010, finalized a common SAARC position on Climate Change for COP 16 (Cancun, Mexico, December 2010). The common SAARC position was presented at COP 16 by Bhutan as the current Chair of SAARC.

The Eighth Meeting of the SAARC Environment Ministers (New Delhi, October 2009) adopted the Delhi Statement on Cooperation in Environment which identifies many critical areas that need to be addressed and reaffirms the commitment of Member States towards enhancing regional cooperation in the area of environment and climate change.

Climate Change was the theme of the Sixteenth SAARC Summit (Thimphu, 28-29 April 2010) and, among others, the Heads of State or Government of SAARC adopted the Thimphu Statement on Climate Change which

outlines a number of important initiatives at the national and regional levels to strengthen and intensity regional cooperation to address the adverse effects of climate change in a focused manner. The Inter-governmental Expert Group on Climate Change (IGEG.CC), established by the Thimphu Statement, is scheduled to meet in Sri Lanka in 2011. The IGEG.CC is required to monitor, review progress and make recommendations to facilitate the implementation of the Thimphu Statement. The IGEG.CC will report to the SAARC Environment Ministers.

A SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment was also signed by the Ministers of Foreign/External Affairs of Member States during the Sixteenth SAARC Summit. The Convention provides for cooperation in the field of environment and sustainable development through exchange of best practices and knowledge, capacity building and transfer of eco-friendly technology in a wide range of areas related to the environment. The implementation of the Convention has been entrusted to a Governing Council, comprising of the Environment Ministers of Member States. The Convention will enter into force after it has been ratified by all Member States.

SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change

Mr. Appa Sherpa, twenty time Everest Summiteer, was appointed as SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change for two years (May 2010 – May 2012). As SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change, Mr. Appa Sherpa will, among others, undertake advocacy and awareness raising campaigns about the negative impacts of climate change; galvanize support among various stakeholders to work together to address the threats posed by climate change; disseminate the work being done by SAARC in the area of climate change; and underscore the need to ensure timely implementation of the Thimphu Statement on Climate Change; and the Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change (2008-2011).

Cooperation with Inter-governmental Organizations

SAARC has signed Memoranda of Understanding with the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) in July 2004; United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in June 2007; and the United Nations International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in September 2008. SAARC was accredited as an Observer with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process at COP 16 (Cancun, Mexico, 29 November-10 December 2010).

South Asia Environment Outlook (SAEO) 2009

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