When a small Bank team, of which one of us was a member, first visited the project site in December 2004, it wasn’t exactly a picture-perfect scenario. We were deep in the Himalayas and it was the middle of winter. Barren mountainsides rose up all around us, the icy Satluj river flowed steadily down, and the wind was howling.
How could we possibly build a hydropower project in this forbidding terrain in a few years’ time? Stories of past challenges from the earlier Nathpa Jhakri project - about 15 kilometers upstream - came flooding into everyone’s mind. But failure was not an option. The Bank was reengaging in hydropower in India after a gap of more than 10 years, and a great deal was riding on each one of us.
Now, more than a decade later, we find ourselves standing before the almost-fully built Rampur powerhouse. As a wonderful coincidence, both of us happen to be present as the first of the project’s six units roars into operation and is synchronized with India’s northern power grid.
South Asia’s Commerce Ministers meet in Thimphu on July 24. Getting there would not have been easy for many of them, with no direct flights between Thimphu and four of the seven capitals. In June, when some of us convened for a regional meeting in Kathmandu, our Pakistani colleagues had to take a 20 hour flight from Karachi to Dubai in order to get to Kathmandu! This is symptomatic of the overall state of economic engagement within South Asia—in trade in goods and services, foreign direct investment and tourism.
South Asian countries’ trade policies remain inward-looking compared to other regions, and there are even bigger barriers to trade within the region. Today, South Asia today is less economically integrated than it was 50 years ago. Figure 1 below shows that intra-regional trade in South Asia accounts for less than 5 percent of total trade, lower than any other region.
A few weeks ago, I travelled to Gujarat to attend the project launch workshop for the second Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP-II). It is a return visit to Gujarat after my last visit in 2008. I was the task team leader for the first Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP) during 2005-2008, so I knew the state quite well and I expected to see a lot of changes during this new visit. But when I got there, I was still surprised.
Our team first went on a site visit first. We passed one road section which was improved in 2006 under the GSHP. The road will looked new. My colleague Arnab Bandyopadhyay, who is the Project Leader for GSHP-II, asked the engineers from the Roads and Buildings Department (R&BD) whether they have rehabilitated the road recently. The answer was no. “You must be kidding,” I said to them. “How can an 8-year old road still look so new?” But they were very firm. “No. We have not done any new works on those GSHP roads since they were constructed.”