By Ashok B Sharma
At a time when collective cooperation in the South Asian body, SAARC, is stalled due to the indifference of Pakistan, the bonhomie between India and Bangladesh has become necessary not only for the region but also for cooperation in the Indian Ocean rim and in bodies like BIMSTEC that connects South Asia to the ASEAN countries. Connectivity between the two countries can help in the prosperity and development of India’s remote north-eastern states. As the operationalisation of Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) for movement of goods and passengers between member countries is delayed, both the countries have agreed to work towards a bilateral India-Bangladesh Motor Vehicle Agreement. Similar arrangements can be made between member countries which are willing and ready.
Connectivity is the mantra for the visiting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who quoting late Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman told the India Economic Summit that if Bangladesh is to sustain its development, it has to get connected with its neighbours and grow together. Bangladesh, with average GDP growth of 7%, has achieved remarkable progress through it “development model” and graduated to be a developing country from the status of a least developed country. It aspires to be a developed country by 2041to fulfil the dream of “Sonar Bangla”
Terming the new relations between the two neighours, the India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said it is a “Sonali Adhyay”. This new bond is likely to transcend the strategic relationship if both sides are sincere in implementing the new accord with determination. It is not just about connectivity but all round cooperation.
Bangladesh is India’s largest trading partner in South Asia and the bilateral trade is nearly $10 billion. Though much of it is in favour of India, Bangladesh exports to India has picked and for the first time crossed one billion dollar mark recently. With a view to rectify Dhaka’s trade deficit both sides have agreed to work for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). New Delhi has agreed to import bulk LPG from Bangladesh which would be transported by Bangladesh trucks to Tripura. This would mostly be for consumption in the north-eastern states of India. Being a major fish producer Bangladesh intends to export hilsa fish to India. In the ongoing trade war between China and US, Bangladesh is a beneficiary alongwith Vietnam and Philippines, while India could not reap any benefit. New Delhi exports cotton to Bangladesh, but the latter has emerged as a leader in garment and apparel industry also in leather. Thus this is an instance of value chain in South Asia.
Bangladesh has agreed to withdraw port restrictions on most of the products traded through Akhaura-Agartala port and both sides agreed to expedite setting up of 12 border haats. They also agreed to expedite setting up a framework of cooperation in trade remedial measure and capacity building. India has given duty free and quota free access to Bangladeshi exports, but Dhaka’s concern is for anti-dumping and anti-circumvention duties imposed on multiple products. Both sides agreed for early finalisation of MoU on textiles and jute.
With a view to attract Indian investment, Bangladesh has offered three out of proposed 100 special economic zones to India, namely Mongla, Bheramara and Mirsarai that would enable investors to export products to north-east India and South-East Asia. Standard operating procedures have been finalised for use of Chattogram and Mongla ports for movement of goods to and from India. It has been agreed to operationalise Dhulian-Gadagari-Rajshahi-Daulatadia-Aricha route which would also include Daudkandi-Sonamura route under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade. Bangladesh would open a deputy High Commission office in Chennai. Dhaka has allowed India to withdraw 1.82 cusec water from Feni river for drinking water supply in Sabroom in Tripura.
Plans are afoot to develop 765kV double circuit cross-border electricity inter-connection among Katihar in India to Parbotipur in Bangladesh to Bornagar in India, which would enable more intra-regional electricity trade, including competitively-priced power generated from hydro-electric power projects in India, Nepal and Bhutan.
Both Bangladesh and India have been upbeat on land, waterways, railways, airways and people-to-people connectivity. New Delhi has agreed to remove remaining restrictions on entry and exit points from land ports in Akhaura in Tripura and Ghojadanga in West Bengal for Bangladeshis travelling with valid documents. An early finalisation for a MoU on disaster management is on the cards. Dhaka-Siliguri bus service will be commenced soon and frequency of Maitri Express will be increased to five times a week and that of Bandhan Express to two times a week. Air services between the two countries will be increased to 91 services per week, this year and further to 120 services per week with effect from winter 2020.
It has been agreed to conduct a feasibility study on the proposed Ganga-Padma Barrage Project in Bangladesh for optimum utilisation of water received by Bangladesh as per Ganga Water Sharing Treaty 1996. Updated data and information exchange and interim sharing agreements for water of six rivers – Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Duhkumar – are on the cards. Also the draft framework of interim sharing agreement of water of Feni river will be firmed up. But the sharing of Teesta water still remains as a contentious issue.
India has agreed to supply railway rolling stocks to Bangladesh and modernise Saidpur workshop. It will supply a number of broad-gauge and meter-gauge locomotives to Bangladesh on a grant basis which would help in enhancing trade between two countries.
In matters of defence cooperation, India will extend $500 line of credit and help setting up of a coastal surveillance radar system in Bangladesh.
New Delhi is undertaking various high impact community development projects in Bangladesh on grant basis. India will assist in setting up of a students’ hostel, Vivekanand Bhaban at Ramakrishna Mission in Dhaka, Bangladesh-India Skill Development Institute in Khulna and in capacity building of Bangladeshi civil servants and judicial officers. India is extending humanitarian to Rohinga refugees in Cox’s Bazar camp.
Both the countries agreed for early conclusion of a MoU on mutual recognition of academic qualifications. MoUs have been signed for renewal of cultural exchange programme, cooperation in youth affairs and for cooperation between University of Hyderabad and University of Dhaka. Both the countries will celebrate 100th birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in 2019, Bangabandhu’s birth anniversary in 2020, 50 years of Bangladesh War of Liberation and India-Bangladesh diplomatic relations in 2021. Bangladesh would host Festival of India. Immense is the scope to take the relations between two countries beyond strategic partnership. (IPA Service)