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India-Bangladesh ties: Scaling new heights-II

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India-Bangladesh ties: Scaling new heights-II

Key agreements on connectivity, energy and trade and also cultural linkages have cemented relations between India and Bangladesh. Abdul Hamid’s ongoing visit to India is a sign of increasing warmth

South Asia is the least connected region in the world and whatever connectivity was established during the colonial period, were disrupted in the past. Connectivity is one area of cooperation between India and Bangladesh. Currently, both countries are working to restore road, rail and coastal shipping links that had existed in the pre-Partition period. At the same time, new land ports and better infrastructure are built to facilitate greater trade.

Building a bridge over Feni river, the establishment of rail connectivity between Akhaura and Agartala and the development of Ramgarh-Subroom may look like small steps but those will be ‘game changer’, which will directly connect the North-East Indian States with the Chittagong port. We have opened up new inter-country bus routes between the cities to connect the North-East with West Bengal.

Both Governments are currently working on the restoration of eight railway links between West Bengal and the North-East India with Bangladesh which were snapped during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. Our people have achieved much higher purchasing power and, hence, air connectivity between Bangladesh and other north-eastern cities should be considered on a top priority basis. This will definitely facilitate people-to-people contact between the two countries.

Leadership from both the countries have been very keen on strengthening Bangladesh-India bilateral ties as a catalyst for regional and sub-regional integration, progress and stability. The main component of the three Line of Credits (LoC) extended by India has been utilised in connectivity and power sector.

The projects under first Line of Credit (LoC-1) have been already utilised, while implementation of various projects under the Second Line of Credit (LoC-2) is underway. These credits have enhanced capacities in vital areas such as roads, railways, bridges, inland waterways connectivity. Recently, under the third Line of Credit (LoC 3), the Indian Government has given $4.5 billion to Bangladesh. In the meantime, infrastructural development of Land Customs Stations/Land Ports is continuing to boost smoother exchange of goods.

Bangladesh and India share 54 common rivers and the issue of water sharing during the lean season has been a sensitive and delicate issue which has a direct impact on food production and quality of life of our teeming millions. Ganges water sharing agreement was signed during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s first term. After the assumption of power in 2009, she took the initiative to break the deadlock on the Teesta water sharing issue during the lean period.

The two countries had also worked out a solution for an interim water sharing agreement in 2011 but it could not be concluded due to last minute objection raised by the West Bengal Government. Since then, the Union Government has been undertaking internal consultations with the Government of West Bengal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured that the agreement will be finalised during his current term of office. Bangladesh is eagerly looking forward to an early conclusion of the agreement as it will open up newer opportunities for cooperation.

We are also trying to improve the trade balance between the two countries. Bangladesh’s yearly import from India is roughly $5.5 billion and export to India is $690 million. We are trying to collaborate with India for substantial investment to broaden our exportable base. The most practical cause of action will be to set up series of ‘buy-back’ projects, where Indian big companies will set up their industries in Bangladesh and the produces will be exported to India. To this end, several Indian mega companies like Hero MotoCorp, Tata group and CEAT have set up such projects in Bangladesh. These are small projects but they mark the beginning of a much-needed process.

Last but not the least, is people-to-people contacts. There is no alternative to peoples’ camaraderie in any bilateral relation. People-to-people contact has increased manifold over the past years because of improved connectivity. We have started new bus services, we have relaxed our visa policy, we are increasing the Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) and we are expanding our missions. As a result, people-to-people contact has increased manifold over the past years.

We have already upgraded our mission in Agartala to Assistant High Commission level and opened new Assistant High Commission in Guwahati. Earlier, we opened a Deputy High Commission in Mumbai with a view to facilitate the issuance of visa and other consular services. Now we are going to open a new Mission in Chennai soon to strengthen our cooperation with the southern States. To ensure greater mobility of people between the two countries, visa regime has been relaxed by issuing five years multiple entry-exit visas for senior citizens.

Besides, Bangladesh and India also regularly hold film festivals and book fairs in Dhaka, Kolkata, and Delhi. Recently, Akashvani started its ‘Moitree’ programme. Exchange of cultural delegations has been made between the two countries on almost regular basis. India regularly participates in Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh. Cultural teams from Bangladesh and India frequently participate in the cultural programmes arranged by each other’s Government and non-Government organisations.

The Maitre Hall of Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi, as well as the Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre in Dhaka, regularly organise various cultural events to mark the death and birth anniversary of our legendary writers, poets, and singers, as well as to mark our national days and other significant occasions.

The developments in the recent years have taken our bilateral relations to a new multi-dimensional, multi-faceted and comprehensive platform and it is expected that Abdul Hamid’s visit and his meetings with the highest political level in India will give a new impetus to our ever-increasing bilateral ties.

(The writer is the High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India)




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