India, B'desh draws contours of development

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | Updated: Jan 15 2010, 23:41pm hrs
India has found a friend in Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh. She is regarded as a friend not only by the ruling Indian National Congress party, but also the wide spectrum of political parties in the country, including the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party regard her as a sincere friend.

In her recent 4-day visit to India beginning from January 10, a good number of agreements were signed to ensure betterment not only for the people of India and Bangladesh but also for South Asia.

Terrorism has become problem in the region and Bangladesh has sought to eliminate this by striking an agreement with India on combating international terrorism, organized crime and illicit drug trafficking. The other two agreements inked on similar lines are on transfer of sentenced persons and on mutual legal assistance on criminal matters. In a joint communiqu, Ms Hasina and the Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh while recognizing the need to check cross-border crimes agreed that respective border guarding forces exercise restraint and also underscored the importance of regular meetings between the border guarding forces to curtail illegal cross-border activities and prevent loss of lives.

These agreements, in the view of countering terrorism, may look weak in absence of an extradition treaty, but Ms Hasina clarified this in an informal chat with the media on January 13 that such an arrangement was being worked out between the two countries.

We are interested in countering terrorism and we will use the instruments we have at present. Bangladesh will not be used for terrorist activities against India, she assured.

India got the assured support of Bangladesh for its candidature for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as and when the reforms in the global body take place. Bangladesh also expressed its support to Indias candidature for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC for the term 2011-2012 and in return India conveyed its support to Bangladeshs candidature for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC for the term 2016-2017.

To a query by a journalist from Bangladesh what have you achieved here for Bangladesh so that you can tell your people when you arrive there she candidly replied : I have achieved friendship, goodwill of India for Bangladesh.

The prime ministers of both the countries agreed to put in place a comprehensive framework of cooperation for mutual development which would include cooperation in water resources, power, transportation and connectivity, tourism and education and to operationalise various areas of cooperation at the earliest.

Cooperation in transport and connectivity will not only facilitate legal movement of the people but also boost trade in the region and enhance faster implementation of South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). The development initiatives will boost the objectives of South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Bangladesh has asked India to support its aspiration to host the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Secretariat in Dhaka, to which India agreed to give due consideration. BIMSTEC includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand and can serve as Indias access to East Asian region.

Ms Hasina was emotionally charged when she received the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development from the President of India, Pratibha Devisingh Patil on January 12. Recalling the historical and cultural links between the two countries and reciting verses of poems written by Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul, she said that she would not only work for Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal) but also for a lasting peace in South Asia.

The award was instituted by the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust formed in the memory of the former prime minister of India who played a key role in liberating Bangladesh in 1971.

Ms Hasina paid tributes to Indira Gandhi and said she was not only your leader, but also our mother. She gave us shelter in our days of trials and tribulations. This was in reference to her 6-year exile in India alongwith her sister, Sheikh Rehana after the assassination of her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, her mother, her three brothers and all the inmates of the house on the fateful night of August 15, 1976 by some disgruntled army officers. These army officers did so in a bid to capture power. Ms Hasina and her sister could escape assassination as they were on a goodwill tour to West Germany. They could not return to Bangladesh and had to seek asylum in India.

After the murder of Bangabandu who was then the elected head of the state, Bangladesh had periods of military rule and intermittent democracy. As one of the surviving daughter of Bangabandhu, Ms Hasina could successfully assume the leadership of the Awami League on her return to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981 and discharge her responsibility effectively as she did when she was a student leader. She suffered house arrest for her protest against the military rule. Following 1986 parliamentary elections, Awami League emerged as principal opposition party with Ms Hasina as the leader of the opposition. After many years in the opposition Awami League swung back to power in 1996 elections and this government of Ms Hasina was the first government in Bangladesh to complete a full term of five years. Awami League succumbed to a landslide defeat in 2001 parliamentary elections. In 2008 parliamentary elections, bounced back Ms Hasina to power with a supermajority of 230 seats out of 299.

Ms Hasina assured to follow the principles of secular democracy. On being questioned about the presence of fundamentalist forces in her country, she said : They will always be there. But majority of the people are for peace and secularism.

At the diplomatic level, India has been comfortable with Ms Hasina as the leader of Bangladesh. Democracy is under trial in Bangladesh, a country which has experienced a series of military coups detat. It would be a tight rope walking for Ms Hasina, especially when she has become so close to India. She has clarified the situation saying our relationship with India is that between two sovereign countries for mutual benefit and for the good of South Asia.

She also expressed her intention to work with India and other developing countries in addressing problems of food security, climate change and other global challenges.

India and Bangladesh agreed to address the outstanding issues of land boundary and demarcate the maritime boundary between the two countries. Land boundary issues will be resolved in the spirit of the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement and the Joint Boundary Group will take the process forward. Maritime boundary issue will be resolved under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The ministerial level meetings of the Joint Rivers Commission will discuss water sharing of rivers Teesta, Feni, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar. India assured that it would not take any steps on the Tipaimukh project that would adversely impact Bangladesh.

Dredging of Ichhamati and river protection at Mahananda, Karatoa, Nagar, Kulik, Atrai, Dharla and Feni would be taken up. India would support Bangladesh to dredge rivers for flood control, navigation and access to ports and agreed to provide dredgers on urgent basis. Bangladesh has asked for nine dredgers.

India has announced a line of credit of $ one billion for a range of projects, including railway infrastructure, supply of BG locomotives and passenger coaches, rehabilitation of Saidpur workshop, procurement of buses including articulate buses and dredging projects. India has agreed to consider the request for assistance to construct road infrastructure in Dhaka. Bangladesh has asked India to construct a flyover across Tin Bigha Corridor for exclusive use by India as greed earlier.

For facilitating trade, Ashuganj in Bangladesh and Silghat in India will be declared as ports of call. A joint team will assess the improvement of infrastructure and the cost for one-time or longer term transportation of over dimensional cargo from Ashuganj. India will make necessary investment. Bangladesh has agreed to allow the use of Monga and Chittagong sea ports for movement of goods to and from India through road and rail. Bangladesh would give access to these two ports also to Nepal and Bhutan. Trucks from Bhutan and Nepal will be allowed to enter about 200 meters into zero-point at Banglabandh-Phulbari land customs station a decision which would ensure South Asian connectivity on the eastern side.

It was also agreed upon that Rohanpur-Singabad broad gauge railway link would be available for transit to Nepal. Bangladesh has planned to convert Radhikapur-Birol railway line into broad gauge for railway transit link to Bhutan

With a view to encourage imports from Bangladesh, both countries agreed to address removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers, port restrictions and facilitate movement of containerized cargo by rail and water. Bangladesh has asked for further reduction in Indias negative list for imports. India would support upgradation of Bangladesh Standard Testing Institute with a view to help Bangladesh meet quality norms in trade. Both the countries agreed to boost bilateral trade and investment on either side.

Both the countries agreed to operationalise land customs stations at Sabroom-Ramgarh and Demagiri-Thegamukh and strengthen the infrastructure of both new and existing land customs stations. It was agreed to set up border haats on pilot basis at select points, including that on Meghalaya border which would ensure connectivity to the remote northeastern India.

For facilitating the movement of the people of both the countries, it was agreed to start the Maitree Express between Kolkata and Dhaka. The construction of the proposed Akhaura-Agartala railway link will be financed by grant from India.

India has agreed to supply to Bangladesh 250 MW electricity from its grid. Bangladesh appreciated India for electrifying Dahagram-Angarpota area on the border. Both the countries emphasized the need to expedite inter-grid connectivity, joint power projects exchange of electricity, including that generated from renewable sources as per the MoU signed.

The tentative cost estimate for inter-grid connectivity is assessed at about Rs 869.21 crore, out of which Bangladeshs share is Rs 708.88 crore and that for India is Rs 160.33 crore. Bangladesh has requested Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) to act as a consultant on a nomination basis to assist in project execution since the work related to HVDC is being done for the first time in Bangladesh.

Keeping in the view the long historical and cultural links between the two countries a MoU on cultural exchange was signed. It was agreed that both the countries would jointly celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of the Nobel Laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore in 2011. India would offer 300 scholarships to Bangladeshi students for five years for their study in India.

India and Bangladesh have come closer to work for mutual benefit and for the good of South Asia. Ms Hasina on her part has already drawn the contours. It all depends upon how long the democratic and secular forces prevail in Bangladesh.