VIEW­POINT: INDO- BANGLA RE­LA­TIONS AT ALL- TIME HIGH

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

The four-day visit of Bangladesh Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina (April 7-10) has taken Indo-Bangladesh re­la­tions to an all-time high. Just be­fore her visit, Bangladesh For­eign Min­is­ter A.H. Mah­mood Ali had said, “The re­la­tion be­tween the two coun­tries has reached a new height.” At New Delih, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi re­ceived Sheikh Hasina at the air­port. Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukherjee said Bangladesh and In­dia have suc­ceeded in en­hanc­ing and in­ten­si­fy­ing their co­op­er­a­tion in ar­eas of two coun­tries’ shared in­ter­est, while Prime Min­is­ter Modi de­scribed In­dia as a “strong ally and good friend” of Bangladesh.

The two Prime Min­is­ters held bi­lat­eral talks and signed 22 agree­ments in var­i­ous key sec­tors, in­clud­ing a civil nu­clear agree­ment and two mem­o­ran­dums of un­der­stand­ing (MoUs) on de­fence co­op­er­a­tion. In­dia has ex­tended a credit line of $4.5 bil­lion for im­ple­men­ta­tion of pro­jects in Bangladesh. Prime Min­is­ter Modi an­nounced a con­ces­sional line of credit of $4.5 bil­lion for in­vest­ment in pri­or­ity sec­tors in Bangladesh, as also a $500-mil­lion credit line to­wards our east­ern na­tion’s mil­i­tary bud­get.

The 22 MoUs signed in­cluded: De­fence Co­op­er­a­tion Frame­work be­tween In­dia’s De­fence Ser­vices Staff Col­lege and Dhaka’s De­fence Ser­vices Com­mand and Staff Col­lege for en­hanc­ing co­op­er­a­tion in the field of strate­gic and op­er­a­tional stud­ies; be­tween Dhaka’s Na­tional De­fence Col­lege and In­dia’s Na­tional De­fence Col­lege for en­hanc­ing co­op­er­a­tion in the field of na­tional se­cu­rity, devel­op­ment and strate­gic stud­ies; co­op­er­a­tion in the peace­ful uses of outer space; peace­ful uses of nu­clear en­ergy; ex­change of tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion and co­op­er­a­tion in the reg­u­la­tion of nu­clear safety and ra­di­a­tion protection; co­op­er­a­tion re­gard­ing nu­clear power plant pro­jects in Bangladesh; field of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and elec­tron­ics; co­op­er­a­tion in the area of cy­ber se­cu­rity; es­tab­lish­ing border haats (mar­kets) across In­dia and Bangladesh border; bi­lat­eral ju­di­cial sec­tor co­op­er­a­tion; train­ing and ca­pac­ity build­ing pro­gramme for Bangladeshi ju­di­cial of­fi­cers in In­dia; co­op­er­a­tion on aids to nav­i­ga­tion; mu­tual sci­en­tific co­op­er­a­tion in the field of earth sciences for R&D; pas­sen­ger and cruise ser­vices on the coastal and pro­to­col route; devel­op­ment of fair­way from Si­ra­j­ganj to Daikhowa and Ashuganj to Zaki­ganj on Indo-Bangladesh pro­to­col route; co­op­er­a­tion in the field of mass me­dia.

Companies of both coun­tries signed pacts worth over $9 bil­lion aimed at deep­en­ing part­ner­ship in var­i­ous sec­tors, in­clud­ing power, oil and gas. These in­cluded: fa­cil­ity agree­ment be­tween BangladeshIn­dia Friend­ship Power Com­pany (BIFPCL) and Exim Bank of In­dia for debt fi­nanc­ing for construction of 1,320 mw Maitree Power Project in Ram­pal in Bangladesh ($1.6 bil­lion); im­ple­men­ta­tion and power pur­chase agree­ment be­tween Re­liance Power and the Min­istry of Power, En­ergy and Min­eral Re­sources for the first phase (718 mw) of the 3,000 mw power project at Megh­naghat, en­tail­ing $1 bil­lion (out of a to­tal pro­posed in­vest­ment of $3 bil­lion); agree­ment be­tween NTPC Vidyut Vya­par Nigam (NVVN) and Bangladesh Power Devel­op­ment Board for sup­ply of power from Nepal en­vis­aged an in­vest­ment of $3.15 bil­lion; pact be­tween Adani Power (Jhark­hand) and the Bangladesh Power Devel­op­ment Board en­tail­ing an in­vest­ment of $2 bil­lion and a power pur­chase agree­ment be­tween Adani Power and the Power Grid Com­pany of Bangladesh; LNG ter­mi­nal use be­tween Petronet LNG, In­dia and Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Min­eral Cor­po­ra­tion (Petrobangla).

Agree­ment on shar­ing of Teesta River wa­ters, which Sheikh Hasina was ap­par­ently looking for­ward to, how­ever, did not ma­te­ri­alise. Though Prime Min­is­ter Modi did re­it­er­ate his govern­ment’s strong re­solve to con­clude the wa­ter shar­ing treaty soon, Sheikh Hasina said the res­o­lu­tion of the long-pend­ing Teesta wa­ter-shar­ing is­sue would trans­form bi­lat­eral ties with In­dia, adding “Once it hap­pens, the face of Indo-Bangladesh re­la­tions would un­dergo an­other trans­for­ma­tion. We strongly be­lieve our com­mon wa­ter re­sources must act as a unit­ing force. A com­pre­hen­sive, basin-wide so­lu­tion with in-built so­lu­tion to wa­ter shar­ing of all com­mon rivers holds the key to our com­mon fu­ture”.

Speak­ing on her in­ter­ac­tion with West Ben­gal Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­jer­jee on the is­sue, Sheikh Hasina said, “In my talks with her she gave a new twist, but Modiji has as­sured that we are here to look af­ter it. We had asked for wa­ter but she is giv­ing us elec­tric­ity. At least we got something.” Ap­par­ently, an agree­ment on shar­ing of the Teesta wa­ters was drafted ahead of then Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in 2011, but was with­drawn last moment be­cause of protests by Ban­er­jee. Teesta’s flood­plain cov­ers some 2,750 sq km in Bangladesh; catch­ment area sup­port­ing 8.5 per cent of its pop­u­la­tion (some 10 mil­lion) and 14 per cent of crop pro­duc­tion. Over one lakh hectares of land across five dis­tricts are se­verely im­pacted by up­stream with­drawals of Teesta’s wa­ters in In­dia and face acute short­ages dur­ing the dry sea­son. Ma­mata Ban­er­jee’s po­si­tion is that the treaty would ren­der north Ben­gal dry and af­fect farm­ers. Dur­ing her Fe­bru­ary 2015 Dhaka visit, Ma­mata Ban­er­jee promised to play a “pos­i­tive role” in re­solv­ing the out­stand­ing is­sue, pro­tect­ing in­ter­ests of both Bangladesh and West Ben­gal. Iron­i­cally, fed­eral po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics has pre­vented the Modi govern­ment from re­solv­ing the is­sue of wa­ter-shar­ing. It is es­sen­tial to speed­ily re­solve this stick­ing sore point. Surely the Cen­tre would not take de­ci­sions that put the farm­ers of West Ben­gal to dis­ad­van­tage.

Be­sides, fed­eral pol­i­tics is in­ter­nal wran­gle of In­dia and In­doBangladesh re­la­tions should not be hostage to a stub­born Chief Min­is­ter. There is no doubt that Sheikh Hasina has been the best friend of In­dia, also go­ing all out against ter­ror­ist net­works that has a di­rect bear­ing on In­dia. It would be good if the Modi govern­ment is able to push through a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial Teesta wa­ter shar­ing agree­ment be­fore the gen­eral elec­tions in Bangladesh in 2018. That would re­ally take Indo-Bangladesh re­la­tions to the next level.

LT GEN­ERAL

P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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