Bangladesh- India relations

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Indo Bangladesh trade, year-wise: 2010-15, Graphic courtesy: The Times of India

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.




Contents

Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor

China takes lead, offers ₹2L cr to Bangladesh/ 2019

Saibal Dasgupta, July 5, 2019: The Times of India


China is taking a lead in the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor by extending a $31 billion (about Rs 2.12 lakh crore) funding package for infrastructure development in Bangladesh. A series of agreements were signed between the two countries during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ongoing visit to Beijing.

The Chinese offer far exceeds India’s assistance packages which are limited to a few billion dollars at a time. India, which is opposed to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has been eager to develop the BCIM corridor. The move from Beijing indicates it is eager to take over the leadership of BCIM, at least in financial terms, political observers said. One of New Delhi’s plans is to link India’s northeast with Chittagong port in Bangladesh.

China’s financial investment in Bangladesh now appears to be its second-biggest, after the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The investment continues to be regarded as development of the BCIM corridor in deference to India’s views about BRI but it is effectively a BRI investment.

Hasina also obtained generous rice aid for tiding over the Rohingya refugee crisis after meeting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. China will provide 2,500 tonnes of rice for Rohingyas living in Bangladesh after being forcibly displaced from Myanmar.

She also presided over the signing of nine agreements between the two countries, covering areas like economic and technical cooperation and investment in electricity development, tourism and culture. Beijing’s investments in Bangladesh include the construction of a six-km-long bridge across the Padma river, costing about $3.7 billion, and the $2.5 billion power plant at Payra, near Dhaka. The 2,800-km BCIM corridor plan involves linking Kunming in China's Yunnan province with Kolkata, passing though nodes such as Mandalay in Myanmar and Dhaka in Bangladesh before heading to Kolkata.

Bilateral issues

2017

As in April 2017

Syed Munir Khasru | As Sheikh Hasina gears up to visit India, here's what's on the table between India and Bangladesh |Apr 04 2017 : The Times of India (Delhi)


In the last five years [2012-17], trade between the two countries has grown by more than 17% with two way trade at $6.8 billion in the fiscal year 2015-16. The trade is heavily in favour of India and Bangladesh imported goods worth $5.45 billion and exported $690 million. Concerted efforts are needed to narrow the gap.

For facilitation of trade and investment Bangladesh has dedicated two SEZs in its northwest, bordering India. Trade ties are troubled by poor road and rail connectivity . The four operational `border haats' along the India-Bangladesh border have been successful, with trade worth $2,60,000 having taken place. However, there have been delays in the operationalisation of four more `border haats' in Meghalaya, agreed upon during Modi's visit.

Launch of trans-shipment operations combining riverine and land routes last year have enabled India to deliver goods through Bangladesh to Nepal and Bhutan in a third of previous time and reduced transport cost by almost half. After turning power surplus last year, India has been working with Bangladesh to double the capacity of existing transmission interconnects. There are plans to set up a third link for increasing cross-border electricity trade for widening the regional market as new generation capacities come up.

Currently, India provides Bangladesh with 2,600 MW of power. The new line is expected to wheel power from hydel projects proposed to be built in the northeast which can be shared with Bangladesh as well. India's ONGC and Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation are in negotiation to build a 6,900 km long gas pipeline linking Bangladesh, Myanmar and northeastern states. There are ongoing talks of expanding energy cooperation to BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) framework.

Cattle smuggling across the border has decreased, with seizure of cattle by BSF decreasing from 1.5 lakh in 2015 to 1.2 lakh in 2016 in south Bengal frontier, known as the cattle corridor of India. However, border killings of Bangladeshi civilians by BSF have not ceased, with four killed in February alone. Since 2015, a total of 77 people have been killed and 108 injured by BSF. Cattle, even if smuggled, can't be worse than drugs, and fatal shooting of offenders is not justifiable when there are options for imprisonment, fines and confiscation.

Bangladesh has extended full cooperation to India for fighting insurgent groups along the border. During 2009-14 Bangladesh arrested at least 17 top leaders of various insurgent groups, with the surrender of eight more suspects. Some of the insurgents were also sent back to India.

Bangladesh and India are set to sign a five-year MoU for bilateral defence cooperation for joint initiatives in defence technology , research and maritime infrastructure development. Also on the cards is a $500 million line of credit by India to Bangladesh for purchase of military equipment. Some have questioned whether this deal is a response to the recent purchase of two submarines by Bangladesh from China. Given that India has a defence budget of around $50 billion and shops around the world, Bangladesh with a meagre defence budget of around $2.8 billion, with reliance mostly on Chinese built military hardware, should not be a concern for India.

While defence cooperation may be one of the major outcomes of the visit, bigger issues from the Bangladeshi point of view, such as the Teesta water treaty , are still at bay . Despite Modi's pledge and assurances by mercurial Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee of a Teesta deal the water-sharing agreement is being stalled.

The writer is chairperson of Dhaka-based thinktank, Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG)

The importance of Sheikh Hasina’s visit

Convergences and challenges, MoUs signed, India and Balgadesh, as on April 7, 2017; The Times of India, April 7, 2017

See graphic:

Convergences and challenges, MoUs signed, India and Balgadesh, as on April 7, 2017

2018

Ex-PM Zia’s aide deported over ‘inappropriate’ visa

India deports B’desh ex-PM Zia’s aide over ‘inappropriate’ visa, July 12, 2018: The Times of India


Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia’s foreign legal consultant Lord Alexander Carlile was deported from India on Tuesday, the government has confir med.

The ministry of external affairs (MEA) said Carlile, a British national, arrived in New Delhi (from London) on July 11, 2018, without having obtained the appropriate Indian visa. “His intended activity in India was incompatible with the purpose of his visit as mentioned in his visa application. It was therefore decided to deny him entry into India upon arrival,” it added.

According to reports in Bangladesh media, he was scheduled to hold a press conference along with Zia’s legal team and members of the top brass of the BNP at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia in Delhi.

According to a report in Dhaka Tribune, Carlile was expected to discuss his client Khaleda Zia’s jail sentence in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case.

The Sheikh Hasina government had apparently denied him entry into Bangladesh earlier. BNP has accused India of playing a role in the “false case” against Zia.

“Since I did not get the permission to come to Dhaka, I wanted to hold the press conference in India in order explain the complexities of Khaleda Zia’s case to the international media community,” Carlile, a member of House of Lords, was quoted as saying.

Zia aide’s motive was suspect: MEA

July 13, 2018: The Times of India


After being denied entry into India, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia’s foreign legal consultant and British MP Lord Alexander Carlile accused India of acting in a slavish manner under pressure from the government in Dhaka.

India, however, hit back saying his motive for the visit was suspect as he was trying to create differences not just between India and the Bangladesh government but also between India and BNP, the Bangladesh opposition party headed by Zia.

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said Carlile’s real purpose for the visit did not match what he had mentioned in the visa application form. Despite being told his e-visa could not be honoured because of this ‘discrepancy’, Carlile arrived on Tuesday night armed with a return ticket for a flight scheduled to leave just two hours after his arrival, the government said.

According to Indian officials, Carlile knew he would not get entry into India and that’s why he had come with a return ticket. According to a report in Dhaka Tribune, he was expected to discuss in Delhi his client Khaleda Zia’s jail sentence in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case.

Carlile alleged that there was “intolerable political pressure” from the Bangladeshi government to try and stop him from going to India. “The Bangladesh government called in the acting Indian high commissioner in Dhaka and asked him to urge the Indian government to refuse me entry,”' he said, addressing journalists here through Skype.

“The Indian government did that and they ought to be ashamed of themselves, denying a British QC, a member of the House of Lords, entry into India,” Carlile added, alleging that there was an attempt underway with help of judiciary in Bangladesh to keep the Zia family out of politics.

He said he was coming to Delhi for two reasons -- to attend a press briefing as a leading lawyer in the team representing Zia and to meet colleagues in a Commonwealth body that deals with human rights. “When I embarked for India at Heathrow airport yesterday, my visa was checked through the automatic system on two occasions. When I arrived in Delhi later, I was informed that my visa had been revoked,” Carlile said.

There are several cases pending against Zia, including of graft. Her party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, claims that the cases are politically motivated to keep its party chief out of the national elections scheduled for December.

Energy cooperation

2018: agreement signed on 130 km oil pipeline

B’desh, India sign 130km oil pipeline deal, April 10, 2018: The Times of India


Bangladesh and India signed an agreement on their proposed nearly 130km oil pipeline aimed at pumping Indian oil to Bangladesh with a capacity of 1 million tonnes per annum.

The deal was part of the six memorandum of understandings (MoUs) which Dhaka and New Delhi signed during a meeting between their foreign secretaries in Dhaka, Xinhua news agency reported.

Indian foreign secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale arrived here on Sunday to hold talks with senior Bangladeshi officials on a host of bilateral and regional issues.

“Today, we add another six documents to our large and growing list of meaningful agreements signed during the recent visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India,” Gokhale said.

The documents included the implementation MoU on the friendship pipeline between Numaligarh in Assam and Parbatipur in Bangladesh, an MoU on cooperation between Prasar Bharati and Bangladesh Betar, an MoU for setting up an ICCR Urdu Chair in Dhaka University and an Addendum to the GCNEP-BAEC Interagency Agreement, bdnews24.com reported.

Both sides signed two more MoUs to set up language labs in 500 schools in Bangladesh and upgrade roads in Rangpur city. “This is part of our endeavour to undertake projects in Bangladesh in various socio-economic sectors including education, culture, health, community welfare, road infrastructure for which we are providing Tk 1,600 crore,” he said.

He said India remained a “committed development partner” of Bangladesh and had extended lines of credit of over $8 billion to Bangladesh in the last seven years. This is the largest amount of credit India has ever committed to any single country, he said. From 2008-09, the bilateral trade almost tripled from $2.75 billion to $7.52 billion in 2016-17. Gokhale called Bangladesh “India’s biggest trade partner in south Asia”.

Talking about the energy and power sector, Gokhale said India was currently supplying 660 MW of power to Bangladesh and they were on course to add at least 500 MW more by June.

Gokhale also announced the second phase of humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. His Bangladeshi counterpart Shahdiul Haque said they were “happy” over India’s position on the Rohingya refugee issue and its progress on the pending Teesta water sharing deal. Haque said the two discussed all aspects of the relations between the two nations, including the pending Teesta water sharing issue, and was “delighted” regarding the outcome.

Gokhale is expected to meet PM Sheikh Hasina and foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali on Tuesday before retur ning home.

Inland waterways

2020: Daukandi-Sonamura route operationalised

India opens inland water link to boost B’desh ties, September 5, 2020: The Times of India


New Delhi:

India operationalised the Daukandi (Bangladesh)-Sonamura (Tripura) inland waterway protocol route and called it another milestone in bilateral ties with Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi vessel MB Premier carrying cement started from Daukandi on Thursday and will reach Sonamura on Saturday, traversing 93km along the river Gumti, an external affairs ministry statement said.

This will be the first ever export consignment from Bangladesh to Tripura through the inland waterway. The cargo will be received at Sonamura in the presence of Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb and India’s high commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das. The operationalisation of this route, besides further facilitating overall bilateral trade with Bangladesh, is expected to provide an economical, faster, safer and environment-friendly mode of transport and result in substantial economic benefits to local communities on both sides.

Amid reports of a Chinese outreach to Bangladesh, India has been proactively working with Dhaka to provide impetus to ties. Bangladesh was the first country foreign secretary Harsh Shringla visited since the Covid lockdown was implemented in March. TNN


Migrants from Bangladesh

2020: misgivings in Bangladesh

Indrani Bagchi, March 2, 2020: The Times of India

When foreign secretary Harsh Shringla arrives in Dhaka, his primary task will be to assuage some serious hurt feelings among Bangladeshis over both the CAA-NRC controversy as well as some ill-judged comments by Indian politicians. Shringla will be the first high-level contact with the Sheikh Hasina government since protests against CAANRC erupted all across India.

PM Narendra Modi will be travelling to Dhaka on March 17 for a day to participate in the centenary celebration of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. But he is likely to face some degree of wariness in a country which was touted as India’s closest neighbour not too long ago. In the past few days, Bangladesh even saw protest marches against communal riots that tore through Delhi last week.

Therefore, Modi is likely to face a different reception, even if the brass papers over the disquiet. The PM will deliver the keynote address at the Mujib centenary event, which will be attended by former President Pranab Mukherjee and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

In the past few months, India has not really stretched itself diplomatically to reassure the people and the Bangladesh brass — particularly on the fear that migrants may be pushed into that country — already straining under the weight of the Rohingya refugees. Sources in Dhaka have been critical of the lack of initiative by the Indian government, particularly the foreign office here and the Indian mission in Dhaka.

Shringla is expected to call on PM Sheikh Hasina, foreign minister A K Abdul Momen and foreign secretary Masud bin Momen. He will also address a seminar organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Strategic Studies.

India wants a trade and services pact with Bangladesh, for which negotiations are expected to begin soon. India will also try to persuade Bangladesh to utilise the $500 million defence cooperation assistance that has been advanced to Dhaka but not made use of yet. More connectivity projects are likely to be announced and some, like rail services connecting Dhaka, Kolkata and Khulna, may increase their frequency.

Both Shringla and the PM are likely to engage the Bangladesh leadership on the Rohingya issue. It’s a thorny subject between two of India’s close neighbours. This week, the issue featured in high level talks during the state visit of Myanmar President U Win Myint here. India is adding another 12 projects to help develop the backward Rakhine state in Myanmar. Correspondingly, India has stepped up humanitarian assistance to the displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh.

Indian car rally team turned back from Bangladesh border over ‘security issues’

A rally with 21 cars from Kolkata to Dhaka and other cities of Bangladesh to promote friendship, named “Moitree”, coinciding with Bangabandhu Sk Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary celeb- rations, was turned back from the Benapole border on Sunday. The organisers, Automobile Association of Eastern India, have set up an “inquiry” into the incident. Armed with the required visa the rallyists crossed the Petrapole border on Sunday morning, only to be stopped at the Bangladesh end and told to return. Upset rallyists said they were told to return because of some “security issues” and “for lack of permission”. Nothing, however, was given in writing. The rally was supposed to move from Dhaka to Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong, Mymensingh and Narayanganj, and re-enter Bengal at Siliguri, reports Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey. Bangladesh deputy high commissioner in Kolkata, Toufique Hasan, told TOI via WhatsApp that while the intention of the rally was good, visas are given only for entry but a rally of this magnitude requires several other permissions from various Bangladeshi authorities.

Military cooperation

November 2016: Sampriti-7 joint exercise

The Hindustan Times, November 2, 2016

India and Bangladesh undertook a joint military exercise in Bangladesh from November 5, the Defence Ministry announced.

The exercise is likely to include counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, it added.

Joint exercise of 2016 is an important bilateral defence cooperation endeavour between India and Bangladesh and will be the sixth edition of the same, hosted alternately by the two countries.

In 2015, India hosted ‘Sampriti 2015’ at Binnaguri, West Bengal. The first exercise in this series was conducted in 2010 at Jorhat in Assam.

Naval cooperation

2018/ Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT)

India, Bangladesh Navies to join hands, June 24, 2018: The Hindu


India and Bangladesh have agreed to institute a Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) as an annual feature between the two Navies. The first edition will be inaugurated by Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba during his visit there from June 24 to 29.

“The commencement of CORPAT is major step towards enhanced operational interaction between both Navies. Naval cooperation between India and Bangladesh has been traditionally strong, encompassing a wide span which includes operational interactions through port calls, passage exercises along with capacity building, capability enhancement and training initiatives,” the Navy said in a statement.

The Navy said the aim of Adm. Lanba’s visit is to “consolidate bilateral defence relations between India and Bangladesh and to explore new avenues for naval cooperation.”

During his visit, Adm. Lanba will call on Bangladesh President Md Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and also interact with the three service Chiefs of Bangladesh armed forces.


Widening cooperation

Over the last few years, the Navy has expanded its assistance to countries in the region through “material support, training, EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) surveillance, provisioning of platforms, hydrographic assistance, joint exercises and offering slots in professional training courses.”

The Indian Navy regularly conducts CORPATs with Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. It also conducts EEZ surveillance of Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles on their request.

Rail services

2020: Bangladesh- Haldibari trains resume

December 12, 2020: The Times of India

Trains to B’desh from Haldibari after 55 years

New Delhi:

After a gap of 55 years, India and Bangladesh will officially relaunch the operation of trains between Haldibari in West Bengal and Chilahati in Bangladesh on December 17. Sources said the trains will be flagged off from both ends and a goods train will make the debut journey from Chilahati to Haldibari to mark the opening.

The date has significance considering that on this day, Pakistani troops surrendered to the allied forces of Bangladesh and India, bringing to end the war for the liberation of Bangladesh.. The Prime Ministers of the two countries are scheduled inaugurate the resumption of rail services, sources said. TNN

Trade relations

India-Bangladesh trade

The Times of India, Feb 25, 2012

India’s border with Bangladesh, BSF batallions posted there and issues including smuggling.
[ The Times of India]
Indian firms in Bangladesh; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Feb 25, 2012

Sidhartha & Surojit Gupta

With over 100 Indian firms already in Bangladesh, and trade in current financial year already at $1.7bn, business relations between the two countries have never looked better

Kotak Mahindra Bank is the latest Indian firm to line up to be part of the growing India-Bangladesh trade and investment story. The private sector lender has sought permission from the authorities across the border to set up a joint venture with Abdul Mehtab Ahmed, a local businessman. A Kotak Mahindra spokesperson told ToI that the move is in line with the bank’s growth strategy. But any banking analyst would tell you that banks typically follow companies to meet their funding requirements. What they leverage is their existing ties. With over 100 Indian companies already in Bangladesh, it is not surprising that the country is on the banking radar.

From Bharti Airtel, which has invested close to $1 billion, to the AV Birla Group, Arvind Mills and Sun Pharma and even smaller players who make fans, plastic products and garments, several Indian players are sensing an opportunity across the border. After all, trade ties have improved, which is evident in better trade numbers. In the first six months of the current financial year trade has increased to around $1.7 billion from $1.56 billion in April-September 2011. Although exports from India have increased marginally to $1.4 billion, imports have gone up 85% to $290 million from around $160 million a year ago. The target is to increase trade to $1 billion this year. “The terms of trade are still tilted in India’s favour but we expect this to improve significantly in the coming years,” says an official. Within this it is textiles and raw jute imports that have seen a steep rise. Raw jute imports from Bangladesh rose over 500% to $54 million, while readymade garment imports rose nearly three-fold from $8 million in the first half of 2010-11 to $22 million during April-September 2011. Import of made-ups of textiles also increased to $27 million. India had offered tariff concessions as well as dutyfree import quotas to Bangladesh to boost trade ties. Numbers indicate that cotton fabric and yarn exports from India rose around 22% to $350 million, indicating that ties with garment makers across the border were improving. The concessions given on export of textiles are beginning to have an impact and there is already a clamour for protection from Bangladesh, which is now among the largest textiles exporters. Indian officials, however, dismissed suggestions that import of textiles from Bangladesh were affecting the local industry, saying the local market was worth nearly $35 billion (Rs 1.82 lakh crore). But officials from both sides recognize that there are several bottlenecks, starting with the pile-up of trucks at the border.

Anyone who has visited the Petrapole or the Akhaura border with Bangladesh would tell you that a long queue of trucks on either side of the border is a common sight. “India has worked on improving the border but we need to upgrade the customs facility. There are very few officers to clear the consignments,” says a Bangladesh government official. There are other irritants too such as the absence of money changers at the border. “On both sides, infrastructure is a big issue,” adds another official. While work at Petrapole is underway for an integrated check post, they say often the attitude of the customs officials at the border posts impacts trade. “There are not enough senior officers and often one can find that the officers who are there are not well versed in the latest notifications. This delays trade enormously,” said one official. Adding to the problem is the lack of quarantine officers to take care of farm exports and imports. But some progress is visible as ties between the two countries improve. New posts are scheduled to come up Agartala, Dawki, Hili, Chandrabangha, Sutarkhandi and Kawarpuchiah. Simultaneously, eight land customs stations are also coming up with the two projects together expected to cost over Rs 600 crore. There are border haats too which permit weekly trade in select local goods. This is a move aimed at building confidence on both sides of the border and increasing peopleto-people contact.

While the bonhomie is visible, there are several decisions that can help bolster ties. For instance, Bangladesh is sitting on proposals to permit Indian companies to get goods and raw material delivered at the Chittagong and Mongla ports and then transport then through the North East. That’s linked to the deal on Teesta. Politics apart, there are trade irritants too, which Bangladesh terms as non-tariff barriers. For instance, both countries have productwise restrictions on entry of consignments at various entry points. Bangladesh is also willing to open up more to Indian companies. They have said they are willing to offer one or two special economic zones to Indian companies. So far there has been no takers but expectations are that the plan will soon take off. Bangladesh officials say the potential for raising bilateral trade is immense. Both sides have recognized the potential and it is upto the policymakers to seize the initiative to nurture the relationship which analysts say can accelerate the pace of regional integration in South Asia and transform the lives of people living along the India-Bangladesh border.

Maitree Bandhan festival; Picture courtesy: The Times of India, Feb 25, 2012

2020

Bengal stop goods from Bangladesh through Petrapole-Benapol

Indrani Bagchi, Bengal bump hits Bangladesh ties, July 4, 2020: The Times of India

NEW DELHI: West Bengal is proving to be a major obstacle to India’s neighbourhood policy.

A decision by the Mamata Banerjee government to stop all goods from Bangladesh through the Petrapole-Benapole border since March has resulted in serious damage to bilateral trade and it came to a head on Wednesday with Bangladesh refusing to allow Indian trucks to cross the border.

As a result of Bengal’s actions, bilateral trade with Bangladesh dropped to $424 million in April-May, as compared to nearly $2 billion for the same period in 2019, with serious disruption to imports from Bangladesh. In the first five calendar months of 2019 (Jan-May), it was $4.1 billion but in 2020, it is just $2.9 billion.

Bangladeshi traders and government have been expressing unhappiness for some time, which spilled over on July 1 leading to Bangladesh stopping Indian trucks. Even so, sources said, 106 trucks had been let through into Bangladesh.

No exports from Bangladesh have been allowed to come via Petrapole-Benapole since March 23, day before the lockdown was ordered. It briefly resumed on April 29, but shut down again on May 2, following some local protests. Trade restarted on June 7 and slowly the volume rose to around 250 trucks per day from around 24 aday. But it was all one-way trade with only trucks from India going to Bangladesh but nothing being allowed to come from the other side.

Interestingly, there has been no stoppage of goods from Bangladesh via Tripura, but only through Petrapole-Benapole which accounts for about 70% of Indo-Bangla trade. Sources here said Bengal even went so far as to stop trucks going to Nepal and Bhutan via the state. In April, the home ministry asked the Mamata Banerjee government to allow truck movement to these countries since they are landlocked and depend on India for goods movement. This is also part of India’s global commitments.

The Centre had told Bengal its actions were in “clear violation of the MHA orders issued under Disaster Management Act 2005 as well as well as Articles 253, 256 and 257 of the Constitution”.

On the domestic front, this was also the time when the Centre and the Bengal government were at loggerheads over the state’s handling of the Covid crisis.

Faced with a serious disruption in trade which could have a negative impact on other aspects of bilateral ties, the Centre is looking for other options to bypass the Petrapole-Benapole ICP. For the first time, goods have been moving through the resurrected India-Bangladesh rail network. On Friday, the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port, Kolkata, announced that it would serve Indo-Bangla trade by introducing a new service between Kolkata Dock System and Chattogram (Chittagong) through Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route.

Coastal Shipping

First cargo ship from India arrives in B'desh

The first container ship from India has arrived at Panagon river port in Dhaka under the Coastal Shipping Agreement signed in 2015, allowing direct cargo vessel movement between the two countries.

The ship, Shonartori Nou Kalyan-1, reached the Panagon port on Friday with 65 containers on board. PTI

2020

Chattogram port opens for India’s internal cargo after 1965

B’desh port opens for India’s internal cargo after 55 yrs, July 17, 2020: The Times of India

New Delhi:

After a gap of 55 years, a container ship was flagged off from Kolkata carrying TMT steel bars and pulses to Agartala via Chattogram (Chittagong) port in Bangladesh, reports Dipak Dash.

This is the first time after 1965 that Bangladesh is allowing its ports to be used as transit for cargo movement from any part of India to northeastern states. The shipping ministry said two TEUs (twentyfoot equivalent unit) carrying TMT steel bars are destined for West Tripura district and two TEUs carrying pulses is heading for Karimganj in Assam. After reaching Chattogram, the consignment will move to Agartala on Bangladeshi trucks.

Water sharing agreements

2022: Kushiyara river

Kallol Bhattacherjee, Sep 10, 2022: The Hindu

Kushiyara river, on map
From: Kallol Bhattacherjee, Sep 10, 2022: The Hindu


What is the status of the Teesta river water sharing proposal?

The story so far: During Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India from September 5 to 8, the two sides signed a slew of agreements, including the first water sharing agreement since the landmark Ganga Waters Treaty, 1996. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on sharing of the waters of the Kushiyara river, a distributary of the Barak river which flows through Assam, and then on to Bangladesh. The agreement comes in a year when both lower Assam in India and Sylhet in Bangladesh have witnessed deadly floods highlighting the requirement for greater cooperation on flood control and irrigation-related issues between the two countries.

The story so far: During Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India from September 5 to 8, the two sides signed a slew of agreements, including the first water sharing agreement since the landmark Ganga Waters Treaty, 1996. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on sharing of the waters of the Kushiyara river, a distributary of the Barak river which flows through Assam, and then on to Bangladesh. The agreement comes in a year when both lower Assam in India and Sylhet in Bangladesh have witnessed deadly floods highlighting the requirement for greater cooperation on flood control and irrigation-related issues between the two countries.

What is the Kushiyara agreement?

Over the last century, the flow of the Barak river has changed in such a way that the bulk of the river’s water flows into Kushiyara while the rest goes into Surma. According to water expert, Dr. Ainun Nishat, the agreement is aimed at addressing part of the problem that the changing nature of the river has posed before Bangladesh as it unleashes floods during the monsoon and goes dry during the winter when demand of water goes up because of a crop cycle in Sylhet. Though the details of the agreement are not yet known, Dr. Nishat says that under this MoU, Bangladesh will be able to withdraw 153 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Kushiyara out of the approximately 2,500 cusecs of water that is there in the river during the winter season. There are various estimates about the area that will benefit from this supply but it is generally understood that approximately 10,000 hectares of land and millions of people will benefit from the water that will flow through a network of canals in Sylhet benefiting the farmers involved in Boro rice, which is basically the rice cultivated during the dry season of December to February and harvested in early summer. Bangladesh has been complaining that the Boro rice cultivation in the region had been suffering as India did not allow it to withdraw the required water from the Kushiyara. The agreement addresses Bangladesh’s concern over water supply along the river, during the winter months but flood control in the basin of Kushiyara is expected to require much more work.

How will Bangladesh use the water?

The water of Kushiyara will be channelled through the Rahimpur Canal project in Sylhet. The Rahimpur Canal project in Zakiganj upazila or subdivision of Sylhet was built to help the farmers access Kushiyara’s water but the facility used to remain dry during the lean season without serving the purpose for which it was built. The eight km long canal is the only supplier of water from the Kushiyara to the region and Bangladesh has built a pump house and other facilities for withdrawal of water that can now be utilised.

Why is the water from the Kushiyara so important for Rahimpur Canal?

The water of the Kushiyara has been used for centuries in Sylhet’s subdivisions like the Zakiganj, Kanaighat and Beanibazar areas. But Bangladesh has witnessed that the flow and volume of water in the canal has reduced during the lean season. The utility of the river and the canal during the lean/winter season had gone down, affecting cultivation of rice as well as a wide variety of vegetables for which Sylhet is famous. The additional water of Kushiyara through the Rahimpur Canal therefore is the only way to ensure steady supply of water for irrigation of agriculture fields and orchards of the subdivisions of Sylhet.

What was India’s objection to the Rahimpur Canal?

The Kushiyara water sharing agreement finalised during the August 25 Joint River Commission and signed during Prime Minister Hasina’s visit was made possible as India withdrew its objection to withdrawal of Kushiyara’s waters by Bangladesh through the Rahimpur Canal. Withdrawal of India’s objection is likely the main part of the agreement, said Dr. Nishat. Before this, Bangladesh had carried out the Upper Surma Kushiyara Project which included clearing and dredging of the canal and other connected channels of water; but the channels could not be of much use to Bangladesh because India objected to the move and claimed that the dyke and other infrastructure interfered in border security as Kushiyara itself forms part of the border between the two sides. However, the agreement indicates that the economic benefits possible from the river outweighed the security concerns.

What are the hurdles to the Teesta agreement?

The Kushiyara agreement is relatively smaller in scale in comparison to Teesta that involves West Bengal, which has problems with the proposal. The Kushiyara agreement did not require a nod from any of the States like Assam from which the Barak emerges and branches into Kushiyara and Surma.The reduced water flow of the Kushiyara during winter and Teesta too, however, raise important questions about the impact of climate change on South Asian rivers that can affect communities and trigger migration. Bangladesh has cited low water flow in its rivers during the winter months as a matter of concern as it affects its agriculture sector. Dr. Nishat contends that the coming decades will throw up similar challenging issues involving river water sharing as the impact of the climate crisis becomes more visible with water levels going down in several cross-border rivers.

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