India, Bangladesh sign seven pacts during Sheikh Hasina's visit: Coastal surveillance, river water sharing, improving connectivity among key takeaways
India and Bangladesh on Saturday signed seven pacts including one for setting up of joint coastal surveillance systems, improving air, rail and road connectivity and securing the International Border in what has been termed as 'productive and comprehensive' talks
India and Bangladesh agreed to establish a coastal surveillance radar system in Bangladesh as part of which India will install a network of 24 radar systems along the coastline of the neighbouring country
To improve the bilateral trade between the two countries, Modi and Hasina also agreed to expedite commissioning of the joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and Bangladesh
In bid to improve connectivity, both countries signed an MoU to facilitate the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports (in Bangladesh) for movement of goods to and from India, particularly to and from the North East of India
The NRC had remained a major focus of media reports on Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India last week. However, during the visit, India and Bangladesh signed several key pacts which aim to not only improve trade relations between the two countries but also resolve connectivity issues while addressing India's concern over terrorism and maritime security in the region.
India and Bangladesh on Saturday signed seven pacts including one for the setting up of joint coastal surveillance systems, improving air, rail and road connectivity, and securing the International Border in what has been termed as "productive and comprehensive" talks.
Here are key takeaways from the joint statement released by Modi and Hasina after the summit:
I. Defence: Maritime and border security
On Saturday, both India and Bangladesh agreed to establish a coastal surveillance radar system in Bangladesh as part of which India will install a network of 24 radar systems along the coastline of the neighbouring country. This is a crucial development for regional maritime security and will not only "help India detect any seaborne terrorist attack along its eastern coastline, but also to keep watch on its maritime neighbourhood", a report in Deccan Herald said. It will go a long way in assuaging India's concerns over the growing influence of China and the presence of Chinese warships in the Bay of Bengal region.
India is building similar coastal surveillance networks in other Indian Ocean nations, like Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Maldives, it added.
Both leaders also agreed to expedite work towards drawing upon a $500 million Defence Line of Credit extended by India to Bangladesh, for which implementation arrangements have been finalised in April 2019.
Both India and Bangladesh also agreed to work towards strengthening border security, including completing border fencing at all pending sectors at the earliest, while also reiterating commitment to eliminating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
Bangladesh's exports to India crossed the $1 billion mark this year, a 52 percent year-on-year growth. To improve the bilateral trade between the two countries, Modi and Hasina also agreed to expedite commissioning of the joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and Bangladesh.
Both leaders directed their officials to expedite the establishment of framework of cooperation in the area of trade remedial measures for cooperation and capacity building in this area, said the joint statement.
The two countries also agreed to ease movement of people by removing the remaining restrictions on entry/exit from land ports in India for citizens of Bangladesh travelling on valid documents in a phased manner, beginning with checkpoints at Akhaura (Tripura) and Ghojadanga (West Bengal).
The two countries will also expedite the establishment of twelve Border Haats which have been agreed to by both countries.
Both the prime ministers inaugurated a project on sourcing of bulk LPG from Bangladesh to Tripura by using Bangladesh trucks and hoped that such energy links will boost cross border energy trade.
III. River water sharing
Disputes over sharing of river waters have been major thorns in India-Bangladesh relations. On Saturday, both governments agreed to expeditiously exchange updated data and information and prepare the draft framework of Interim Sharing Agreements for the six rivers, namely, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar and to firm up the draft framework of interim sharing agreement of Feni River.
In a much-needed relief for the people of Sabroom town in South Tripura, Bangladesh has agreed to let India withdraw 1.82 cusecs of water from Feni river for the residents of the border town. The negotiations, which were dragging on since the early 90s, finally came to fruition on Saturday as Hasina signed an MoU allowing the release of potable water to India.
Bangladesh's gesture provides some relief to Sabaroo residents who were forced to rely on groundwater as their only source of potable water. Due to high iron content, the groundwater is too unfit for consumption.
As for the Teesta water dispute, which has been a major thorn in India-Bangladesh relations, the India prime minister conveyed that his government is working with all stakeholders in India for conclusion of the agreement at the earliest.
Though both governments had agreed upon a water sharing formula for Teesta in 2011, it is yet to be signed. After Bangladesh's gesture over Feni River water, an early resolution of the Teesta water dispute is likely to be a priority of the Modi govenrment.
Increasing connectivity through air, water, rail and road was another major focus areas of the India-Bangladesh summit.
Both countries signed an MoU to facilitate the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports (in Bangladesh) for movement of goods to and from India, particularly to and from the North East of India. According to the joint statement, the SOPs for use of Chattogram and Mongla ports have been concluded.
The two countries also underlined the immense potential of movement of cargo using the inland water and coastal shipping trade. The operationalisation of the Dhulian-Gadagari-Rajshahi-Daulatdia-Aricha Route (to and fro), which also include Daudkandi-Sonamura Route (to and fro), under Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade, is a key development in this regard.
As for road connectivity, India and Bangladesh also agreed on the early operationalisation of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement for movement of goods and passengers via the road network between the member countries who are willing and ready; or to work towards a bilateral India-Bangladesh Motor Vehicles Agreement, as appropriate.
The neighbours have also agreed to commence Dhaka-Siliguri Bus service.
Railways is another area of major focus are to improve connectivity between the two countries. The frequency of Maitree Express has been increased from 4 to 5 times per week and that of Bandhan Express from 1 to 2 per week. India will also expedite the completion of modalities for provision of railway rolling stock supplies by India to Bangladesh, and on the modernisation of the Saidpur workshop in Bangladesh. India will also supply a number of broad-gauge and meter-gauge locomotives to Bangladesh, on a grant basis.
As for air transport, India and Bangladesh will enhance the capacity entitlement in air services from existing 61 services per week to 91 services per week with effect from Summer 2019 schedule, and further to 120 services per week.
V. NRC, illegal Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims
In the discussions, Hasina also raised her concerns over the roll out of NRC in Assam. Government sources said the Indian side conveyed to Hasina that publication of the NRC was a court-monitored process and the final scenario on the issue is yet to emerge.
The updation of the NRC in Assam (and India's decision to carry out a similar exercise in other parts of India, including West Bengal) has faced criticism both at home and in Bangladesh, especially since identifying illegal Bangladeshis has been one of the main driving force behind the exercise.
Already, the exercise in Assam has termed 19 lakh people as foreigners in Assam.
The issue of Rohingya refugees also figured in the talks and the two prime ministers agreed on the need to expedite safe, speedy and sustainable repatriation of the displaced persons to their homes in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, officials said.
With inputs from PTI
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