In the first high-level bilateral engagement after the installation of the NDA government, India on Thursday assured Bangladesh that efforts were on to evolve a national consensus on the contentious Teesta river water sharing deal even as it announced easing of visa norms for certain categories of visitors from Bangladesh.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who chose Bangladesh for her first stand-alone foreign visit since assuming office, had “constructive and productive” meetings with top leadership here including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina besides having detailed discussions with her Bangladeshi counterpart Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali.
Sharing of Teesta river water and the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) which was agreed upon by the previous UPA government were high on Bangladesh’s agenda during the talks. Bangladeshi side appeared to be satisfied with the discussions on these two issues.
Indian officials said Swaraj told Bangladeshi side that the efforts were on to have a national consensus on Teesta water sharing deal.
Significantly, hours before her departure for here, Swaraj spoke to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, whose party Trinamool Congress prevented the previous Congress-led government from signing the Teesta water sharing deal with Bangladesh.
In 2011, Banerjee, then an ally of the Congress-led UPA, backed out from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Bangladesh visit, opposing the Teesta water sharing treaty between India and Bangladesh, following which it was shelved.
On LBA, the External Affairs Minister told her counterpart that the matter was before a Parliamentary Committee and will be give “due consideration”.
Swaraj, during her call on Hasina, extended invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for her which was accepted by the Bangladeshi Prime Minister.
During the deliberations, the two sides also talked about extradition of criminals and prisoners in each other’s captivity and in this regard, cases of ULFA leader Anoop Chetia and Bangladeshi suspect Nur Hossain, wanted in Bangladesh for killing seven people in Dhaka’s satellite city Narayanganj about two months ago were also discussed.
Addressing a press conference after Swaraj’s meetings, the Spokesperson in the External Affairs Minister said “We are not sanctuary for criminals” and if there are any criminals, they will be sent back. He was asked about Bangladesh’s demand for Hossain’s extradition.
Terming the meetings of Swaraj with Bangladeshi leaders as “constructive, productive and fruitful”, the Spokesman said the External Affairs Minister has informed the Bangladeshi side of India’s decision to ease tourist visa norms for Bangladeshi nationals under the age of 13 and above 65 years.
They will be now given multiple entry visa for five years instead of one year, he said.
India has also decided to give additional 100 megawatts power to Bangladesh from the gas-based power project at Palatana in Tripura.
Asked if the issue of illegal immigration was discussed, while the Spokesperson said all the “staple” matters were discussed, indicating that India did raise it. But Bangladesh Foreign Minister Ali said, “there was no question raised from Indian side and the matter was not discussed.
Swaraj also announced a grant of Rs 60 crore for implementation of various Small Development Projects in Bangladesh in the current financial year.
During the meeting, Swaraj invited Ali to India to hold the next round of Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) meeting. The last meeting was held in Dhaka in February last year.
Giving the sense of the meetings the External Affairs Minister had with Bangladeshi leaders, the Spokesperson quoted Swaraj as saying “We have shed blood together…..our destinies are linked” and “India is always there for Bangladesh.”
The Spokesperson said the Bangladeshi side assured India that it will not allow its territory to be used for any anti-India terror activities and condemned terrorism in all its forms.
Swaraj, who was visiting the country after a gap of 16 years, also mentioned during her meetings the rapid economic growth which has happened during these years. She had last visited as Information and Broadcasting Minister in the NDA government.
During her meeting with Hasina, Swaraj presented a plan for setting up a ‘Bangladesh Bhawan’ in Shantinekatan in West Bengal.
The minister later called on the Bangladesh President. The Spokesperson said the focus was the engagement was to enhance cooperation at every level including people-to-people contact and energy ties.
And in this context, the two countries have decided to increase the frequency of Maitree Express between Kolkata and Dhaka. The Spokesperson said the trial runs between Dhaka-Shillong bus service was also discussed in the meeting of two Foreign Ministers.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, in a separate press conference, said Bangladesh has decided to send 10,000 tonne foodgrains to Tripura and the consignments will start with small truckloads as the roads were not geared to take big trucks.
The two sides also discussed Coordinated Border Management Plan to avoid any incidents in the border areas.
Swaraj will hold meeting with Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Khaleda Zia and Late Bangladesh President Irshad’s wife Roshan Irshad before her return on Friday.