India and Bangladesh took steps to expand and strengthen their bilateral relationship for mutual benefit Saturday, agreeing on the setting up of a coastal surveillance radar system, use of two Bangladeshi ports for movement of goods between the countries, supply of Bangladeshi cooking gas for India’s Northeastern states, and the lifting of water for drinking from a transnational river in Tripura.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the visiting Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi — the second bilateral meeting between the two leaders after their talks in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 27.
The two sides signed seven pacts, and the Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated by remote control three high-impact community development projects. The two countries have now started 12 such projects in the past one year alone.
After his meeting with Hasina, Modi said that India accords priority to its partnership with Bangladesh. “We are proud that India-Bangladesh relationship is a great example of cooperation between two friendly neighbours. I am glad that our interaction today will give more energy to our relationship,” he said in the presence of Hasina.
In her remarks, Hasina said the ties between the two countries have been on an upswing in the last few years, including in areas of maritime security, civil nuclear energy, and trade. Her visit to India is an “eternal milestone” in the bilateral relationship, she said.
Opportunity in the East
Bangladesh has emerged as the good news story for India among its neighbours, and an anti-thesis of India’s western neighbour, Pakistan. Bangladesh’s galloping growth engine promises prospects of mutual benefits.
Hasina had told Modi in that meeting that the NRC had become a matter of “great concern” for Bangladesh, and Modi was learnt to have replied that there was “nothing to be worried”, since India and Bangladesh have good relations. India has conveyed to Bangladesh that the NRC is a “court-mandated process”, and it will have to see where the process ultimately leads, sources said.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said at a press conference: “We were told that this is an internal matter of India. Our relationship is best of the best at present. But at the same time we are keeping our eyes open (on the NRC issue).”
Asked about Home Minister Amit Shah’s comments that illegal Bangladeshis from Assam would be deported, Haque said: “We should not make a crisis out of nothing at this stage and we should be able to wait and see… We think this is an internal matter of India. Prime Minister Modi has explained to Prime Minister Hasina the process that India has put up in terms of making sure that everybody is eventually included in this (NRC).”
Modi and Hasina also discussed the long-pending agreement on the sharing of Teesta waters on Saturday.
“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted that the people of Bangladesh are awaiting early signing and implementation of the Framework of Interim Agreement for sharing of the Teesta waters, as agreed upon by both governments in 2011. Prime Minister Modi informed that his government is working with all stakeholders in India for conclusion of the Agreement soonest possible,” the joint statement said.
The leaders emphasised the importance of effective border management to ensure a “tranquil, stable and crime- free border,” the joint statement said. As a step towards this goal, the leaders directed their respective border forces to complete border fencing at all pending sectors at the earliest.
“Both leaders also agreed that the loss of civilian lives at the border is a matter of concern and directed the… border forces to enhance coordinated measures to work toward bringing such border incidents down to zero,” the joint statement said.
The two PMs welcomed the initiatives for the development of a closer maritime security partnership, noted the progress made towards finalising a Memorandum of Understanding on establishing a coastal surveillance radar system in Bangladesh, and encouraged both sides to ensure an early signing of the MoU.
They also agreed to expedite work towards drawing upon the $500 million Defence Line of Credit extended by India, the implementation arrangements for which were finalised in April 2019.
The PMs inaugurated the following projects by video link: import of bulk LPG from Bangladesh; inauguration of the Vivekananda Bhaban students hostel at the Ramakrishna Mission in Dhaka; inauguration of the Bangladesh-India Professional Skill Development Institute (BIPSDI) at the Institution of Diploma Engineers Bangladesh, Khulna.
The leaders also discussed the issue of the Rohingya refugees. Modi appreciated Bangladesh’s “generosity in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine State of Myanmar”.
The joint statement said India would supply a fifth tranche of humanitarian assistance to support Bangladesh’s efforts to shelter the Rohingya in temporary camps in Cox’s Bazar. This tranche will comprise tents, relief and rescue material, and 1,000 sewing machines for skill development among Rohingya women. India has completed a first project to build 250 houses in Rakhine, and is now preparing to implement another set of socio-economic development projects there.
Hasina expressed her government’s gratitude for the humanitarian assistance provided by India since September 2017 for the displaced people from Myanmar. The two PMs agreed on the need to “expedite safe, speedy and sustainable repatriation” of the Rohingya to their homes, and for greater efforts towards “improving security situation and socio-economic conditions” in Rakhine.
The agreements signed included: MoU for providing a Coastal Surveillance System; Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on the use of Bangladesh’s Chattogram and Mongla ports for movement of goods to and from India; MoU on withdrawal of 1.82 cusecs of water from the Feni river by India for a drinking water supply scheme for Sabroom town in Tripura; agreement concerning implementation of Lines of Credit (LoCs) committed by India to Bangladesh; MoU between the University of Hyderabad and University of Dhaka; renewal of the cultural exchange programme; and MoU on co-operation in youth affairs.
Hasina thanked Modi for concurring to Bangladesh’s request for opening a Deputy High Commission in Chennai.
On the economic side, the two countries agreed to expedite the commissioning of the joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Modi appreciated the Bangladesh government’s zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism, and commended Hasina for her “resolute efforts to ensure peace, security and stability in the region”, the statement said.
“Recognising that terrorism remains one of the most significant threats to peace and stability of both countries and the region, the two Prime Ministers reiterated their strong commitment to eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and stressed that there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terror. Both leaders referred to the successful discussions between Home Ministers of both countries during the recent visit of the Home Minister of Bangladesh to India in August 2019, and agreed that closer cooperation against extremist and radical groups, terrorists, smugglers, smuggling of fake currency, and organized crime remain a shared priority,” the joint statement said.