Shared vision

Published : Oct 07, 2011 00:00 IST

Despite the eleventh-hour collapse of a critical water-sharing agreement, India and Bangladesh succeeded in inking 10 important deals.

in Dhaka

MANMOHAN SINGH's visit to Bangladesh on September 6 and 7, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 12 years, had raised great expectations. Never had the mood in the country been so high since 1971, when the Bangladesh Liberation War was fought and won with active Indian assistance. There was also no dearth of goodwill in Dhaka and New Delhi to make the visit yet another groundbreaking event in bilateral relations after Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's historic visit to New Delhi in January last year.

The agenda of the Dhaka Summit is believed to have been chalked out carefully in continuance of the Joint Communiqu signed by the two Prime Ministers in New Delhi then. Among the several important deals to be inked were those on the sharing of the waters of the Teesta and Feni rivers, the transit between India and Bangladesh, and the use of the Chittagong and Mongla seaports by India.

Besides these were a few other deals that the two countries had finalised to advance bilateral cooperation. Therefore, when vital agreements like the one on water-sharing fell through at the last minute, Bangladesh was frustrated.

So much so that many people even started saying that Manmohan Singh's Dhaka visit was a failure. However, in the final analysis, the gains achieved cannot be ignored.

Despite the eleventh-hour collapse of the critical water-sharing agreement, the two countries succeeded in inking 10 important deals, including one on demarcating land borders. The border issue has been a source of discord for long.

Deals signed

One of the major deals signed by the two Prime Ministers on September 6, the Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development, was the result of the political will that the two countries had expressed during Sheikh Hasina's visit to New Delhi. The agreement provides the template for future cooperation between India and Bangladesh and encapsulates the mutually shared vision the two countries have of their future.

A Protocol to the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement, signed by Bangladesh Foreign Affairs Minister Dipu Moni and India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, seeks to address all outstanding land boundary disputes. It deals with the status of 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, with a population of 37,334, and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India, with a population of 14,215. The issue of Adversely Possessed Land along the border in West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam was also dealt with after several decades.

For the first time after 1947, the Tin Bigha Corridor' has been kept open for the Bangladeshis. In line with the agreement signed in Dhaka on September 6, India has already opened the corridor, allowing 24-hour access for 16,000 Bangladeshis to the Dahagram-Angorpota enclaves.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) to facilitate overland transit traffic between Bangladesh and Nepal was also signed during the visit. This will make rail transit between Bangladesh and Nepal possible by using the Rohanpur-Singhabad route. This was agreed during the visit of Sheikh Hasina to India in 2010. It will facilitate rail transit between Bangladesh and Nepal through Indian territory.

The MoU on Conservation of the Sundarbans is expected to facilitate cooperation in the areas of conservation of biodiversity, joint management of resources, livelihood generation for poverty alleviation and development, cataloguing of local flora and fauna, and the study of the impact of climate change.

The Protocol on Conservation of the Royal Bengal Tiger of the Sundarbans, signed during the visit, provides for bilateral cooperation in research, knowledge-sharing and patrolling of the Sundarbans waterways to prevent poaching or smuggling of derivatives from wildlife, and bilateral initiatives to ensure conservation of the royal Bengal Tiger. Yet another deal concluded was on cooperation in the field of renewable energy to promote technical cooperation in the areas of solar, wind and bioenergy. An MoU on educational cooperation between Jawaharlal Nehru University and Dhaka University was also signed.

The public broadcasters of India and Bangladesh, Doordarshan and Bangladesh Television (BTV), respectively, also entered into an agreement to make available live telecasts of news, cultural and educational programmes for mutual broadcast. Another deal inked was between the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi, and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT), Dhaka.

On September 6, Manmohan Singh announced the removal of 46 Bangladeshi textile items from the sensitive list for trade, and zero-duty access to these items in India. The measure will help improve trade with Bangladesh across West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. Further, border haats have been established to restore the traditional economic and cultural links between people in the adjoining States in India and Bangladesh.

Bangladesh businessmen see the announcement to give duty-free access to the Indian market for the 46 items as an encouraging development. They hope that this will not just narrow the trade gap but also help shore up Bangladesh's economic lifeline the readymade garment industry.

In fact, trade relations between the two countries have seen a significant improvement in the recent past. In 2010-11, two-way trade crossed the $5-billion mark as a result of a significant increase in Bangladesh's exports to India (68 per cent over the previous year) and India's exports to Bangladesh (43 per cent over the previous year). Bangladesh's exports to India in 2010-11 were worth $512.5 million and India's exports to Bangladesh in the same period were of $4,586.8 million. However, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's last-minute withdrawal from the Prime Minister's entourage on account of the Teesta water-sharing deal was a dampener. The failure to sign the much-trumpeted agreement on the Teesta and Feni rivers disappointed Bangladesh.

For this one act of hers, Mamata Banerjee has become unpopular in the eyes of a vast majority of Bangladeshis. Her action is compared with that of former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, who, in 1996, played a significant role in the signing of the more complex Ganga water-sharing accord, which had been an issue between the two countries for three decades. In contrast, in 2011, a 15-year accord on the Teesta fell through because of Mamata Banerjee.

Although not officially recognised, it is understood that the Teesta episode stalled the hoped-for deal on the sharing of the Feni river waters as well and the signing of a letter of exchange containing Dhaka's consent to let India use the Chittagong and Mongla ports to carry goods through Bangladeshi territory. According to analysts, Dhaka had no choice other than this to save the ruling coalition from the domestic political costs.

Sheikh Hasina has been under fire from religious extremists and political opponents for her pro-India tilt. Despite the strategic welcome accorded by them to Manmohan Singh, these sections have openly accused the government of serving Indian interests. They stand to gain the upper hand while a historic opportunity is missed for whatever reasons.

Nonetheless, the Indian Prime Minister's visit has great significance in that the leaderships of the two countries have resolved to develop the trust and confidence that they have been nurturing for nearly two years. To be fair, the expectation of a historic breakthrough has not materialised. But Bangladesh, which is under a secular democratic leadership, is hopeful that India will reciprocate the vision and boldness that its neighbour showed and that the Teesta deal will be signed as early as possible.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment