NEW DELHI: After extensive talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his visiting Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina, the two neighbours inked seven pacts, including an interim water-sharing arrangement for the Kushiyara river. The two countries decided to initiate talks towards a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, with bilateral trade reaching an "all-time high of $18 billion in the last financial year.
The Kushiyara pact is the first river water sharing pact between the two nations since the agreement to share the Ganga river waters way back in 1996. The interim pact will benefit people in southern Assam and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh.
Hailing India-Bangladesh ties as a "role model" in her media remarks, Hasina thanked Modi for "resolving" the issue of water sharing of the Kushiyara river adding that she hopes the Teesta river issue too would be "concluded at an early date".
She called India the "most important and closest neighbour for Bangladesh" and said, "As long as PM Modi is here, India and Bangladesh will resolve (any) problems."
In his remarks, Modi referred to various aspects of bilateral ties, including cooperation in the fight against terrorism and extremism. He added that the two nations "must jointly combat such forces".
He said, " Bangladesh has made remarkable progress under the leadership of PM Sheikh Hasina ji. In the last few years, our mutual cooperation has also increased rapidly in every field. Today, Bangladesh is India's largest development partner and our largest trade partner in the region. With the expansion of connectivity between our two countries and the development of trade infrastructure on the border, the two economies will be able to connect more with each other, support each other. Our bilateral trade is growing rapidly. Today, India is the largest market in Asia for Bangladesh's exports. To further accelerate this growth, we will soon start discussions on the Bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement."
Modi added, "Fruitful talks are also underway between the two countries on connecting power transmission lines... We also decided to increase cooperation in sectors like IT, space and nuclear energy, which are of interest to our younger generations."
The Bangladesh PM, in her remarks, said that Tuesday’s talks were "fruitful" and were part of the "close friendship and cooperation" between the two neighbours that "accommodated each other’s priorities" and covered areas of connectivity, trade, water-sharing, security and border management as well as line of credit (LoC).
Apart from announcements on three railway infrastructure projects linking the two countries, including the inauguration of the Rupsha river railway bridge that is part of the new railway line being built between Khulna and Mongla Port under India's LoC, pacts on training of Bangladesh railways personnel in India, collaboration in IT systems for Bangladesh railways were signed
The two leaders also unveiled Unit I of the Maitree power plant, which is a 1,320 MW supercritical coal-fired thermal power plant at Rampal, Khulna, in Bangladesh. The thermal power plant is being set up at an estimated cost of approximately $2 billion, with $1.6 billion as Indian Development Assistance under the Concessional Financing Scheme.
The two leaders also reviewed progress on energy cooperation, including the India-Bangladesh friendship pipeline project that India is undertaking through the provision of a grant that will result in the movement of high-speed diesel from India to northern Bangladesh, foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said at a special media briefing later.
It may be noted that India is stepping up economic cooperation with Bangladesh and is giving economic assistance worth billions of dollars to Dhaka, in the backdrop of China taking steps to boost its investments in Bangladesh. When asked on the issue Mr Kwatra said, "Strategic interests and concerns of India are factored" in the ties with Dhaka.
He added that the first contract under the (separate) defence LoC was signed between the two nations earlier this week for a "modest amount", which will, however, expectably pave the way for more defence engagement.
The two leaders also discussed various regional and international issues. On its part, while Bangladesh is understood to be keen on more assistance from India to tackle the financial burden of housing Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, New Delhi has also been raising its concerns with Dhaka regarding disturbing incidents of attacks on Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh.
Other announcements on Tuesday included the "supply of road construction equipment and machinery… in 25 packages to the Bangladesh Road and Highways Department", the "Khulna Darshana railway line link project at an estimated cost $312 million and the Parbatipur-Kaunia railway line at an estimated cost $120 million that "will connect with the existing cross-border rail at Birol (Bangladesh)-Radhikapur (West Bengal) and will enhance bilateral rail connectivity".
Ms Hasina also announced that on Wednesday, she would confer "Mujib scholarships" (named after her father and Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman) on the descendants of Indian armed forces personnel who were martyred and critically wounded in Bangladesh’s 1971 war of liberation against Pakistan. New Delhi has deeply appreciated the gesture.
The pacts inked on Tuesday also included training of Bangladesh judicial officers in India, space cooperation, scientific cooperation and one on broadcasting....