India inks 7 pacts with Bangladesh; Hasina flags concerns over NRC roll-out

Bangladesh PM raises concern over NRC roll-out in meeting with PM

PM Modi, Sheikh hasina
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, on Saturday

India and Bangladesh on Saturday signed seven agreements and launched three projects after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina held wide-ranging talks to further strengthen bilateral ties.

The projects included the sourcing of bulk liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from Bangladesh to Tripura by using Bangladeshi trucks. Dhaka also allowed New Delhi to withdraw 1.82 cusecs of water from Feni River for a drinking water supply scheme for Sabroom town in Tripura.

During the discussions, Hasina also raised concerns over the roll-out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, an exercise carried out to identify genuine Indian citizens living in Assam and weed out illegal immigrants. Government sources said the Indian side conveyed to Hasina that the NRC publication was a court-monitored process and the final scenario on the issue was yet to emerge.

The Bangladesh PM said people of her country awaited the early signing and implementation of the agreement on sharing of Teesta waters, as agreed upon by both governments in 2011.

Hasina, on a four-day official visit to India, and Modi met in the afternoon — their second meeting in the last 10 days. The two leaders had met in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month.

In a joint statement issued later, New Delhi welcomed Bangladesh’s “imminent graduation out of LDC (least developed country) status” and the two sides agreed to commission a joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and Bangladesh.

Bangladesh will graduate out of its LDC status in 2024, which will pose challenges to its export-oriented readymade garments industry that currently gets preferential market access.

Modi said the bulk LPG import from Bangladesh would benefit India economically as it would reduce transportation distance by 1,500 km. It would also help increase Bangladesh's exports, income and employment, he added. The two leaders inaugurated Vivekananda Bhaban, a students’ hostel, at Ramakrishna Mission, Dhaka, which will have residential facilities for 100 university students and research scholars.

The third project they inaugurated was the Bangladesh-India Professional Skill Development Institute in Khulna, to train technicians. “The three projects inaugurated today are of three different sectors –- LPG import, vocational training and social facility. But their objective is the same, and that is improve the lives of our citizens, which is the basic mantra of India-Bangladesh ties,” Modi said. Before Saturday, the two leaders have inaugurated nine projects this year, Modi said.

Hasina asked Modi “in the spirit of reciprocity, all restrictions be lifted for Bangladeshi travelers using existing land ports”. The two sides agreed that the remaining restrictions on entry/exit from land ports in India for citizens of Bangladesh travelling on valid documents would be removed in a phased manner, beginning with checkpoints at Akhaura (Tripura) and Ghojadanga (West Bengal).

In response to India’s request to withdraw port restrictions on products being traded through Akhaura-Agartala port, the Bangladesh delegation said the restrictions would be removed on most items of regular trade in the near future. Bangladesh will open a deputy high commission in Chennai.

The Bangladesh delegation requested Indian authorities to consider addressing the issue of anti-dumping/anti-circumvention duties imposed on multiple products exported from Bangladesh to India, including on jute products. Modi and Hasina directed their officials to expedite the establishment of framework of cooperation in the area of trade remedial measures.

The joint statement said that for the first- time, exports from Bangladesh to India crossed the $1- billion mark in 2019, witnessing a year-on-year growth of 52 per cent in exports. The two PMs asked officials to work towards greater collaboration in textiles and jute sectors of both the countries.

The agreement on standard operating procedures for the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports for movement of goods to and from India will make it easier for India to transport goods to its northeastern states. The Dhulian-Gadagari-Rajshahi-Daulatdia-Aricha route is being operationalised, as also the Daudkandi-Sonamura route, the joint statement said.

The two leaders asked the technical level committee of the joint rivers commission to expeditiously exchange updated data and information of six rivers –- Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar and to firm up the draft framework of interim sharing agreement of the Feni river.

They also welcomed the decision to develop a 765kV double circuit cross-border electricity interconnection between Katihar (India), Parbotipur (Bangladesh) and Bornagar (India).

According to the joint statement, Modi “appreciated Bangladesh’s generosity in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine State of Myanmar”.

The two leaders welcomed increase in capacity entitlement in air services from existing 61 services per week to 91 from summer 2019 schedule, and further to 120 services per week from winter 2020 schedule.

The two agreed to expedite work on $500 million defence line of credit extended by India to Bangladesh, cooperate to commemorate the birth centenary of Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 2020 and co-produce a film on him; and 50 years of Bangladesh war in 1971.

With inputs from PTI