India, Bangladesh sign deal on water sharing, six other treaties
India and Bangladesh on Tuesday signed a deal on withdrawing water from the Kushiara river in Assam and six other treaties as their leaders spoke of “shared cultural traditions” and solving issues through “clear discussions”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh leader Sheikh Hasina, who is on a 4-day visit to India, signed the agreements in Delhi. The agreements include a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on training Bangladeshi personnel in Indian Railways institutes and collaboration in Information Technology (IT) systems for freight operations. The countries signed MoUs on training programmes for Bangladeshi judicial officers in India, scientific and technological cooperation, technology and the public television sector.
The two nations inaugurated the first unit of the Maitri Super Thermal Power project, which Bangladesh constructed with development assistance from India. Prime Minister Hasina signed seven agreements in diverse areas in her last visit to New Delhi in 2019.
“Bangladesh has significantly progressed under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and our bilateral cooperation has also seen fast growth. In the past few years, Bangladesh has become India’s largest development partner. Our close cultural and people to people relations have also continuously grown,” Modi said, adding that he and the visiting leader agreed on extending connectivity and trade infrastructure.
Hasina thanked India for assisting Bangladesh in its economic development. “Our main focus is to help create a progressive future for citizens of both nations. All our foreign policy engagements with India are based on this one objective,” she said.
India’s infra push
In response to China announcing infrastructure financing and construction projects in Bangladesh, India is stepping up assistance for its eastern neighbour
“The rising price of energy is proving to be a challenge everywhere in the world. Today, the inauguration of the first unit of the Maitri Thermal Plant in Bangladesh will raise the availability of affordable electricity in Bangladesh,” Modi said. Constructed under India’s concessional financing scheme, the project will add 1320 MW of electricity generation capacity in Bangladesh.
Modi praised the new Rupsha rail bridge, which is being constructed to connect the upcoming Mongla port in southwestern Bangladesh to its third-largest city of Khulna. India is providing concessional credit for the bridge and the port and the total project is set to cost $389 million.
Bangladesh wants Indian companies to use the port and transnational rail lines connecting the country to West Bengal and Tripura as an alternative direct access channel into underserved areas of Eastern and North Eastern India.
“Our bilateral trade is expanding fast. Today, India is the largest market in Asia for Bangladeshi exports. To push this growth even further, we will soon begin talks on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA),” Modi said.
A quick deal on CEPA is a key policy objective for Dhaka after Hasina approved it in August. Preliminary joint studies suggest the deal is expected to raise Bangladeshi exports to India two-fold and expand the country’s GDP by 2 per cent. While the talks are still in early stages, Modi’s mention of the CEPA in the joint press statement likely indicates enough that New Delhi has accepted Bangladesh’s request to accord the CEPA priority.
Bangladesh exports only $1.9 billion worth of goods to India from where it imports $16.15 billion. It imported $4 billion worth of cotton, $1.2 billion worth of wheat and a similar amount of petroleum. Hasina has pushed for the deal to allow this trade imbalance to rectify at least partially. A quick resolution on this front would allow her to answer her domestic critics who point to the country even importing $600 million of rice, mostly parboiled, as emblematic of India’s overwhelming shadow on the country’s economy, officials said.
Water sharing is a diplomatic issue as the Ganges and the Brahmaputra enter Bangladesh from West Bengal and Assam. Called Padma and Jamuna in Bangladesh, these rivers accumulate water from the hundreds of rivers that snake through the riverine nation. Access to water from the Teesta river, which is important for irrigation in northwest Bangladesh, is a contested issue as well.
Solutions seem to be flowing. “There are 54 rivers that traverse the India-Bangladesh border and have historically been a part of the livelihood of people in both nations. The songs and tales about these rivers are also a symbol of our unique, shared cultural traditions. The water sharing agreement on the Kushiara river will benefit South Assam and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh,” Modi said.
India will continue to share real-time data on water flow and flood with Bangladesh, he added.
“We are two neighboring nations, and there may often be certain issues between two nations, but we have set an example by solving many issues through clear discussions,” said Hasina, referring to sharing of river water.
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