Dhaka | India and Bangladesh today opened a new chapter in their ties as they settled the 41-year-old boundary dispute and promised to do more in other areas amid Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a fresh line of credit of USD 2 billion to the neighbouring country.
With West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee standing by his side, Modi, on his maiden visit here, also expressed confidence to have a fair solution to the Teesta and Feni river water sharing issues with Bangladesh with the support of state governments in India. After extensive talks between Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the two sides signed 22 agreements, including on cooperation in maritime safety and to curb human trafficking and fake Indian currency.
Hasina, whose country is seen as a hiding ground for insurgents of north east India, also promised zero tolerance stance against terrorism. She said the two countries agreed to set up two Special Economic Zones to bridge the growing trade deficit. Modi promised to do everything to address it.
He announced a fresh USD 2 billion line of credit for Bangladesh and promised quick implementation of the earlier line of credit of USD 800 million and full disbursement of USD 200 million. The highlight of the Modi’s first day here was the exchange of documents related to the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA), which paves the way for exchange of territories to settle the 41-year-old border dispute which has been an irritant.
Under the Agreement, 111 border enclaves will be transferred to Bangladesh in exchange for 51 that will become part of India. The visit is at a historic moment. We have resolved a question that has lingered since Independence. Our two nations have a settled boundary. It will make our borders more secure and people’s life there more stable, Modi said at a joint press interaction with Hasina.
Referring to the unanimous passage of the LBA by Parliament last month, he said it reflects the consensus in India on relations with Bangladesh. Noting that the two countries had accepted the settlement of the maritime boundary last year, he said, it is evidence of the maturity of our ties and our shared commitment to international rules. So, we stand at a moment of huge opportunity in our relationship. Prime Minister (Hasina) and I recognise that.
Modi said connectivity between India and Bangladesh by road, rail, rivers, sea, transmission lines, petroleum pipelines and digital links will increase. Today, we have unveiled some of the pathways to this future, he said. In a major initiative to boost connectivity and enhance people-to-people contact, two bus services — Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala and Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati — were flagged off jointly by Modi, Hasina and Mamata Banerjee.
During the talks, it was decided that Indian Missions would be opened in Khulna and Sylhet while Bangladesh Mission will be opened in Guwahati. Referring to the Teesta water issue which remains unresolved, Modi said our rivers should nurture our relationship, not become a source of discord. Water sharing is, above all, a human issue. It affects life and livelihood on both sides of the border.
He mentioned the settlement of boundary issue to say that we have shown political resolve and goodwill with it. We will work together to harness the rich potential of our relationship. And, we will address our challenges in a spirit of friendship and from a position of mutual trust and confidence, Modi said, adding the agreements signed reflect this vision and commitment. Hasina, while describing India as a very important neighbour, said Modi’s visit has given us a renewed hope and would provide growth to our relations.
The deals that we signed today would open new doors in the areas of trade, investment, the Bangladesh Prime Minister said but underlined that the most important is to translate the agreements into a reality. She said she believed that collectively we can work and ensure the prosperity of this region that was Mujib’s dream.
Modi said the future he dreams for India is the future he wishes for Bangladesh. As we deepen our political engagement and celebrate our rich inheritance, as our economies get more integrated and our people better connected, our nations will become more prosperous, he said, while observing that our growing cooperation is a picture of my deeply-held belief in the shared prosperity of neighbours.
Contending that the two countries have added new dimensions to the economic ties, the Indian leader said the coastal shipping agreement will boost bilateral trade while the Indian Economic Zone will promote Indian investments in Bangladesh. The new border haat at Kamalasagar will reinforce traditional economic links.
And, the agreement on blue economy and maritime cooperation opens a new area of economic opportunities. We should now extend our frontiers of cooperation to space, he said. Modi said he was conscious of the huge trade imbalance, despite duty free and quota free access to Bangladesh in India on all but 25 items and had assured Prime Minister (Hasina) that we will do everything we can to bridge the deficit. Indian investments in Bangladesh will help, he said, adding I will also try to make trade smoother and easier, including at the border. The agreement on standards and testing is a step in that direction, the Indian Prime Minister said.
He said power supply from India to Bangladesh will grow from 500 MW to 1100 MW within two years. The 1320 MW Rampal power project is making progress in accordance with your (Bangladeshi) laws and regulation. We can do more together in power sector, here and in India, he added.
Hasina said India’s growth in economy, education, innovation and technology is praiseworthy. Even Bangladesh has achieved a lot in the last six years. Citing the flagging off of two bus services, Hasina said she and Modi had agreed on the importance of connectivity between the two nations and for the overall development of the region. I am sure we would be able to usher in a society sans discrimination.
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