At the end of her four-day visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India, 22 treaties were signed between the two countries testify to the Bangladesh premier’s optimism. The pacts pertain to a wide range of bilateral issues, including defence cooperation, energy and infrastructure. Some highlights of the visit:
1. India extended lines of credit worth $5 billion to Bangladesh.
2. Despite the presence of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the ceremony that included the inauguration of a trans-border rail line, the two sides were unable to make any progress on the contentious Teesta water sharing agreement that Ms. Banerjee has opposed.
3. KOLKATA-KHULNA-DHAKA ROUTE
Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina flagged off the trial run of the Kolkata-Khulna train through video-conference. The train service has been named as Maitree Express-II.
The Maitree Express-II will travel a total distance of about 176 km, 80 km of which is in India while the rest 96 km stretch falls in Bangladesh. The train will pass through Petrapole – the last station on the Indian side of the border – and Benapole – the first station on the Bangladesh side.
The two sides of erstwhile united Bengal were connected through train service before the partition of India in 1947.
The train service was suspended during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Bangladesh was then part of Pakistan as East Pakistan. The War of Liberation in 1971 gave birth to Bangladesh. The train service started between India and Bangladesh in 2008 when Maitree Express-I was launched.
Bus Services between India and Bangladesh
The trail run of Kolkata-Khulna-Dhaka bus service was also launched yesterday. Three buses were flagged off from Nabanna in Kolkata. Through Khulna route, one can now reach Dhaka from Kolkata in 13 hours. It will take seven hours to reach Khulna from Kolkata.
Bus services are already operational on Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala and Kolkata-Dhaka routes. The Kolkata-Dhaka route was launched in 1999. The Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala route was opened in 2015.
4. India will also finance a diesel oil pipeline from Numaligarh to Parbatipur and Indian companies will enter into a long-term agreement for the supply of diesel.
5. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited Indian companies to invest in the country’s infrastructure sector that requires investments of about $20 billion a year till 2030, promising to exclusively dedicate at least three of the 100 proposed special economic zones in the country for Indian investors.
Potential in Bangladesh
With a per-capita income of $1,446 and a growth rate of 6% to 7% in the last eight years, Bangladesh offers a fast-growing domestic market of 160 million consumers as well as special duty-free access to various global markets.
Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh had grown 17% in the past five years to reach $6.5 billion, but Bangladesh’s exports have failed to cross the billion-dollar mark.
The proposed regional connectivity plans such as the Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal (BBIN) corridor could boost economic ties.
India far behind China
But India has a long way to go before it matches China’s economic clout. Beijing is currently Dhaka’s biggest trading partner with an annual turnover of more than $10 billion. According to PM Modi, the agreements signed during Sheikh Hasina’s visit “bring our resource allocation for Bangladesh to more than $8 billion over the past six years”. This pales in comparison to the $24 billion loan extended by China, last year, during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Bangladesh.
Dhaka has consistently backed Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative despite New Delhi’s reservations.
What is the hurdle in trade (according to Bangladesh)?
The biggest hurdle is the visa system. Bangladesh gives Indian people a visa so they can enter from any airport or any land port. But when Bangladesh people get a visa from India, we are given either for Petrapole or Agartala or some other place, (entry is) limited to only one point. Unless and until we can change this, it will be very difficult for the regional cooperation to ultimately come in place.
The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Initiative is a sub-regional architecture of countries in South Asia. It meets through official representation of member states to formulate, implement and review quadrilateral agreements across areas such as water resources management, connectivity of power, transport, and infrastructure.
(Adapted from The Indian Express, The Hindu and relevant extracts from internet)