The 2-day maiden visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh symbolised India’s 50-years of partnership has strengthened, matured and evolved as a model for bilateral relations for the entire region.
Modi was in Bangladesh on March 26 and 27 to join the celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of the Independence of Bangladesh, the Birth Centenary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 50 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh. During the visit, the Prime Minister called on President of Bangladesh Md. Abdul Hamid on 27 March 2021. Earlier, Modi joined the National Day programme, Golden Jubilee celebrations and Mujib Borsho celebration at the National Parade Ground as the Guest of Honour on March 26, 2021.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid a wreath at the National Martyrs’ Memorial at Savar as a mark of respect to the memory and contribution of the great freedom fighters of Bangladesh. He also paid rich tribute and respect to the memory of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the Bangabandhu Mausoleum in Tungipara, Gopalganj.
Joint Celebrations of Historical Links
Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, one of the greatest leaders of modern times, will be remembered for his courage and indelible contribution to Bangladesh’s emergence as a sovereign country. He also recalled the contribution of Bangabandhu in nurturing peace, security and development in the region.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina thanked India for conferring Gandhi Peace Prize for the year 2020 on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in recognition of his outstanding contributions towards social, economic and political transformation of Bangladesh through non-violent and other Gandhian methods.
Both Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated the Bangabandhu – Bapu Digital Exhibition in Dhaka, which celebrates the life and legacy of these iconic leaders. The two Prime Ministers affirmed that the legacy and ideals of the two great leaders would continue to inspire the people worldwide, particularly the youth, against oppression.
To mark the 50th anniversary of India-Bangladesh friendship, both sides released respective commemorative postage stamps. It was decided to commemorate 06 December as Maitri Diwas, the day when India recognized Bangladesh in the year 1971. The Indian side announced the establishment of Bangabandhu Chair at the University of Delhi. In view of the 50th anniversary of the Independence of Bangladesh as well as the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties, both sides have agreed to jointly commemorate these epochal events in 19 select countries.
BIOPIC ON BANGABANDHU
Both sides noted with satisfaction that the filming of the biopic on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, under the direction of Indian film director Shyam Benegal, has commenced and is expected to be completed according to schedule. Both sides stressed on the need to commence work on the Liberation War documentary at the earliest.
Both sides noted with appreciation the participation of a 122-member tri-services contingent of the Bangladesh Armed Forces in the 2020 Republic Day celebrations of India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended an invitation to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to visit India in 2022 in commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
Both sides welcomed the port call by Indian Naval Ships Sumedha and Kulish on 08-10 March 2021 at Mongla upon the invitation of Bangladesh as part of the commemoration of the epochal occasions. This was the first ever visit to Mongla Port by any Indian Naval Ship. Bangladesh Navy Ship is also scheduled to make port call at Vishakhapatnam as part of the joint celebrations.
KEY DECISIONS MADE ARE:
The Bangladesh side welcomed the decision of the Government of India to announce 1000 Shuborno Jayanti Scholarships for Bangladeshi students for pursuing education/courses in India.
Bangladesh Prime Minister thanked the Indian side for considering Bangladesh’s proposal to name the historic road from Mujib Nagar to Nadia on the Bangladesh-India border “Shadhinota Shorok” commemorating the historic significance of the road during Bangladesh’s Liberation War. Both sides looked forward to inaugurating the road soon as part of the joint celebrations.
Water Resources Cooperation
Recalling earlier discussions, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reiterated Bangladesh’s long-pending request for concluding the interim agreement on the sharing of the waters of the Teesta river. She underscored that to alleviate the sufferings and save the livelihoods of millions of people dependent on the Teesta river basin, it is necessary that Bangladesh receives its fair share of the Teesta waters, the draft agreement of which has already been agreed upon by both Governments in January 2011.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated India’s sincere commitment and continued efforts to conclude the Teesta river agreement, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders. The Indian side also requested for early finalization of the draft of the interim agreement for sharing of water of Feni River, pending with the Bangladesh side which had been agreed upon by both sides in 2011.
The two leaders directed their respective Ministries of Water Resources to work towards an early conclusion of the Framework of Interim Agreement on sharing of waters of six common rivers, namely, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.
Bangladesh side reiterated the urgency for India to allow excavation of the remaining portion of Rahimpur Khal for utilization of Kushiyara River waters for irrigation of the Upper Surma Kushiyara project, as the matter is directly linked with the food security of Bangladesh. In this regard, early concurrence was requested from India on the proposed MoU to be signed between the two countries for the withdrawal of water from the Kushiyara River by both sides, pending the signing of the Agreement in this regard. The Indian side conveyed that the MoU was under consideration, in consultation with the relevant State Government.
Recalling that the MoU on withdrawal of 1.82 cusecs of water from Feni River was signed during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in October 2019, the Indian side urged the Bangladesh side for early implementation of the MoU.
The two Prime Ministers directed the Joint Technical Committee, formed for the purpose, to expeditiously commence the feasibility study of the Ganges-Padma barrage and other alternative options in Bangladesh for optimum utilization of the Ganges waters received by Bangladesh as per the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, 1996.
The two leaders recalled the positive contribution of the Joint Rivers Commission and expressed satisfaction at the recently concluded Secretary-level meeting of the Water Resources Ministries of the two countries.
Trade for Growth
Bangladesh side requested for lifting the new policy of Indian Customs stipulating verification of certificates of origin issued from Bangladesh. The Indian side conveyed that under the provisions of the new Customs rules, in the event of a conflict between a provision of these rules and rules of origin of a trade agreement, the provisions of the rules of origin of the trade agreement shall prevail. Further, for bilateral trade to flourish, both leaders stressed the need for predictability of trade policies, regulations and procedures.
Both Prime Ministers stressed the urgent need for up-gradation of infrastructure and facilities of the Land Customs Stations (LCSs) / Land Ports in a coordinated manner to facilitate trade between the two countries.
The Indian side reiterated its request for at least one major land port without port restrictions or with a negative list of restrictions, on the border with the North Eastern Region of India, [where feasible] for easier market access, starting with ICP Agartala-Akhaura.
It was agreed that in the spirit of liberalizing trade between the two countries, the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) would collaborate for the capacity building and development of testing and Lab facilities.
The Indian side urged the Bangladesh side to remove the existing practices against the Indian companies from participating in tenders floated by various Ministries and the agencies of the Government of Bangladesh. Bangladesh side informed that there is no country-specific restriction in the process.
The two Prime Ministers welcomed the opening of new border Haats at the agreed locations and hoped that they would be mutually beneficial for the economic development of the people living along with the remote and inaccessible points of the border of both countries.
Development Partnership and Cooperation in Power and Energy
It was agreed to strengthen sub-regional cooperation, including with Nepal and Bhutan and in this regard cooperation in energy was underscored. The Indian side emphasized that finalization of regulations and guidelines for cross border trade in electricity would increase sub-regional cooperation. India requested early finalization of modalities for implementation of the Katihar – Parbotipur – Bornagar cross border electricity interconnection. Both sides welcomed the establishment of a study team in this regard. Both sides took stock of progress in the implementation of the India Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline and unit-1 of the Maitree Super Thermal Power Project and expressed hope that these projects would get commissioned soon.
Connectivity for Prosperity
Bangladesh reiterated its eagerness to partner in the ongoing initiative of the India – Myanmar – Thailand trilateral highway project. To facilitate better connectivity and simplify the movement of passengers and goods between both countries, both leaders agreed to an early operationalization of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement through the expeditious signing of the Enabling MoU for Bangladesh, India, and Nepal to commence the movement of goods and passengers, with provision for Bhutan to join at a later date.
Bangladesh side also requested India for favourable consideration of the new connectivity routes proposed by Bangladesh, namely allowing additional land ports of Bhadrapur-Bairagi Galgalia, Biratnagar-Jogmani and Birganj-Raxaul to be connected with Banglabandha-Fulbari and Birol-Radhikapur by road as alternative routes.
India was also requested to consider connecting Birol-Radhikapur and Rohanpur-Singhabad rail-interchanges with Biratnagar-Jogmani as this would help reduce the distance and cost of transportation of goods by rail from Bangladesh to Nepal.
Bangladesh side also sought rail connectivity with Bhutan through the newly inaugurated Chilahati-Haldibari route to facilitate rail connectivity with Bhutan. The Indian side requested the Bangladesh side for cooperation in establishing connectivity between Guwahati and Chattogram and also from Mahendraganj in Meghalaya to Hili in West Bengal. Bangladesh side requested the Indian side for a detailed proposal in this regard.
Highlighting the benefits of connectivity and the trial run of trans-shipment of Indian goods from Kolkata to Agartala via Chattogram, the India side urged for early operationalization of the Agreement on the use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports for the Movement of Goods to and from India, including finalization of cost-effective pricing and regulatory orders.
The Indian side requested for transhipment arrangement in Munshiganj and Pangaon as part of the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade until the completion of the bilateral project to develop the Ashuganj Container Terminal. Bangladesh side informed the infrastructure limitations in this regard and that work is being planned for up-gradation of the facilities.
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh offered the use of Chattogram and Sylhet International Airport, by the people of North East India, especially of Tripura. Bangladesh also informed that Saidpur Airport is being developed as a regional airport for the use of the people of this region.
Cooperation in Public Health
Bangladesh side thanked the Government of India for gifting 3.2 million doses of Oxford Astra Zeneca Covishield vaccine made in India and appreciated the prompt delivery of the first batch of 5 million doses. Bangladesh side requested the Indian side to facilitate regular delivery of the remaining tranches of vaccine procured by Bangladesh from the Serum Institute of India. India assured its best cooperation in accordance with its domestic exigencies and international commitments.
Border Management and Security Cooperation
Both leaders emphasized the importance of effective border management for ensuring a tranquil, stable and crime-free border. Both sides agreed that any death at the border is a matter of concern and directed the concerned border guarding forces to enhance people-oriented measures for ensuring border security and bring down such death of civilians to zero.
Bangladesh side reiterated the request for 1.3 km Innocent Passage through river route along with River Padma near Rajshahi District, on humanitarian grounds. The Indian side assured to consider the request. Indian side requested for completion of border fencing at all pending sectors at the international border at the earliest, beginning from the Tripura (India) – Bangladesh sector. Bangladesh side assured to look into the matter.
Both sides welcomed the signing of an MoU on Disaster Management, Resilience and Mitigation, noting that this would augment institutional cooperation in mitigating natural disasters.
Recognizing that terrorism remains a threat to global peace and security, both sides reiterated their strong commitment to eliminating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Prime Minister Modi expressed India’s appreciation for the cooperation extended by Bangladesh in security-related matters.
Collaboration in Space and Satellite Technology
Recalling that Bangladesh launched its first satellite, Bangabandhu Satellite (BS-1) in 2017, Prime Minister Hasina Sheikh informed that Bangladesh would launch the second satellite soon. In this regard, both the Prime Ministers agreed for further collaboration and technology transfer in space and satellite research.
Both sides acknowledged the potential of new and emerging areas of cooperation in bilateral cooperation and directed authorities on both sides to focus on and augment cooperation in cutting edge areas of science, artificial intelligence, peaceful uses of nuclear technology, big data and technology-enabled services in health and education.
In order to take forward its bilateral cooperation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited 50 young entrepreneurs from Bangladesh to visit India and present their ideas to venture capitalists as part of youth exchange programmes between the two countries
As part of the visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Jeshoreshwari Devi Temple in Jashore and Orakandi Temple in Gopalganj on 27 March 2021. Prime Minister lauded the prevailing tradition of religious harmony.
Issue of Displaced Rohingyas of Myanmar
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requested India, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, to play a strong role in the early repatriation of the displaced Rohingyas back to Myanmar. India assured its continued support in this regard while appreciating the generosity of Bangladesh in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to the 1.1 million Rohingyas forcibly displaced from the Rakhine State of Myanmar.
Partners in the Region and the World
Both leaders emphasized that the regional organizations, such as SAARC and BIMSTEC have an important role to play, particularly in the post-Covid-19 situation.
Bangladesh side highlighted that the country would assume chairmanship of the IORA for the first time in October 2021 and requested the support of India for working towards greater maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Bangladesh and assured India’s cooperation in this regard.
Bangladesh side thanked the Government of India for confirming support in favour of Bangladesh’s candidate for the post of Director, South East Asian Regional Office of the WHO in 2023.
Bilateral Documents and Inauguration of Projects
The following bilateral documents were signed and exchanged during the visit:
i. MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Disaster Management, Resilience and Mitigation;
ii. MoU between Bangladesh National Cadet Corps (BNCC) and National Cadet Corps of India (INCC);
iii. MoU on Establishment of a Framework of Cooperation in the Area of Trade Remedial Measures between Bangladesh and India;
iv. Tripartite MoU on Supply of ICT Equipment, Courseware & Reference Books and Training for Bangladesh-Bharat Digital Service and Employment Training (BDSET) Centre;
v. Tripartite MoU for Establishment of Sports Facilities at Rajshahi College Field and Surrounding Areas.
vi. Inauguration of 3 border Haats – Nalikata (India) – Saydabad (Bangladesh); Ryngku (India) – Bagan Bari (Bangladesh) and Bholagunj (India) – Bholagunj (Bangladesh)
vii. Inauguration of Rabindra Bhawan faciliites in Kuthibari
viii. Inauguration of ‘Mitali Express’ – passenger train service on Dhaka-New Jalpaiguri-Dhaka route through Chilahati-Haldibari rail link;
xi. Announcement of linking the historic road between Mujibnagar and Nadia and naming it as Shadhinota Shorok