Focussing strongly on connectivity, Bangladesh and India have decided to implement all ongoing bilateral and sub-regional rail, road, waterway and other connectivity initiatives.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday - the third day of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's high-profile visit to the next-door neighbour, both the countries also agreed to further strengthen their bilateral ties in areas of food security, energy, trade, common rivers, water management, cyber-security, and climate change.
"Keeping in mind the impact of Covid-19 pandemic and the supply chain disruptions due to global developments, the leaders emphasised the need for collaboration in the spirit of friendship and partnership for prosperity and development of the region," reads the statement.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi are also committed to working expeditiously to resolve pending issues, such as signing of water-sharing agreements, as they have struck an MoU for withdrawal of water from the River Kushiyara - the first such pact since the signing of the Ganges water treaty in 1996.
But the signing of Teesta water-sharing treaty has been hanging fire for more than a decade - its draft was finalised in 2011.
In her high-level talks with Modi, Sheikh Hasina has again requested early conclusion of the Teesta river water-sharing agreement,but there was no mention of what the Indian side said in reply in the joint statement, released by India's external affairs ministry a day after the official meeting of the two prime ministers.
But the Bangladesh side "took note" of the Indian request for early signing of interim water sharing agreement on Feni river taking into account the urgent irrigation requirements in its Tripura state. Under a 2019 MoU, India is allowed to withdraw 1.82 cusec of water from Feni river for drinking water for Sabroom town in Tripura.
Prime Minister Hasina reached New Delhi on a four-day official visit on Monday. Yesterday she launched the "Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Student Scholarship" for 200 descendants of Indian Armed Forces personnel who were martyred or critically injured during the 1971 liberation war of Bangladesh. She also addressed a business audience where she invited Indian businesspeople to invest largely in Bangladesh's infrastructure, manufacturing, energy and transport sectors.
According to the joint statement, the Bangladesh side sought a predictable supply of essential commodities, such as rice, wheat, sugar, onion, ginger and garlic. In response, India said they will favourably consider the requests based on prevalent supply conditions.
Besides, Bangladesh also requested the Indian side to help the former cater to its domestic needs for petroleum products. The Indian side agreed to facilitate discussions between the authorised agencies of both sides.
Considering pandemic effects and subsequent supply chain disruptions caused by the ongoing global crisis, both leaders also gave importance to greater collaboration for prosperity and development of the region.
To connect power grids of the two countries, the leaders directed completing projects, including the proposed high capacity 765KV transmission line from Bihar to Assam through Parbatipur in Bangladesh. They reviewed the progress on the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline, which will assist in addressing Dhaka's energy demand.
Rail connectivity initiatives
When it comes to connectivity through rail links, there are ongoing bilateral initiatives, such as, conversion to dual-gauge of Tongi-Akhaura line, supply of railway rolling stock, capacity building for the personnel of Bangladesh Railway, sharing of IT solutions for improved services of Bangladesh Railway etc.
The new projects include Kaunia-Lalmonirhat-Mogalghat-New Gitaldaha link, establishing a link between Hili and Birampur, upgradation of track and signalling systems and railway stations along the Benapole-Jashore line, link restoration between Burimari and Changrabandha, construction of a container depot at Sirajganj etc.
The two countries agreed to explore funding of such projects through a range of financial instruments under the bilateral development cooperation.
The Bangladesh side welcomed the gesture of India for providing 20 broad-gauge diesel locomotives on grant.
In the delegation-level talks, Bangladesh also requested rail connectivity with Bhutan through India's newly-built Chilahati-Haldibari route. The Indian side agreed to consider the request based on its viability and feasibility.
To make this and other cross border rail links viable, the Indian side requested the Bangladesh side to remove port restrictions, inter alia at the Chilahati–Haldibari crossing, according to the statement.
India offers free transit for export to third countries
India has offered free transit via its territory to Bangladesh for exporting its products to third countries through specified land customs stations, airports and seaports. In this regard, the Indian side invited Bangladesh's business community to use its port infrastructure for transshipment to third countries. India has also been providing free transit to Bangladesh for exporting its products to Nepal and Bhutan, according to the joint statement issued.
Two leaders agree to operationalise BBIN motor vehicle agreement
Sheikh Hasina and Modi also agreed to operationalise the BBIN motor vehicle agreement with a view to expediting efforts to improve bilateral and sub-regional connectivity.
India sought cooperation from the Bangladesh side to begin new sub-regional connectivity projects, such as a highway from Hili in West Bengal to Mahendraganj in Meghalaya through Bangladesh. They also proposed preparation of a detailed project report in this regard.
Bangladesh reiterated its eagerness to partner in the ongoing initiative of the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project.
Besides, the Indian side reiterated its request for at least one major land port without port restrictions or negative list of restrictions, on the border with North Eastern States of India, for easier market access, starting with ICP Agartala-Akhaura.
Both Leaders welcomed the progress made on India's proposal to fund the development of a second freight gate at Petrapole-Benapole ICP and directed the officials to complete the work at the earliest.
Use of Ctg, Mongla ports for movement of goods to and from India soon
The two leaders welcomed the successful completion of trial runs under the agreement on the use of the Chattogram and Mongla Ports and looked forward to its full operationalisation at the earliest.
The agreement was signed between the two countries in 2018 for transit of goods to and from India using Bangladesh's territory.
The Indian side reiterated its request to work towards the expansion of the bilateral Coastal Shipping Agreement of 2015 to include third-country EXIM cargo.
The two sides also agreed to expeditiously explore direct shipping links between the two countries.
They also agreed to implement the decision to start riverine services under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade routes 5 and 6 (Dhulian to Rajshahi-extension to Aricha) and 9 and 10 (Daudkandi to Sonamura).
The Indian side requested Bangladesh to complete remaining infrastructure, immigration, and customs facilities for the operationalisation of the Maitri Bridge over River Feni, connecting Tripura with Bangladesh, at an early date.
PM Hasina reiterates call for Teesta treaty
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, the draft of which was finalised in 2011.
On the other hand The Indian side requested for early signing of the interim water sharing agreement on the River Feni, taking into account the urgent irrigation requirements of the State of Tripura. The Bangladesh side took note of the Indian request.
In the meantime, the two leaders welcomed the signing of the MoU on Withdrawal of Water by India and Bangladesh from common-border River Kushiyara.
Recognising the importance of water management in the bilateral relationship, the leaders appreciated the decision of the Joint Rivers Commission for widening the area of cooperation by including an additional number of rivers for prioritising the exchange of data and formulating the framework of the interim water sharing agreements.
CEPA negotiations to start this year
Bangladesh and India have agreed to start negotiations within this year – for signing the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi directed trade officials on both sides to complete the negotiations of CEPA at the earliest and in time for Bangladesh's graduation from LDC status.
The two leaders welcomed the recent finalisation of a joint feasibility study that recommended that CEPA will be beneficial for both countries.
Bangladesh wants to import power from Nepal, Bhutan thru' India
Bangladesh requested for imports of power from Nepal and Bhutan through India. The Indian side informed that the guidelines for the same are already in place in India.
Both leaders reviewed the progress made on the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline that will contribute to addressing energy demands of Bangladesh.
They expressed hope that the project would be completed at the earliest. The Bangladesh side also requested the Indian side to assist in meeting its domestic requirement for petroleum products. The Indian side agreed to facilitate discussions between the authorised agencies of both sides.
In the spirit of enhancing sub-regional cooperation, the two Leaders also agreed to expeditiously implement projects to connect the two countries' power grids synchronously, including through the proposed high capacity 765KV transmission line from Katihar (Bihar) to Bornagar (Assam) through Parbatipur in Bangladesh.