Do India-Bangladesh ties still lack depth?

On a day when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was meeting her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in New Delhi, a huge consignment of Hilsa arrived in Kolkata markets from Dhaka. As a gesture of friendship, Bangladesh has allowed export of 2,450 metric tonnes of the priced fish ahead of the Durga Puja. The country had placed a ban on Hilsa’s export a decade ago. The Bangladeshi PM later said that friendship can solve any problem.

On Tuesday, both the countries signed seven treaties.

A memorandum of understanding on withdrawal of water from the border river Kushiara in Assam, was one among them. While others focussed on bilateral cooperation in diverse sectors. Prime among these is an MoU on training Bangladeshi railway personnel in training institutes of the Indian Railways, apart from another one on collaboration in IT systems such as freight operations information system and other applications. The two nations also signed MoUs on a training and capacity-building programme for Bangladeshi judicial officers in India, along with cooperation in science and technology, space technology, and the public television sector.

PM Modi said that PM Hasina agreed on extending connectivity and trade infrastructure between the two countries to further connect the two economies.

Concerned over China announcing a slew of infrastructure financing and construction projects in Bangladesh, India also focussed on key high-stakes projects being built by it in the neighbouring country. Both leaders inaugurated the first unit of the Maitri Super Thermal Power project in Bangladesh.

PM Modi said that the inauguration would raise the availability of affordable electricity in that country. Being constructed under India’s concessional financing scheme, the project is set to add 1,320 Mw of electricity generation capacity in the neighbouring country. The first unit of the project was successfully synchronised last month.

Businessman Gautam Adani, who also met Hasina, will supply power from its upcoming power project in Jharkhand to Bangladesh starting December 16.

Meanwhile, PM Modi also lauded the recently constructed Rupsha rail bridge, part of the rail line being built to connect the upcoming Mongla port in Bangladesh’s south to Khulna, the neighbouring country’s third-largest city. Both are being financed under a concessional line of credit provided by India. The total project is set to cost $389 million.

PM Modi said that India was currently the largest market in Asia for Bangladeshi exports. And that the two countries will soon begin talks on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, or CEPA.

Fast-tracking the CEPA has been a key policy objective for Dhaka ever since Hasina approved it in August.

Preliminary joint studies suggest that the deal is expected to raise Bangladeshi exports to India two-fold and expand the country’s GDP by two per cent. PM Modi’s mention of the CEPA in the joint press statement is an indication that New Delhi has accepted Bangladesh’s request to accord it priority.

Bangladesh exports only $1.9 billion worth of goods to India, but its imports from the country stand at $16.15 billion.

But sharing of river water continues to remain a thorny issue between the two nations. While replying to queries during a press meet, Hasina said, “Had you let the water flow, all Hilsa would have flown towards India.”

Both the Ganga and the Brahmaputra enter Bangladesh from West Bengal and Assam. Access to water from the Teesta river, which remains important for irrigation in large swathes of Bangladesh, remains a hotly contested issue that Dhaka continues to raise with India.

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