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Today is the 50th Anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence and also the 50th Anniversary of India-Bangladesh relations. The Indian Prime Minister has gone to Dhaka to take part in the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence. This is the second time that the incumbent Indian PM has visited Bangladesh.
India played a great role in the emergence of independent Bangladesh. Further, India was also the first state to recognize Bangladesh (along with Bhutan) as a separate nation. The signing of the historic Land Boundary Agreement in 2015 made India-Bangladesh relations even stronger. Yet, there are certain friction points in bilateral relationships.
About Bangladesh since Independence
During Bangladesh Independence: India provided shelter to nearly 10 million Bangladeshi refugees. Further, India also helped East Pakistan(present Bangladesh) militarily to attain Independence. The very first Independent government of Bangladesh was formed and administered from Theatre Road in Kolkata (by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s close political associates).
Bangladesh Post-Independence: Bangladesh passed through different regimes after Independence. So, India-Bangladesh relations also oscillated.
- An assassination of Bangladesh’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman occurred on August 15, 1975. This was followed by Military rule in Bangladesh.
- General Ziaur Rahman became President but also got assassinated in 1981
- Between 1982-1991 General H.M. Ershad ruled the country.
- Bangladesh returned to parliamentary democracy in 1991
India-Bangladesh relations so far
- Land Boundary Agreement in 2015: Both the countries have achieved a remarkable feat under this Agreement. India and Bangladesh swapped the disputed islands. This allowed the inhabitants to choose their country of residence. The inhabitants were incorporated as citizens of either India or Bangladesh.
- Economic cooperation:
- Bangladesh is India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia. India exported $9.21 billion worth of goods and services in 2018-19. And, it has also imported $1.04 billion worth of goods and services.
- India offered duty-free access to multiple Bangladeshi products.
- Infrastructure Cooperation:
- India since 2014 provided 3 Line of Credit(LOCs) amounting to $8 billion to Bangladesh for the construction of roads, railways, bridges, and ports. But due to slow project implementation from Bangladesh, only 51% has been utilised by it.
- World Bank refused to fund the construction of the Padma bridge. But India provided LOCs for the construction of it.
- Three passenger and freight railway services are currently in operation between India and Bangladesh. At present, two more routes are also restored by both governments. The recent Chilahati-Haldibari rail link is also a significant step.
- Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala Bus Service also launched in 2015. This reduced the distance between Kolkata and Agartala from 1,650 km(through chicken’s neck or Siliguri corridor) to just 500 km.
- Recently, the Indian Prime Minister also inaugurated the ‘Maitri Setu’ bridge. It is a 1.9 km long bridge that connects Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh.
- Border Haats organized in the border districts also enhance trade and people to people connectivity in India-Bangladesh relations.
- Energy cooperation: India at present provides a power supply of 600MW from Palatana Power Plant in Tripura. In return, Bangladesh agreed to provide a 10 GBPS internet connection to India’s North Eastern States.
- Tourism sector: Bangladeshis make up a large portion of tourists in India. In 2017, they outnumbered all the tourists arriving from Western Europe.
- Medical Cooperation:
- Bangladesh has received 9 million doses of Covishield vaccines from India so far.
- Apart from that, Bangladesh also accounts for more than 35% of India’s international medical patients. Bangladesh alone contributes to more than 50% of India’s revenue from medical tourism.
- Other cooperation: India-Bangladesh signed MOUs in the field of health, medicine, joint-research. Further, they both agreed to exchange knowledge between health professionals of both countries.
Challenges in India-Bangladesh relations
Despite having a wide collaboration, India-Bangladesh relations also have certain challenges. Such as,
- The Teesta river water dispute: The Teesta river originates in Sikkim and flows through West Bengal and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the river merges with the Jamuna(the Brahmaputra in India). In 1983, an ad-hoc water sharing agreement allocated 39% of Teesta water to India and 36% to Bangladesh. The remaining 25% remain unallocated.
The 2011 interim deal aims to share the Teesta river water between India and Bangladesh about 42.5 per cent and 37.5 per cent respectively. But, the state of West Bengal object to this and demands and never signed the deal(Water is a state subject in India).
- The Issue of Drug Trafficking: A 2007 International Narcotics Control Board mentions Bangladesh as a prime transit point of trafficking heroin from South Asia to Europe. The INCB data also mentions trafficking through India as one of the common methods of drug trafficking.
- The issue of Illegal migrants: During Bangladesh independence alone, among the 10 million refugees only 6.8 million left India. The Rest stayed in parts of West Bengal and Assam.
India enacted the Illegal Migrants Determined by Tribunals(IMDT) Act in 1983. The Act describes procedures to detect illegal migrants from Bangladesh staying in Assam. It placed the onus of proving a person illegal migrant on the complaining person. This facilitated large scale illegal migration into India.
To avoid this Supreme Court in 2005, Sarbananda Sonowal v. Union of India case struck down the Act.
- Armed Dacoity in border districts, fake money transfer, cattle smuggling is also a cause of concern for India. Further, the Trafficking of Illegal migrants and involving them in terrorist activities, prostitution in India is also a challenge in India-Bangladesh relations.
- Smuggling and drug trafficking led to killings of Bangladeshi violators by India’s Border Security Force. This issue was raised by Bangladesh a few times. But the issue is not yet resolved.
- Apart from that, Bangladesh is also opposing India’s proposed the Tapaimukh Dam on the Barak River in Manipur and the Interlinking of the rivers project by India.
Suggestions to Improve India-Bangladesh relations
- The early resolution of Teesta is the better way to boost India-Bangladesh relations. The government has to form a tripartite committee containing members from India, Bangladesh and the State of West Bengal to determine the amount of water sharing. At present West Bengal not take place in Joint River Commission meetings.
- The government has to ensure the deportation of illegal migrants. Further, the government should not extend voting rights, nationality to illegal migrants.
- The governments should involve joint forces to reduce border issues. Such as illegal trading, trafficking, cattle smuggling, etc. This will yield better results in curbing crime and increase better civil-military relations.
- India needs to strengthen regional groups like SAARC, BIMSTEC etc. This will give full impetus to India’s Neighbourhood First policy.
India’s one prime interest is developing North-East India, better connectivity to South-East Asian Countries and exploring the Indo-Pacific region. To reach that, better India-Bangladesh relations is a significant step.