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On 16th Dec, India and Bangladesh will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the surrender of the Pakistan Army to the Indian Army at Dhaka in 1971. In the past 50 years, India-Bangladesh relations have seen several ups and downs. India played a great role in the emergence of an independent Bangladesh. Further, India was one of the first states to recognize Bangladesh (Bhutan was the first state) as a separate nation.
Last week, the Bangladesh PM mentioned that the relationship between India and Bangladesh is anchored in history, culture, language, and shared values of secularism, democracy, and countless other commonalities. The signing of the historic Land Boundary Agreement in 2015 made India-Bangladesh relations even stronger. Yet, there are certain frictions in bilateral relationships.
About the recent improvements in India-Bangladesh Relations
–Trade relations: India exports about US$ 10 billion worth of goods to Bangladesh, which is about 15% of the total imports of Bangladesh. India imports a little over US$ 1 billion worth of goods from Bangladesh.
–Energy cooperation: Bangladesh is importing 1160 MW of power from India. Recently, Bangladesh agreed to provide a 10 GBPS internet connection to India’s North Eastern States.
-Both countries have signed several bilateral instruments in various sectors including hydrocarbons, agriculture, trade and development projects,
–Multi-dimensional cooperation between the two countries ranges from traditional sectors of tourism, health, and education to frontier technologies of nuclear science, space, and information technology.
–Cooperation in Railways: Inaugurated the restored railway link between Chilahati (Bangladesh) and Haldibari (India). Further, India gave 10 broad guage diesel locomotives as part of grant assistance to Bangladesh Railways.
–Cooperation in Roadways: Both countries decided to commence bus service from/to Dhaka from/to Gangtok and Darjeeling via Siliguri.
Sonamura-Daudkandi Protocol Route was also operationalized and a trial run of transhipment of Indian goods from Kolkata to Agartala was successfully conducted.
–LOC for development of infrastructure: India has extended 3 Lines of Credits to Bangladesh in the last 8 years amounting to US$ 8 billion for the development of infrastructure in various sectors including roads, railways, shipping, and ports.
–Assistance for Infrastructure: India is also providing grant assistance to Bangladesh for various infrastructure projects. These include construction of Akhaura-Agartala rail link, dredging of inland waterways in Bangladesh, and construction of India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline.
Recently, the Maitri Setu bridge was constructed. It connects Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh.
–Pandemic assistance: India has been helping Bangladesh in coping with the Covid-19 pandemic by donating surgical masks, RC-PTR test kits, surgical latex gloves, vaccines etc.
|Read more: Improper Comments on Bangladesh will impact India Bangladesh ties|
What are the challenges hampering India-Bangladesh Relations?
Teesta Water sharing agreement: This is one of the biggest challenge in India-Bangladesh relations. Teesta has been mired in conflict since 1947. After the setting up of the India-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission in 1972, an ad hoc arrangement on sharing of Teesta waters was made in 1983, with India receiving 39% of the water and Bangladesh 36% of it. The remaining 25% remain unallocated. Further negotiations between India and Bangladesh on the sharing of the river waters have made limited progress.
|Note: 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).|
The 2011 interim deal aims to share the Teesta river water between India and Bangladesh about 42.5 per cent and 37.5 percent respectively. But, the state of West Bengal object to this and demands and never signed the deal(Water is a state subject in India).
Border management and illegal migration: The killings of Bangladeshi civilians by Indian security forces have negatively affected the India-Bangladesh relations. Despite high-level talks between the two countries, the issue remains unresolved. The year 2020 saw the highest number of border shootings by the Border Security Force.
Implementation of NRC: Bangladesh has raised concerns over the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Bangladesh is worried that it may have to deal with the adverse effects of this decision, such as a potential influx of immigrants from India.
Trade Deficit: Despite the increase in Indian exports to Bangladesh, the desired target for products exported from Bangladesh has not yet been achieved.
Severe restrictions imposed by Bangladesh on foreign exchange outgo. This has resulted in a low annual FDI by Indian companies in Bangladesh, which were in the range of $115-120 million during 2017-19. These are insignificant compared to India’s annual outward FDI of $18-20 billion.
Bangladesh enjoys duty-free access to multiple Bangladeshi products in India. Some textile manufacturers in India are complaining about competition from the duty-free import of garments from Bangladesh,
There is a need to limit China’s growing influence through investments in various projects in Bangladesh.
Apart from that, Bangladesh is also opposing India’s proposed Tapaimukh Dam on the Barak River in Manipur and the Interlinking of the rivers project by India.
|Read more: Pending Issues in India Bangladesh relations|
How 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 does not take part in Joint River Commission meetings.
India and Bangladesh need to continue working on the three Cs (cooperation, collaboration, and consolidation) to materialise the recent gains.
India should step up its efforts to further strengthen economic cooperation and help create a favourable climate for cross-border investments.
Both 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.
Like the Bangladesh PM mentioned, Both countries now need to concentrate on people-to-people contact, trade, business, and connectivity between them.
|Read more: Brief Analysis of India- Bangladesh Bilateral Relations|
In conclusion, India’s prime interest in developing North-East India, providing better connectivity to South-East Asian Countries and exploring the Indo-Pacific region depends on much stronger India-Bangladesh relations. Hence, India needs to strengthen regional groups like SAARC, BIMSTEC etc. This will give full impetus to India’s Neighbourhood First policy and elevate India-Bangladesh relations to another level.