Bangladesh and India are expected to sign nine memorandums of understanding (MoUs) as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set to hold talks with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Thursday, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has said.
“It’s likely as many as nine MoUs on different sectors will be signed during their virtual meeting . . . but these are yet to be finalised (while) they (officials) are still working on it,” he told BSS on Tuesday.
Momen’s comments came as update on the talks preparedness as officials at his office earlier said the number of the MoUs to be signed could be as high as four.
The meeting of the two prime ministers on virtual platform would among other things witness reopening of an old railway link, Chilahati-Haldibari rail route, after 55 years since it was snapped during India-Pakistan war in 1965, when Bangladesh was part of Pakistan.
Momen said Dhaka will raise all major bilateral issues that include water sharing, Covid cooperation, border killing, trade imbalance, connectivity, power swap and the Rohingya crisis.
The foreign minister hinted that water sharing in common rivers would prominently feature the meeting when Dhaka would seek to bring under a single framework the issues of seven major trans boundary rivers – the Monu, Muhuri, Gomti, Dharla, Dudhkumar, Feni and Teesta. He said Bangladesh side would seek to hold the ministerial level Joint River Commission (JRC) meeting soon, if possible by next month, to make the framework to resolve the issues of these seven common streams.
He said the Surma-Kushiyara project would also be on the agenda of the JRC talks, which last took place in New Delhi 10 years ago in 2010.
Asked for comments on the pending Teesta treaty, the minister said the agreement was finalised long ago as the “Indian side even signed on every page of the agreement”.
“The final (Teesta) deal is there, it just awaits implementation,” he said adding that New Delhi made repeated promises for its implementation in the past several years.
“Now we (Dhaka) leave it as to their (New Delhi) ‘word of honor’ . . . as a friendly country we don’t want to embarrass them by raising the issue all the time,” the minister said.
Momen, however, simultaneously pointed out that Indian central government was facing hurdle from the West Bengal state government on the question of implementing the agreement.
The foreign minister said bilateral cooperation on Covid pandemic was likely to be top on agenda during the summit while “India has already promised us they will provide Covid vaccine to Bangladesh first” and the talks were expected to reinforce that understanding.
Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd signed an MoU with Serum Institute of India on November 5 for priority delivery of 30 million doses of prospective Covid-19 vaccine to Bangladesh.
Momen said Dhaka would also seek India’s enhanced engagement in resolving the Rohingya crisis at the United Nations as Bangladesh extended its support for its temporary membership at the UN Security Council this year.
New Delhi previously put on its efforts to get passed a resolution in UNSG regarding the crisis which, however, was upset due to opposition of some permanent members. India in the past also said it wanted safe, secure and sustainable Rohingya repatriation.
“We will tell them that if the Rohingya crisis is not resolved, an uncertainty may be created in the region that will put your (Indian) investment in Myanmar at risk,” Momen said.
India would start attending UNSG meetings from January next while Dhaka sought the neighbour’s crucial support in line with current deep Bangladesh-India relation.
The foreign minister said Bangladesh side would also re-convey its concern over India’s Border Security Force (BSF) actions claiming lives of Bangladeshis along the frontier areas while “such kind of tragic incident is still occurred sporadically”.
“It’s unfortunate (and) we must have an explanation on that (from Indian side),” he said.
According to Momen the Bangladesh premier would urge New Delhi to take some effective measures to reduce the bilateral trade gap, which continued to tilt heavily on India’s favour, to strengthen further trade cooperation between the two neighbours.
“We will urge India to reduce non-tariff trade barriers on Bangladeshi products to reduce the trade gap,” he said.
The foreign minister said that Dhaka would also seek “standard harmonization” between the quality regulating or testing authorities of the two countries “so that Bangladeshi products can enter Indian market smoothly”.
He said Dhaka would particularly urge India to withdraw an existing anti-dumping policy in importing Bangladeshi jute.
Momen said Dhaka would also demand India’s preferential treatment to Bangladeshi businessmen as New Delhi “currently is offering the same facilities to investors from Bangladesh and Pakistan”.
“It is shameful. . .,” Momen commented.
The minister said Bangladesh currently procedure electricity generated in India while it now wants to market its own electricity in possible cases to India and with their cooperation to a third country like Bhutan, which was willing to buy the power.
Line of Credit The foreign minister said Sheikh Hasina would urge her counterpart to expedite implementation of projects under the Indian Line of Credit (LoC).
“We have already formed a committee including Bangladesh foreign secretary and Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh to monitor projects under the Indian credit line,” he said.
Momen said two countries by now reestablished air connectivity under an “air bubble arrangement” with India amid the pandemic while Dhaka would seek to reestablish other connectivity modes, restoring land borders and railway links to resume travel of mass people.
Officials earlier said Sheikh Hasina and Modi would virtually reopen a defunct cross-border Chilahati-Haldibari railway route re-linking India’s Cooch Behar with Bangladesh’s northwestern Chilahati through which a cargo train would run between the two countries.
Sawdhinata Sarak (Independence Road)
Momen said the two prime ministers are set to jointly declare as “Sawdhinata Sark” (Independence Road) an existing two-kilometre road on zero lines along Bangladesh’s western frontier at Mujibnagar in Meherpur. He said the road at the site, where the first Bangladesh government took oath in 1971, would be open for people of both the countries to be cleared at immigration check posts.
Momen said the virtual meeting is set to be followed by joint inauguration of some projects completed already under Indian credit line.
He said the meeting was taking place coinciding with Bangladesh’s 50th Victory Day and 49th anniversary of bilateral friendship while the two countries designed a series of ceremonies to mark the occasion.
These included, Momen said, simultaneous parade in New Delhi and Dhaka, launch of a joint website on 50 years of victory of friendship and unveiling of commemorative stamps marking birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Sheikh Hasina and Modi will also inaugurate the ‘Bangabandhu-Bapu Digital Museum’ to pay tributes to founders of Bangladesh and India while some footages of the Bangabandhu’s under construction biopic being made by famous Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal would be screened during the summit.