Swaraj’s Dhaka visit
Swaraj reassured Bangladeshi officials that India had been trying to evolve a national consensus on the contentious Teesta river water deal so that a treaty could soon be signed. In an effort in that direction, she called up Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee a day before embarking on her trip to Dhaka. Swaraj’s call assumes significance as Mamata’s party Trinamool Congress prevented the UPA government from signing the Teesta water sharing agreement when the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka on September 6-7. 2011. Since then, the issue has put in the backburner though New Delhi repeatedly assures Dhaka of fulfilling its pledge. Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to India, Tariq Karim has recently remarked, “……in Bangladesh, the issues of LBA and the Teesta agreement are now a litmus test for India’s willingness to have good relations with neighbours”. There are about 54 common rivers between the two countries and India could assist Bangladesh in the management of water resources by constructing reservoirs, irrigation projects and hydropower plants. Emphasising the need for joint management of water resources, the high commissioner said, “Being the lowest of the lower riparians, we can not manage this on our own, we have to do it together, we are all stakeholders”. Both the nations tried to explore the ways to augment connectivity between them. Swaraj confirmed India’s willingness to increase the frequency of the Maitree Express train service and the number of air-conditioned coaches between the two countries. Both the governments also discussed the possibilities of opening a Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus service in the near future. It was suggested by a section of Indian media that New Delhi should push Dhaka to open the 4 km Tetulia corridor, the northern-most point of Bangladesh that could minimise the distance between North East and rest of the country by more than 85 km as quid pro quo for ratifying the LBA. New Delhi and Dhaka have been seeking an early completion of the 15 km Agartala- Akhaura railway link as it will be a direct railway connection between Agartala and Kolkata through Bangladesh. The project steering committees of both the countries met on June 17 in Agartala and reiterated that the track-laying work of the rail link would commence at the end of the current financial year. This railway link will not only provide transit to Indian cargo and increase trade volume between the two countries but also enhance people-to-people relations.
It has also been suggested that India should improve trade infrastructure along the Indo-Bangladesh borders without any delay. The multi-purpose integrated check post inaugurated at Akhaura in Agartala on November 17, 2013, has to be replicated at various points along the border to facilitate movement of goods and people. While inaugurating the Akhaura check post, the then Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde announced, “….. we are also launching five more check posts with Bangladesh at Petrapole, Hilli and Changrabandha in Bengal, Dawki in Meghalaya, Suterkandi in Assam….”. He said that integrated check posts would boost bilateral trade and commerce with greater facilities for traders, businessmen and common people. He added that India had about 60 check posts along the border with Bangladesh and out of this, 16 were functioning as land custom stations and efforts were on to upgrade more check posts to land custom stations for trade and commerce. During the recent bilateral talks, the officials of both the governments also felt the necessity of improving road connectivity by completing the pending project such as the new Dawki bridge in Meghalaya.