The Assam Chronicle

News and Views from Northeast India

Meghalaya-Bangla Cooperation

The bilateral trade between Meghalaya and Bangladesh has recently received a boost following the Supreme Court verdict that calls for resumption of the export of limestone from East Khasi Hillsdistrict to Bangladesh for Lafarge’s $255 million cement plant at Chhatak. In addition to these, the two neighbouring countries are working on a number of projects to improve infrastructures at the borders. The Union Home Ministry has been upgrading the Land Custom Station(LCS) at Dwaki in Meghalaya. The buillding of infrastructure at LCS like Ghasuapara and Dalu in Garo Hills had already started. Sangma sressed on the necessity of connecting all LCS with railway network and had discussed the matter with the Centre. Besides, Meghalaya also wants to open waterways with Bangladesh to facilitate the movement of goods such as coal, limestone and boulders. Sangma said, "Three rivers have already been identified for developing trade links with Bangladesh through waterways, and we have asked the World Bank to provide a consultant to study the proposal". Three rivers include the Kynshi in West Khasi Hills district, Simsang in South Garo Hills and Jingrinam in West Garo Hills.

Bangladesh is eager to import power from the North East which is having huge hydro-electric potentials. Dhaka has recently tried to explore the possibilities of harnessing the mighty Brahmaputra as the country is facing acute power shortage. On October 26, 2013, Bangladesh Prime Minister's International Affairs Advisor Dr Gower Rizvi and country's High Commissioner to India, Tariq A Karim met Sangma and sought the cooperation of Meghalaya in at least five or six areas including power generation. Discussions were held on the possibilities of linking the grids between Meghalaya and Bangladesh near Cherrapunjee. Dhaka is equally interested to promote private entrpreneurship in sectors like food and spices processing and bamboo cultivation. Moreover, talks were held on the possibility of making Shillong a tourist and educational destination for the people of Bangladesh. However, in January 20 13, Bangladesh Foreign Ministry sent a letter to India's Ministry of External Affairs expressing its objection to the construction of dams over two rivers in Meghalaya-- Umiew and Myntdu. Bangladesh urged India not to proceed with the projects "without prior consultation with the downstream country".

It was reported before his maiden visit to Dhaka in September 2011 along with the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers of the other North Eastern states bordering Bangladesh that Sangma is keen to reconnect the missing links that both the countries shared historically, but discontinued due to geopolitical or other reasons. According to a statement he made in June 2013, Meghalaya seeks to enhance cooperation with Bangladesh in the arena of power, cement, agriculture, horticulture and tourism.He said that the state would also like to use Bangladesh as a corridor to export agricultural and horticultural products to other countries. He further added that during his Dhaka visit he had urged the Bangladesh government to organise a business conclave in Shillong. The conclave intends to focus on some specific sectors that would be finalised through consultations.

Like other chief ministers of the region, Sangma has reiterated that transit facilities through Bangladesh territory specially to get access to Chittagong and Mongla ports and reestablishing direct railway and road connections between cities of India and Bangladesh are essential for expanding bilateral trade and commerce and overall economic development of the North East which is geographically isolated from the mainland. He is also keen to begin Shillong--Dhaka bus service and has been trying to project Meghalaya as a major tourist destination as well as seeing this opportunity to explore Bangladesh’s tourism sector. Meghalaya’s ties with Bangladesh, particularly the undivided Shylhet district is well known. The socio-economic and cultural links between the people of these two regions flourished in the early part of twentieth century and continued for several decades. The current positive developments in the bilateral relationship offer a historic opportunity to renew such ties that will be mutually beneficial for the people living on both sides of the international border.