TOPIC: GS PAPER-2; INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Why in News: India Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met in a virtual summit and discussed a broad range of issues. The virtual summit was held a day after Vijay Diwas, marking India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
India was the first country to recognize Bangladesh as a separate and independent state and established diplomatic relations with the country immediately after its independence in December 1971.
The relationship between India and Bangladesh is rooted in history, culture, language and shared values of secularism, democracy, and many other commonalities between the two countries.
Bilateral institutional mechanisms
- There are more than 50 bilateral institutional mechanisms between India and Bangladesh in the areas of security, trade & commerce, power & energy, transport & connectivity, science and technology, defence, rivers & maritime affairs etc.
- A Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) led by the Ministers of Foreign/External Affairs coordinates and oversees implementation of initiatives taken between the two countries as well as explores newer avenues for cooperation
Security & Border Management
- India and Bangladesh share 4096 km of border, which is the longest land boundary that India shares with any of its neighbours.
- A number of agreements related to security cooperation have been signed between both the countries. The Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP) signed in 2011 aims to check cross border illegal activities and crimes, and maintain peace along the border.
Sharing of River Waters
- India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers. A bilateral Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) is working since 1972 to maintain communication between the two countries to maximize benefits from common river systems.
- The Ganga Waters Treaty signed in 1996 for sharing of waters of river Ganga during lean season (January 1-May 31) is also working satisfactorily.
Economic and Commercial relations
- Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia and bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh has grown steadily over the last decade.
- India has provided duty free access to Bangladesh under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) since 2011. India’s exports to Bangladesh in FY 2018-19 stood at US$ 9.21 bn and imports from Bangladesh during the same period were US$1.04 bn.
- Meetings of various institutional mechanisms to promote bilateral trade including that of border haats, shipping and on establishment of Indian Economic Zone etc were held in 2019. In order to promote cooperation on bilateral trade, both the countries have agreed to create an India-Bangladesh CEO’s Forum to provide policy level inputs in various areas of trade and investment.
- Cooperation in power sector has become one of the foundations of India- Bangladesh relations. Bangladesh is currently importing 1160 MW of power from India.
- India has extended 3 Lines of Credits (LOC) to Bangladesh in the last 8 years, amounting to US$ 8 billion. This makes Bangladesh the largest recipient of LOC funds from India till date.
- A line of credit is a credit (borrowing) facility given by a bank or other financial institution to a government, business or individual customer. It is effectively a source of funds that a borrower can rely on, when it needs money. In addition to LOC funds, India also provides grant assistance to Bangladesh for projects under ‘Aid to Bangladesh’.
- Projects such as construction of school/college buildings, laboratories, deep tube wells, community centers, renovation of historical monuments/buildings etc have been financed by India under this program.
Human Resource Development cooperation
- Human resource development is a key component of India’s development cooperation efforts in Bangladesh through its several ongoing training programs and scholarships.
- India has been training 1800 Bangladesh Civil Service officials from 2019 at National Centre for Good Governance (NCGG), Mussoorie.
- Bangladeshi police officials are also being trained at various premier training institutes in India on various modern policing and new investigative techniques of this information age. Similarly, India has been extending training for 1500 Bangladeshi judicial officials since 2017 at National Judicial Academy, Bhopal and also at various State Judicial Academies in India.
- In addition, 200 scholarships are awarded by ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) every year to students from Bangladesh for pursuing under-graduation, post-graduation and M.Phil/PhD courses in educational institutes of India including the IITs and NIITs.
- India-Bangladesh is a good example of connectivity through all modes of transport.
- The Protocol on Inland Water Trade and Transit (PIWTT) has been operational since 1972. It permits movement of goods over vessels from India through the river systems of Bangladesh on eight specific routes.
- The movement of goods by road is operationalised through 36 functional Land Customs Stations (LCSs) and 2 Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) along the border.
- There are four Broad Gauge inter-country rail links between the two countries that are operational.
- There are regular bus services between Kolkata-Dhaka, Shillong-Dhaka and Agartala-Kolkata via Dhaka
- The Indra Gandhi Cultural Centre (IGCC), is a cultural centre of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations of India in Bangladesh.
- Inaugurated in 2010, IGCC regularly organizes programs covering a wide-range of cultural activities.
- The IGCC also holds regular training courses in Yoga, Hindi, Hindustani Classical Music, Manipuri Dance, Kathak and Painting.
India-Bangladesh virtual summit
- At the summit, PM Modi said that Bangladesh is a significant pillar of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
- Both the countries acknowledged that despite a challenging year due to the pandemic, India and Bangladesh had good cooperation on the health front (medicines, medical equipments, health professionals etc.)
- Other than health, the partnership has steadily increased in other areas as well. The countries have reduced barriers in land border trade and expanded connectivity between the two countries.
Discussions on improving connectivity
- Both sides emphasised on simplifying people to people movement between the two countries.
- Bangladesh requested for early implementation of India’s commitment to remove remaining restrictions on entry/exit from land ports in India for Bangladeshis travelling on valid documents in a phased manner.
- Bangladesh also expressed a desire to join the trilateral highway project that is being worked out among India, Thailand and Myanmar.
- In the same spirit, the India requested Bangladesh to allow connectivity from West Bengal (Hilli) to Meghalaya (Mahendraganj) via Bangladesh.
Discussions on Border issues
- The two leaders agreed to facilitate completion of border fencing at all pending sectors at the international border between both the countries at the earliest.
- Both leaders also agreed that loss of civilian lives at the border is a matter of concern and directed the border forces to enhance coordination measures to work towards bringing such border incidents to zero.
Return of Rohingya refugees
- India appreciated Bangladesh for sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to 1.1 million forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine State of Myanmar (Rohingyas).
- Bangladesh urged India to assist in the speedy return of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, who are currently staying in a refugee settlement colonies in Bangladesh.
- The two leaders restored the Chilahati (Bangladesh) – Haldibari (West Bengal) rail link. The Chilahati-Haldibari rail link was last operational in 1965.
- The two sides concluded seven agreements covering areas such as hydrocarbon, High Impact Community Development Projects, elephant conservation, solid waste management and agriculture.
- A pact between the National Museum of India and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Memorial Museum in Dhaka was also declared.
- Both Prime Ministers directed the officials to quickly conclude the ongoing joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
- PM Modi expressed India’s commitment to implement the interim agreement on the Teesta water-sharing agreement, which is yet to be signed.
- PM Hasina invited PM Modi to visit Bangladesh for celebrations on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Independence and 50 years of Bangladesh-India diplomatic relations in March next year, which he accepted.
Bangladesh has begun sending Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps on its port town, to Bhasan Char, a remote island formed by sedimentation (char is Bengali for sediment) close to the coast.
The Rohingya are a distinct Muslim ethnic group living in Myanmar.
They reside in Rakhine province of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation.
While the Rohingya’s say they are descendants of Arab traders who have been in the region for generations, Myanmar’s governments say they are not a genuine ethnic group but are actually Bengali migrants.
Most of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are currently in camps in Cox’s Bazar, a port town close to Myanmar’s Rakhine State, from where Rohingya fled. It is estimated that more than 8 lakh Rohingya live in the camps at Cox’s Bazar in unhygienic conditions. Bangladesh has now begun sending about 1 lakh refugees from the overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char island.
Bhasan Char Island
Bhasan Char is a remote island formed by sedimentation (char is Bengali for sediment) close to the coast. Located near the mouth of the river Meghna where it flows into the Bay of Bengal, Bhasan Char surfaced only in 2006 from the sediment deposited by the river.
Bhasan Char spans 40 sq km, and the Bangladesh government has built shelters, hospitals and masjids on the island, along with flood embankments and cyclone shelters.
Activists say that Bhasan Char is more of a mud flat, and is vulnerable to going under water from tides and flooding. Much of it is submerged during the monsoon.