New Delhi: India and Bangladesh are set to usher in a new era of connectivity between the two countries, with the northeastern states as the main focus at the summit meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina Thursday.
From rail and air to road connectivity, New Delhi is all set to throw open the doors for easier movement of people and cargo between the neighbours leaving behind the past when Bangladesh was East Pakistan, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
“Bangladesh is an important neighbour of India. The relations between India and Bangladesh transcend even strategic partnership. In recent past, both sides have worked to restore and also develop connectivity links for the benefit of the people on the two sides,” said an official involved in the developments.
During the summit, Modi and Hasina are primarily going to focus on kickstarting rail connectivity.
According to the sources, more than 1 million tonnes of cargo has been transported between both countries using the rail services till the end of last month.
The two sides have also been working on restoring all the six pre-1965 rail links between India and Bangladesh. At present, four out of the original six have been operationalised.
Out of the remaining two, Chilahati-Haldibari rail link, which used to be the old Darjeeling mail via Siliguri link, will be inaugurated at the summit. Another rail link, Karimganj-Mahisashan rail link, on the Assam side, is likely to get operational in 2022, sources added.
Meanwhile, the new rail link between Akhaura and Agartala, which is expected to be operational by 2021, is being financed under grant assistance from India.
To support enhancement of railway infrastructure of Bangladesh, India also handed over 10 broad gauge locomotives in July this year, which the Modi government had committed to Dhaka in October 2019.
Ports, road and air connectivity
In July, both sides also started movement of cargo from the Chattogram Port in Bangladesh through Tripura. Ports and inland waterways connectivity is yet another area that is going to witness a major push during this summit.
New Delhi and Dhaka have a long standing and time-tested Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT), which was first signed in 1972. It was renewed in 2015 for a period of five years with a provision for its automatic renewal for a further period of five years, which took place in May this year.
Through this, two new routes were added to the India-Bangladesh protocol routes: Sonamura-Daudkandi and Daudkandi-Sonamura.
According to the sources, the Chattogram trial run was successfully completed in September, thereby connecting Tripura for the first time with the protocol route, and to the National Waterways network through Bangladesh. Dhaka will also benefit from this as it creates another viable trade route for itself to the Northeast, they added.
However, in terms of road connectivity, while Bangladesh has signed a multilateral motor vehicles agreement with India and Nepal, the project has got stuck due to Bhutan’s last-minute decision to walk out of the agreement that was signed in 2017.
On the civil aviation front, India and Bangladesh operationalised an air bubble arrangement in October, particularly to facilitate the travel for medical purposes.
Greater economic integration on the cards
New Delhi is also looking at enhanced economic integration with Dhaka as Bangladesh is set to graduate from being a least-developed country, or LDC, to a developing country by 2024.
“Apart from the traditional sectors of the industry, both countries are also leading in the new and emerging market segments. During the summit both sides will discuss cooperation in the areas of ICT and Artificial Intelligence,” the official quoted above said.
India and Bangladesh will also announce the establishment of a CEOs Forum to explore investment opportunities in areas such as IT and services.
“Bangladesh is poised towards an upward growth trajectory. We are now focussing on developing infrastructure projects worth $35 billion as we register high GDP growth,” Muhammad Imran, High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India, said Wednesday during Victory Day celebrations.
He also said Bangladesh is well on its way to register 9 per cent GDP growth in the coming years. He highlighted that despite the coronavirus pandemic the foreign exchange reserves of Bangladesh have crossed $42 billion.
According to sources, Indian companies are now planning to set up economic zones in Bangladesh.
It is expected that more and more Indian companies would set up manufacturing units in Bangladesh. The continuous emphasis laid by both India and Bangladesh in ensuring seamless connectivity for passenger and cargo movement is a win-win equation, the sources added.