Outstanding issues left unresolved

The bilateral talks between the prime ministers of Bangladesh and India ended in New Delhi on Tuesday without any concrete outcome on outstanding issues like the Teesta water-sharing deal, which have been kept pending by the Indian side for over a decade and connectivity with Bhutan and Nepal. 

At least seven memorandums of understanding — one of them on the withdrawal of water from the common river Kushiyara — were signed after the talks, but there was no specific decision about the energy cooperation that included a possible deal on the supply of diesel from India and grid connectivity with Bhutan and Nepal through India for the import of electricity at lower costs, foreign ministry officials said. 

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina led the Bangladesh official delegation in the meeting with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at the Hyderabad House, a state guest house of India, at a time when Bangladesh is struggling to cope with rising prices of the dollar and energy largely due to the Ukraine-Russia war.

Energy issues, including the import of diesel from India and grid connectivity for the supply of electricity from Nepal and Bhutan, were discussed in the bilateral meeting without any progress on  the matters, officials said.

Nothing, however, was said officially about the border killing issue being raised in the talks.

Terming the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India as a ‘role model’ for neighbourhood diplomacy, Sheikh Hasina hoped that all the outstanding issues, including the Teesta water-sharing treaty, would be resolved soon likewise many issues solved earlier ‘in the spirit of friendship and cooperation’.

‘I reiterated that India is the most important and closest neighbour of Bangladesh. Bangladesh-India bilateral relations are known to be role model for neighborhood diplomacy,’ Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha reported quoting the Bangladesh PM as saying in a statement issued after the talks with her Indian counterpart.

Former ambassador M Humayun Kabir said that he did not find any specific commitment on trade and energy cooperation, like the supply of diesel and essential commodities, as expected.

‘We do not see any specific commitment on issues in keeping with the expectations of the people. Energy is a very important issue, but there is nothing concrete on it so far,’ he said, adding that the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, among other issues, was discussed in the meeting without any concrete outcome. 

The prime ministers of the two neighbouring countries witnessed the exchange of seven MoUs signed between the authorities concerned of the two countries at the Hyderabad House.

She noted that over the past decade both countries had achieved remarkable progress in a number of areas, according to the BSS report.

Narendra Modi said that rising energy prices were presently posing a challenge to all developing countries and fruitful talks between Bangladesh and India were underway on connecting power transmission lines, United News of Bangladesh reported.

‘The unveiling of the first unit of Maitree Thermal Power Plant [in Rampal] today will increase the availability of affordable electricity in Bangladesh,’ the Indian premier said after his ‘extensive discussions’ with Hasina on all bilateral, regional and international issues.

He said that the two economies would be able to connect more with each other, support each other with the enhancement of connectivity between the two countries and the development of trade infrastructure along the border.

‘The two countries had resolved many outstanding issues in the spirit of friendship and cooperation and we expressed hope for all outstanding issues, including the signing of the Teesta water-sharing treaty at an early date,’ Sheikh Hasina said. 

Referring to the signing of the MoU on the withdrawal of water of the River Kushiyara, Sheikh Hasina said that all the issues like the water sharing of the 54 common rivers, including the Teesta water-sharing treaty, would be resolved.

Bangladesh has a water-sharing deal only on the River Ganges, out of the 54 trans-boundary rivers, and that too would expire in 2026.

Hasina said that she and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi concluded another round of fruitful discussion and its outcome would bring benefits to the peoples of both the countries.

‘Connectivity, trade and commerce, investment, water resources management, security, border and lines of credit are some of the areas we have discussed,’ she mentioned.

Having forged a strong partnership over the past 50 years, both countries are working on an increasingly wide range of issues of mutual interest, she said.

If Bangladesh and India could work together as partners, Sheikh Hasina said, it would bring benefit not only to these two countries, it would also bring peace and prosperity in the whole region.

She expressed her gratitude for the invaluable support extended by the government and the people of India in Bangladesh’s Liberation War.

Earlier in the morning, Sheikh Hasina paid homage to India’s Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi by placing a wreath on his Samadhi at Raj Ghat in New Delhi, BSS reported.

Sheikh Hasina arrived in New Delhi on Monday on a four-day state visit to India.

About energy cooperation, foreign affairs state minister Md Shahriar Alam earlier said that Bangladesh at the moment had no plan to import Russian oil from any third country.

‘If needed, we will import Indian oil, not Russian oil, from India,’ the junior minister emphasised while talking at a press conference in Dhaka on August 4. 

The prime minister was formally received by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Hyderabad House while a ceremonial guard of honour was accorded to her. 

The MoUs exchanged between Bangladesh and India were the MoU between the Ministry of Jal Shakti, India and Ministry of Water Resources, Bangladesh on the withdrawal of water by India and Bangladesh from the common border river Kushiyara, MoU between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board), India and the Ministry of Railways of Bangladesh on the training of Bangladesh Railway personnel in India, MoU between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board), India and the Ministry of Railways, Bangladesh on the collaboration in IT systems such as FOIS and other IT applications for the Bangladesh Railway, according to the BSS report.

The other instruments signed were the MoU between the National Judicial Academy, India and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on the Training and Capacity Building Programme for Bangladesh Judicial Officers in India, MoU on Scientific and Technological Cooperation between the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, India and the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Bangladesh, MoU on the cooperation in the areas of space technology and MoU between the Prasar Bharti and the Bangladesh Television  on cooperation in broadcasting.

Issues involving mutual interests in security cooperation, investment, enhanced trade relations, power and energy sector cooperation, water sharing of common rivers, the Rohingya crisis, water resources management, border management, combating drug smuggling and human trafficking were top agendas during the talks.

Against the backdrop of the global economic downturn and the ongoing Covid pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war, the visit is considered very important as the two South Asian neighbours also discussed enhanced cooperation to overcome the crises.

Prior to holding the bilateral talks, the two premiers had a tête-à-tête.

Bangladesh earlier renewed its call for signing the Teesta water-sharing deal, hanging in the balance for a long time, and the framework agreements on six of the 54 common rivers for its rightful shares as the lower riparian country because India withdraws waters unilaterally from the trans-boundary rivers.

The 38th Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission meeting ended in New Delhi on August 25 after a gap of 12 years without any outcome on the Teesta water-sharing agreement that had been left pending since 2011 due to the last-minute opposition from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

 The prime minister is scheduled to return to Dhaka on September 8.

 Hasina last visited India in 2019 before the Covid pandemic broke out.

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