Indo-Bangla meet: Radcliffe Line must be given a final goodbye — Hasina
Guwahati, Oct. 22 (PTI): A K M Mashiur Rahman, the economic adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday said that the ‘Radcliffe Line’ must be given a “final goodbye” as it has created barriers between neighbours and impeded trade and commerce in South Asia.
Isolation is no longer a solution and strong partners are required in the world to work in a larger economic space, Rahman said in his address on the inaugural day of the two-day Indo-Bangla Stakeholders’ Meet here.
The Radcliffe Line was the boundary demarcation line between the Indian and Pakistani portions of Punjab and Bengal provinces of British India. It was named after its architect, Sir Cyril Radcliffe.
“The boundaries created by Radcliffe should be given a final goodbye. It is a strong view that Radcliffe should not decide our future. We should treat people across borders as human beings and give them the due respect they deserve,” he said.
Rahman said Sheikh Hasina has a very “human view” of politics and diplomacy. It is her policy that as there are people on both sides of the border, their interest that should be considered paramount.
“Wherever there are possibilities, we (India and Bangladesh) should work together,” he said.
Rahman asserted that it was Hasina’s unilateral decision not to allow separatist outfits to operate in Bangladesh as otherwise it will impact regional cooperation and development of the region.
“The (Bangladesh) prime minister decided that no separatist outfits will be allowed in our country as those who indulge in such activities think only of themselves and not for any country. The moment there is a clash of interests, they will turn against Bangladesh,” he added.
The Bangladesh economic adviser said that transit was a major issue for both India and Bangladesh. “We must allow movement for north east Indian states through Bangladesh …
Infrastructure in our country is being improved with the help of India and Asian Development Bank.”
Referring to sharing of river waters by the two countries, he said waters of almost all major rivers are shared by India with Bangladesh. But his country uses “only eight to ten per cent of the water and take 90 per cent of the silt”.
“It is in the mutual interest of both the countries to keep the rivers navigable. River transport must be upgraded as it is cheaper and will lead to increase in trade volumes,” he said.
In this context Rahman called for a joint technical study of the Ganga to find ways to improve navigability so that trade and commerce can become more viable as trade provides greater benefit to smaller nations.
“Our prime minister (Hasina) has given emphasis on re-excavation of river routes as it is low cost and feasible and makes great economic sense,” he said.
On India seeking access to Chittagong port, he said Hasina had insisted on access to Mongla port too in Bangladesh for two reasons – access to both ports would ensure that one port is not congested and access to multiple ports makes the choice wider.
Referring to railway connection between the two countries, he pointed out that before partition the headquarters of Northeast Railway was at Chittagong. The agreement on Akhaura-Agartala rail connectivity was the first act of cooperation in rail transport between the two countries.
On border trade, he said there were problems of setting up of border hats due to political criticisms. “But now we can look at it more generously”.
Trade at border points, Rahman said it has started working on a limited scale but there should be uniform regulations on both sides of the border. Also barriers regarding connectivity should be removed.
“A major problem faced at the border trade points is that Bangladesh testing certificates of products are not accepted at the Indian side. Testing laboratories with standards aligned and acceptable to both countries should be set up,” he added.
Implementation of bilateral agreements key to trade between NE, Bangla — ADB
The Asian Development Bank on Tuesday said trade between the Northeast and Bangladesh remained at a low level, due to non-operationalisation of the bilateral agreements and non-tariff measures.
Addressing the two-day India-Bangladesh Stakeholders’ Meet here, Asian Development Bank Country Director (India Resident Mission), Kenichi Yokoyama, said the north east is resource rich, but has very low contribution to the economy of the region.
“Bilateral agreements provide the framework for multi-modal movement of goods. But, the problem is that these agreements are not fully operational,” he said.
For better growth and prosperity in the region, the agreements need to be finalised and implemented expeditiously, Yokoyama said.
“The bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh is about USD 10 billion. India accounted for 16.4 per cent of Bangladesh’s imports, while NE’s share is only 1.2 per cent.
The border trade of NE with Bangladesh has remained limited mainly due to non-tariff measures,” he said.
The lender said operationalisation of transport agreements will facilitate trade between India-Bangladesh, the north east as well as Bangladesh-Bhutan through multi-modal routes.
“Given Bangladesh’s export basket, NE region can be a major trading partner. It is estimated that around 28 per cent, which is USD 15 billion, of Bangladesh’s import demand is for products that can be manufactured using local resources of the north east,” the official said.
Yokoyama further said that connectivity between the north east and the rest of India via Bangladesh can reduce the distance by more than 50 per cent and help boost the economy of the region.
“The NE region is resource rich, but it has very low contribution to the Indian economy. The total exports from NE is USD 0.5 billion as against USD 500 billion of India’s total exports,” he added.
Citing examples, Yokoyama said Chittagong port can be reached from India through five major border crossings with Dalu, Dawki and Sabroom having the shortest distances.
“Agartala airport can be jointly operated with Bangladesh along with expansion on Bangladesh land. Geneva and Basel airports jointly operated by Switzerland and France are (also) good examples,” he said.
Besides, special economic zones at border points and gateways will facilitate increased trade between the two countries, Yokoyama said.
He pointed out that in response to India’s request, Bangladesh has agreed to withdraw most of the port restrictions in October this year for a number of items traded through the Agartala-Akhaura port.
ADB has so far granted USD 163.76 billion in various developmental projects, including agriculture, healthcare, education, energy, transport and urban development, across the north east.
India, B”desh leaders keen to boost relations further, says Sonowal
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Tuesday said both India and Bangladesh now have political leadership that is keen to forge a more meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship, and the prevailing peace and prosperity of the region are a corollary of it.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Sheikh Hasina have taken a pragmatic approach to further this relationship which will prove beneficial to both the countries, the chief minister said while addressing the Indo- Bangladesh Stakeholders’ Meet here.
“Against this backdrop, this Meet assumes great significance as it promises to advance the mutually beneficial partnership with a focus on both conventional and non-conventional areas to ensure enhanced people to people relations,” he said.
India and Bangladesh have recently signed several bilateral agreements and the potential for growth of trade between North Eastern States and the neighbouring country has increased manifold, the chief minister said.
The BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) Motor Vehicle Agreement, the Port Use Agreement and Use of Cross Border Inland Waterways and access of Chattogram (Chittagong) and Mongla Ports to the North East of India foretell great prospect for growth of the entire region, Sonowal said.
“The ASEAN and BBIN together have a population of over 800 million and this is a huge market for all of us. We need to produce for this market by developing our skills,” he said.
Prior to India’s Independence, Assam and Bangladesh had a multi-model connectivity network which existed through road, rail, and water, he said.
“Tea and petroleum used to reach Chattogram and Kolkata ports through the Brahmaputra-Padma-Meghna riverine waterway as well as through railway network passing through present-day Bangladesh. This communication network immensely facilitated the economic growth of the region,” Sonowal said.
“The dynamic leadership of Modi-ji and his Act East Policy give a paradigm shift to the development narrative of the North East and within a short span of time the entire region has been turned into the centre of New India’s growth vision and implementation,” he said.
Assam’s relationship with Bangladesh is based on shared culture, heritage, literature and language, he said adding that the legendary singer Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s song ‘Ganga Amar Ma, Padma Amar Ma’ symbolises the cultural bonhomie of the people across the border, he said.
He also mentioned the names of poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and singer Runa Laila who have reinforced “our bonding and generate greater goodwill”, he added.