New Delhi is hoping for a “political solution” to a maritime boundary dispute when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrives in India for a visit on Sunday.
The Bangladesh Navy has been used by Dhaka to interfere in oil and gas surveys undertaken by various companies in the Bay of Bengal with clearances from Indian authorities.
Bangladesh last year-end took India to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), seeking arbitration to settle the bilateral maritime boundary dispute between the two countries.
Dhaka’s decision to move UNCLOS came after India and Myanmar protested against Bangladesh allotting oil blocks to two multi-nationals last year.
Companies carrying out exploration in the blocks offered by the Indian government in the Bay of Bengal last year have complained to the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry of repeated interference by the Bangladesh Navy.
“Such interruptions by the Bangladesh Navy are a matter of serious concern as these blocks have been awarded to international oil and gas companies after obtaining clearances from the authorities concerned,” India’s petroleum regulator, the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, had informed the petroleum ministry.
The ministry, in turn, conveyed the concerns to the External Affairs Ministry. In October, Petroleum Secretary R.S. Pandey wrote to Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao: “I request you to take up the matter so that the mineral wealth of our country is explored and exploited without undue interference.”
Dhaka has linked the dispute with the survey of offshore oil and gas exploration that Indian and other companies are undertaking. Dhaka wants recourse to an arbitration process in response to Delhi’s persistent demand that Bangladesh address the problems bilaterally and amicably.
“Bangladesh has been delaying the process (of a bilateral solution) despite the fact that they are the initiator of the case. The issue was discussed at home secretary-level talks in the first week of December. And, we have been taking up the matter through the diplomatic channel but not of much use,” said senior official.
He said if there is a political will to “take the issue out of arbitration” or find an “amicable solution” through “any mechanism”, the maritime dispute coming in the way of better economic ties can be solved.