The ratification of the four-decade-old Land Boundary Agreement has been the centrepiece of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh though the two sides signed a slew of pacts to boost connectivity, trade and security cooperation.
Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina witnessed the ratification and exchange of documents to finally implement the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement that will allow the two sides to swap more than 160 tiny enclaves whose residents were virtually stateless subjects living in squalid conditions.
The enclaves, established in the 18th century by princely rulers, were like islands of foreign territory inside each country. Once the Land Boundary Agreement is implemented, each country will take over the enclaves in its territory and more than 50,000 residents will have the option to choose their nationality.
The agreement was signed in 1974 and Bangladesh endorsed it the same year. The Indian parliament passed a constitutional amendment bill to operationalise the pact only recently.
Besides the instruments of ratification and letters on modalities to implement the Land Boundary Agreement, India and Bangladesh signed 20 more pacts and MoUs in diverse areas on Saturday.
The two sides renewed a bilateral trade agreement and inked two separate pacts on coastal shipping the use of Bangladesh’s Chittagong and Mongla ports. Indian merchant vessels can now use the two ports to directly ship cargo to Bangladesh, instead of routing goods through ports such as Singapore. This will bring shipping time down to a week or less.
A separate memorandum of understanding on “blue economy and maritime cooperation in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean” will also boost cooperation in regional waters.
India and Bangladesh also renewed a protocol on inland water transit and trade and signed two agreements for starting trans-border bus services on the Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati and Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala routes. This will primarily benefit tourists and residents of India’s landlocked northeastern states by cutting down travel time.
In the field of security, the two sides signed MoUs between their Coast Guards and on preventing human trafficking and the smuggling and circulation of fake currency.
There was also a string of trade and investment agreements, with a $2 billion credit facility for Bangladesh to use for infrastructure, power, health and education projects.
Another MoU on economic zones marked the first time a neighbouring country has allowed such zones exclusively for Indian firms. Officials said the move was aimed at encouraging Indian investments in Bangladesh.
Other prominent agreements were signed by the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution and Bureau of Indian Standards on cooperation in standardization, by the Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited and Bharat Sanchar Nagar Limited for leasing international bandwidth for internet at Akhaura and by the University of Dhaka and India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research for joint research on oceanography in the Bay of Bengal.