India, Bangladesh foreign ministers to hold virtual meet to review ties
Connectivity and development projects and sharing of river waters are expected to be on the agenda of a meeting of the India- Bangladesh joint consultative commission (JCC) to be held on Tuesday, people familiar with developments said.
The creation of a new mechanism to review the progress of bilateral development projects is also expected to figure in the virtual meeting to be chaired by external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen, the people said on condition of anonymity.
The Bangladeshi side is likely to raise the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar and trade issues such as the recent Indian ban on onion exports. Other issues that are likely to come up are irritants in border management and creation of an air bubble, they added.
The sixth meeting of the JCC is being held at a time when bilateral ties have been affected by a string of irritants, including concerns in Bangladesh over comments by BJP leaders about the deportation of illegal migrants from Assam, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the ban on onion exports.
The JCC meet will prepare the ground for a virtual meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina in December. The Bangladeshi foreign minister announced this meeting while interacting with reporters in Dhaka on Monday, though the date is yet to be finalised.
“It will be a virtual meeting… but if the pandemic situation improves, it could be in person (in December),” Momen said. He indicated some agreements could be signed during the meeting between the premiers.
Referring to the JCC meeting, Momen said, “India is our neighbour and our best friend. We have many things to discuss.”
The JCC meeting will provide both sides an opportunity to clear the air on issues that have impacted the overall relationship. New Delhi took the initiative to put ties back on an even keel by sending foreign secretary Harsh Shringla to Dhaka in August when he delivered a message from PM Modi to Hasina.
Shringla had also discussed the creation of a high-level mechanism to regularly review the progress of development projects funded by India during his meeting with Hasina. At least five key projects, including an oil pipeline and three cross-border rail links, are set to be completed in 2021. The monitoring mechanism will be jointly chaired by the Indian envoy in Dhaka and the Bangladeshi foreign secretary and will be on the lines of a similar mechanism India has created with Nepal.
The JCC meeting is also expected to decide the date for holding a meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) which has not met since 2010. Bangladesh had called off a meeting of the JRC scheduled for December last year when concerns in Dhaka about the CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC) were at a peak.
The foreign ministers are expected to discuss a draft framework for water-sharing agreements on six rivers - Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gomti, Dharla and Dudhkumar - the people cited above said.
The JCC meet will also discuss programmes to be organised during “Mujib Borsho” or the birth centenary of Bangladesh’s “Father of the Nation” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of Bangladesh in 2021.
The 5th JCC meeting was held in New Delhi in February last year wherein the two sides had signed four MoUs to strengthen multifaceted cooperation. However, Momen said no agreements were expected to be signed during Tuesday’s meeting.