India offers to take up Teesta project in B’desh | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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India offers to take up Teesta project in B’desh

By, New Delhi
Jun 23, 2024 05:54 AM IST

India’s announcement regarding its interest in Bangladesh’s long-pending plan to dredge and develop the Teesta river is significant in view of pressure from China over the project

India on Saturday signalled its interest in taking up the conservation of the Teesta river in Bangladesh, a $1-billion project being eyed by China, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina unveiled a slew of initiatives to enhance cooperation in trade, digital issues and connectivity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina at a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, on Saturday. (Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina at a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, on Saturday. (Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times)

Hasina, who was among leaders of seven regional countries invited to the inauguration of PM Modi’s third term on June 9, returned to New Delhi within a fortnight as the first foreign leader to make a bilateral incoming visit. Officials from both sides said this reflected India’s continued focus on its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and the importance of bilateral ties.

Following talks with Hasina, Modi told a joint media interaction that an Indian technical team will soon visit Dhaka for talks on the conservation and management of the Bangladeshi section of the Teesta, one of 54 rivers shared by the two countries.

“Fifty-four shared rivers connect India and Bangladesh. We have been cooperating on flood management, early warning [and] drinking water projects. We have decided to start negotiations at the technical level for renewal of the Ganga Water Treaty of 1996,” he said, speaking in Hindi and referring to a 30-year pact valid until 2026.

People familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that India’s announcement regarding its interest in Bangladesh’s long-pending plan to dredge and develop the Teesta river is significant in view of pressure from China over the project. Beijing has submitted a formal proposal for the project, with an estimated cost of $1 billion, while New Delhi has informed Dhaka about its concerns regarding the work being awarded to any Chinese firm.

With Hasina set to visit China next month, the people said India’s announcement will help her deflect pressure from Beijing over the project. Besides worries about water flow data and other information on the cross-border Teesta river being scooped up by China, India has concerns about Chinese personnel establishing a presence at the project site located near the “chicken’s neck” or narrow strip of land connecting the northeast to the rest of the country.

Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra told a media briefing that the management of shared water resources is a “crucial and sensitive matter”.

He added: “Naturally, given our close and friendly ties with Bangladesh, cross-boundary river issues – and Teesta is one of them – become important.”

The two leaders discussed the conservation of the Teesta, which requires a “fair degree of technical management”, Kwatra said. “It’s less about water-sharing per se, it’s more about the management of the water flows within Teesta river,” he said, adding the two leaders agreed that an Indian technical team will undertake efforts to make progress on this issue.

Modi and Hasina signed off on a joint document to guide relations in the coming years – the “India-Bangladesh shared vision for the future: Enhanced connectivity, commerce and collaboration for shared prosperity” – that is aligned with the “Viksit Bharat 2047” and “Smart Bangladesh 2041” visions. The two sides also unveiled two more joint documents detailed shared visions for a digital partnership and green partnership.

“Today, we have prepared a futuristic vision for cooperation in new areas. The youth of both countries will benefit from consensus reached on cooperation in many areas such as green partnership, digital partnership, blue economy [and] space,” Modi said.

“We have kept in our focus connectivity, commerce and collaboration. In the last ten years, we have restored the [physical] connectivity that existed before 1965. Now we will emphasise more on digital and energy connectivity,” he said.

Hasina, speaking in Bengali, said: “In the whole world, we see war and conflict in different regions, but in our subcontinent, we have been able to sustain a wonderful friendly relationship.”

She added, “Even in our cooperation in socio-economic development, I think it was very important for us to get the help of a large economic power like India. It is because of our friendly relations that we have been able to make a lot of progress.”

The two sides announced initiatives to boost connectivity, trade, commerce, and people-to-people exchanges. These include a new passenger train between Kolkata and Rajshahi, the seventh cross-border rail link; the trial run next month of a goods train on Bangladesh Railways from Gede-Darshana to Haldibari-Chilahati cross-border inter-change point; and a new bus service between Kolkata and Chittagong.

India will provide a grant for building an inland container depot at Sirajganj in Bangladesh, and there was a commercial agreement between the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and Bangladesh Bank for launching the Unified Payments Interface (UPI).

Following a tripartite agreement concluded last year, the export of 40MW of power from Nepal to Bangladesh through the Indian grid will begin soon. Bangladesh also joined India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative.

In the field of people-to-people exchanges, India announced it will launch e- visas for medical patients from Bangladesh, and open a new assistant high commission at Rongpur, the fifth such mission in Bangladesh.

India will provide 350 training slots for Bangladeshi police officers, and the Muktijoddha Scheme for medical patients, with an upper ceiling of 800,000 per patient, was launched.

The two sides also signed five memorandums of understanding (MoUs) including one between the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) and Bangladesh’s ICT and telecom ministry for jointly developing a small satellite for Bangladesh and sending it into space on an Indian launch vehicle.

There were MoUs on maritime cooperation and the blue economy, railway connectivity, and cooperation on oceanographic research. The two sides further renewed three MoUs on cooperation in health, disaster management and fisheries.

Modi listed the achievements by the two sides in the past year – including the transit of cargo for India’s northeastern states through Bangladesh’s Mongla port, commissioning of both units of the 1,320MW Maitree thermal power plant, and the launch of trade in Indian rupees – and said he and Hasina also discussed ways to strengthen defence cooperation, including the modernisation of Bangladesh’s armed forces. “We have decided to strengthen our engagement on counterterrorism, de-radicalisation and peaceful management of borders,” he said.

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