With Dhaka eagerly waiting for the signing of the Teesta water-sharing deal, Bangladesh and India yesterday signed an MoU allowing India to take 1.82 cusec water from the Feni river.
The agreement was signed following a meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi.
“Both the leaders appreciated the decision taken at the water resources secretary-level meeting in Dhaka for an early start of the work on the withdrawal of 1.82 cusec water from the Feni river for drinking purpose of the people of Sabroom town in Tripura,” said an India-Bangladesh joint statement.
The deal on the Feni river comes amid Dhaka’s frustration over not signing of the Teesta deal, which was scheduled to be inked during the then Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in 2011. It was not possible due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Water of the Teesta is crucial for Bangladesh’s northern region where farmers depend heavily on underground water for irrigation during the lean season.
Hasina yesterday said the people of Bangladesh were awaiting eagerly for the signing and implementation of the Framework of Interim Agreement for sharing of the Teesta waters, as agreed upon by both governments in 2011.
The Indian PM said his government was working with all Indian stakeholders for conclusion of the agreement at the soonest possible time.
At the bilateral meeting, India expressed readiness to extend duty-free and quota-free access of Bangladesh’s exports to the Indian market.
The Bangladesh side raised the issue of anti-dumping/anti-circumvention duties imposed by India on multiple products exported by Bangladesh, including jute products, and wanted them to be addressed.
In response, the Indian side mentioned that trade remedial investigations are carried out in accordance with existing Indian laws.
Hasina and Modi directed their officials to expedite the establishment of framework of cooperation in the area of trade remedial measures.
Meanwhile, water expert Dr Ainun Nishat yesterday said Bangladesh can agree to the withdrawal of 1.82 cusec water from the Feni river, but it needs to see when the water is withdrawn and how much water is left in the river during the lean season.
“It’s important to see if the communities on the basin of the Feni river in Bangladesh are affected,” he told The Daily Star.
In Feni district, there is an irrigation project on the Feni river, which originates in South Tripura district and flows through Sabroom town before entering Bangladesh.
Sharing water of 54 common rivers between India and Bangladesh is crucial. However, a treaty on water sharing of only one river, the Ganges, was signed in 1996.
India and Bangladesh held a water secretary-level meeting of Joint Rivers Commission in Dhaka early August when both sides agreed to collect data on seven rivers – the Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla, Dudhkumar, and Feni -- and prepare a framework agreement on water sharing. A joint technical committee was also formed during the meeting.
Hasina and Modi, who held one-to-one talks following the delegation-level discussions at the Hyderabad House yesterday, asked the committee to exchange updated data and information fast and prepare the draft framework of interim water-sharing agreements on the seven rivers.
Quoting Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, The Hindu reported that the Indian National Register of Citizens came up for discussion and Modi reassured Hasina of it being an internal matter of India.
He said Dhaka would keep an eye on the developments regarding the issue.
A major agenda of Bangladesh at the meeting was seeking India’s assistance for the repatriation of 1.1 million Rohingyas.
India, however, didn’t say anything concrete on the repatriation.
“The two prime ministers agreed on the need to expedite safe, speedy, and sustainable repatriation of the displaced persons to their homes in the Rakhine State of Myanmar,” says the joint statement.
They agreed on the need for greater efforts to be made to facilitate the Rohingyas’ return, including by improving security situation and socio-economic conditions in Rakhine.
TERRORISM, BORDER KILLINGS
Modi appreciated Bangladesh’s “zero tolerance” policy against terrorism and commended Hasina for her resolute efforts to ensure peace, security, and stability in the region.
The two premiers reiterated their strong commitment to eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. They agreed on a closer cooperation against extremists and radical groups, terrorists, smugglers, smuggling of fake currency, and organised crime.
Both sides emphasised simplifying “people-people” movement between the two countries and effective border management.
Hasina and Modi directed their respective border forces to complete border fencing at all pending sectors on the border between the countries at the earliest.
On the issue of border killings, the two leaders agreed that the loss of civilian lives at the border was a matter of concern. They directed the border forces concerned to enhance coordinated measures to work towards bringing such incidents down to zero.
Hasina and Modi projected the development partnership between the two countries as a model for neighbours in other parts of the world to follow.
The Indian PM termed the LPG supply from Bangladesh to India a win-win situation for both the countries as it would generate income and jobs in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh premier said the initiative would help energy security of India’s northeastern states. An MoU in this regard was signed yesterday.
Hasina said Bangladesh-India cooperation in various conventional sectors has recorded “remarkable” progress in the last 10 years and the two countries are now extending their collaboration in newer areas like peaceful use of nuclear energy, blue economy, cyber security, space research, and export of internet bandwidth.
She thanked Modi for India’s commitment to simplify travel requirements for Bangladeshis traveling by road or rail to India and asked for lifting all restrictions for Bangladeshi travellers using the existing land ports.
The two sides agreed that the remaining restrictions on entry/exit from land ports in India for citizens of Bangladesh travelling on valid documents would be removed in phases, beginning with checkpoints at Akhaura (Tripura) and Ghojadanga (West Bengal), the joint statement said.
Both sides agreed to expedite commissioning of a joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Appreciating the positive impact of the border haats on the lives and livelihoods of the people living along remote border areas, the two PMs directed their officials to expedite establishment of 12 Border Haats.
Both leaders agreed on early operationalisation of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement for movement of goods and passengers, between the member countries who are willing and ready, or to work towards a bilateral Motor Vehicles Agreement as appropriate.
The two leaders recognised the need for increased cooperation in defence for a more integrated and secure neighbourhood, taking into account the cooperation from the joint operation of both forces during Bangladesh’s Liberation War in December 1971.
Hasina and Modi welcomed the initiatives for development of closer Maritime Security Partnership, and noted the progress made in finalisation of an MoU on Establishment of Coastal Surveillance Radar System in Bangladesh.
According to the Times of India, India has provided such coastal surveillance systems to Mauritius, Seychelles, the Maldives and was planning to provide one to Myanmar. It will be useful amid growing terror threats via seas and growing presence of China in the Bay of Bengal region.
Both leaders also agreed to expedite work towards drawing upon a $500 million Defence Line of Credit extended by India to Bangladesh, for which implementation arrangements have been finalised in April, according to the joint statement.
Modi accepted Hasina’s invitation to join a programme marking the birth centenary of Bangabandhu next year.
Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar made a courtesy call on Hasina yesterday.
Hasina later met Indian President Ram Nath Kovind at his residence.
The PM is scheduled to return home today after completing her four-day official tour there.