Water sharing and management of trans-boundary rivers will dominate today's Bangladesh-India summit to be led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, said officials.
Quick implementation of the projects under Indian Line of Credit (LoC), Covid-19 vaccine cooperation, regional connectivity and border security will be among other important agendas from the Bangladesh side, they said.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said, "We will raise all the big issues, including water and border security, at the virtual summit."
Meanwhile, a diplomatic source in Delhi said Dhaka would push for the signing of Teesta Water Sharing Agreement that has been pending for long, and seek Indian support for Rohingya repatriation as failure in this regard could create regional instability.
During the summit, the two countries are scheduled to sign at least five MoUs -- Trans-boundary Elephant Conservation to Preserve Biodiversity; Framework Agreement on High Impact Community Development Projects; Barishal Sewerage Treatment Plant; Framework Understanding on Cooperation in Hydrocarbon Sector, and Joint Study on Technology Transfer.
The two premiers will also inaugurate some projects, including Chilahati-Haldibari rail link, which remained unused for 55 years, some "high impact projects" being implemented with Indian assistance, and launch of a commemorative postal stamp and Bangabandhu-Bapu Digital Museum, highlighting the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence.
"The victory of Bangladesh is also the victory of India. India helped us in the war of 1971 against Pakistan. Their soldiers sacrificed their lives. Our relation is time-tested," Momen said.
A foreign ministry official said the summit between the two countries is very significant as it happens during the celebrations marking the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and as Bangladesh prepares for the 50th anniversary of its independence next year.
Indian premier Modi, who could not attend the birth centenary event in Dhaka in March this year due to the pandemic, agreed to attend the Independence Day celebration in Dhaka on March 26 next year if the Covid-19 situation improved, officials said.
Today's summit, which follows the prime minister-level meeting in Delhi early October last year, is, however, likely to set aside concerns that were expressed in Bangladesh over India's National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Bangladesh and India have 54 rivers in common, but treaty on water sharing was signed only on two -- the Ganges in 1996 and the Feni river in 2019. Though negotiations were finalised, the two countries failed to sign the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement due to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's last-minute opposition in 2011.
"We expect India to honour its international commitment," Momen said.
A water resources ministry official said it is reported that a few irrigation projects were implemented in the upstream of the Teesta in Sikkim and that can impact the water flow downstream. Dhaka will urge Delhi to ensure that Teesta water downstream is not affected, he said.
Dhaka will also request Delhi to speed up water-sharing deals on six other small rivers -- Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar. Joint technical committees were formed after a secretary-level meeting in August last year -- one on conducting feasibility study on the optimum use of water received under the Ganges treaty and the other on collection of data on the six rivers.
An official of the Joint River Commission said data on the rivers had already been collected. Based on that, modalities on water sharing will be finalised. Today's meeting could call for early finalisation of the modalities that can lead to signing of the deal, said the official.
"As the Ganges Water Treaty expires in 2026, the Ganges-Padma Barrage construction to maximise the use of water is a must. But the two countries need to agree on design and financing mode. This issue could come prominently in the meeting," said the official of the water resources ministry.
The official said Dhaka would propose signing of an MoU with Delhi on withdrawal of 153 cusec of water from upper Kushiyara river for irrigation purpose. India has been withdrawing 100 cusec of water from the common stretch of the river for long, he said.
Dhaka also seeks formation of a sub-regional working group for basin-wide water management. Discussions with India, Nepal and Bhutan were imperative towards that end. The issue may be raised in the meeting, he said.
Foreign ministry officials said Dhaka, during today's summit, would seek India's help in signing of Motor Vehicle Agreement with Nepal and Bhutan for direct transportation with these countries. Once signed and operationalised, the regional trade and investment can see a big boost, officials said.
Dhaka may also request India to allow third country export facility under Coastal Shipping deal signed between India and Bangladesh in 2015. Presently, 15 Bangladeshi ships are running under the agreement and the demand is increasing, officials said.
Dhaka may also propose short distance bus service between the nearby towns of Bangladesh and India. The possible towns of Bangladesh are Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Dinajpur, Khulna and Jashore.
PROJECTS UNDER LOC
Between 2010 and 2017, India provided Bangladesh with LoC of $7.86 billion for infrastructure projects, but their implementation was slow. So far, less than nine percent of the money was disbursed. One of the reasons for slow implementation is that 75 percent of raw materials need to be procured from India.
Delhi has agreed to relax this condition, but this needs to be further looked into, said an official at the Economic Relations Division.
As there is access to low-cost market borrowing and high foreign currency reserve in Bangladesh, the official said, the government wants to make the LoCs more effective.
Dhaka could also request Delhi to remove the non-tariff barriers for export of Bangladeshi products to India as part of its goal to reduce trade imbalance. The volume of export to India is now slightly over $1 billion.
The progress in construction of a trans-border pipeline for petroleum products from Assam via West Bengal to Dinajpur in Bangladesh and a sub-regional electricity grid sharing project, involving Bhutan and Bangladesh, are also likely to come up for discussion.
"During the summit, the two leaders [Hasina and Modi] will hold comprehensive discussions on the entire spectrum of the bilateral relationship, including further strengthening cooperation in the post Covid era," according to a statement of Indian Prime Minister's Office.
The Bangladesh government and Beximco Pharmaceuticals have already signed separate deals with Serum Institute of India for getting three crore Covid-19 vaccine doses.