Renewal for 2 more years
Dhaka and New Delhi yesterday agreed to renew the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade for another two years and almost double the maintenance fees for six river routes inside Bangladesh.
Shipping Secretary Abdul Mannan Hawlader disclosed this while talking to reporters after a secretary-level meeting at Sonargaon Hotel yesterday.
The yearly allocation of Tk 5.5 crore that India provides for maintaining the routes has been raised to Tk 10 crore, he said.
An agreement for the protocol renewal -- effective from April 1 to March 31, 2014 -- will be signed this morning without any major changes or amendment. Its title will remain as it is, the secretary added.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan told reporters at his secretariat office yesterday after the Indian delegation called on him, “I can assure you that we're going to sign the agreement by upholding our national interest…we won't make any concession to India.”
Asked whether the existing protocol is being amended to allow transit to India, the minister ruled out any such possibility.
The shipping secretary echoed the minister's view. “Whatever we do, our prime and topmost concern will be to protect our national interest… hopefully we will have more good news tomorrow [today].”
“Last year, there was tremendous pressure on me from different corners for long-term renewal of the protocol. Even our commerce ministry delegation at a New Delhi meeting urged me to sign the agreement for three years. But we renewed it for one year as India declined to accept some of our proposals,” he claimed.
Hawlader led an 18-member delegation comprised of officials of the ministries of shipping, home, commerce and foreign and the National Board of Revenue (NBR). The eight-member Indian team was headed by its Shipping Secretary Pradeep Kumar Sinha.
Officials said India has long been pressing Bangladesh through diplomatic channels to renew the protocol at least for five years.
The water protocol is under the article VIII of Trade Agreement, which the two neighbours first signed in New Delhi on March 28, 1972.
The protocol, which is usually extended after two years, expired on March 31 and remained operative under ad-hoc arrangement from April 1 to July 2.
Its renewal was delayed as Bangladesh refused the Indian proposal to extend it for five years.
Both Shajahan and Hawlader said the Bangladesh side succeeded in persuading India to extend the protocol for two years.
And the yearly maintenance has been raised to Tk 10 crore for the routes -- Kolkata-Chandpur-Pandu-Silghat, Kolkata-Chandpur-Karimganj, Silghat-Pandu-Ashuganj-Karimganj, Rajshahi-Dhulian, Doikhawa-Sirajganj and Karimganj-Sherpur.
The two countries have five ports of call on each side -- Narayanganj, Khulna, Mongla, Sirajganj and Ashuganj in Bangladesh, and Kolkata, Haldia, Karimganj, Pandu and Silghat in India. A port of call of one side is meant to provide facilities to the vessels of the other.
The protocol is highly beneficial for the country as out of a total 310 vessels that operate annually 305 are owned by Bangladeshis, Shajahan Khan said. The vessels carry not only Indian goods, but also items imported from the neighbouring country.