Modi-Hasina summit to highlight infrastructure, connectivity projects

Modi-Hasina summit to highlight infrastructure, connectivity projects

Bangladesh Minister says water sharing and border killings will be raised as well

Connectivity projects including the resurrection of the 12-km Chilahati-Haldibari rail link after 55 years will be highlighted when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina hold a virtual bilateral summit on December 17, officials in Dhaka and Delhi said.

The meeting will also seek to restore the ‘momentum’ in ties, an official said at the end of a year in which the pandemic and political differences over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act meant several high-level visits, including PM Modi’s proposed visit to Dhaka in March, were put off.

Announcing the virtual meeting in Dhaka on Sunday, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Memon said the “major issues” including the water sharing agreement for the Teesta and at least six other rivers as well as continued reports of killings of its nationals at the border would also be raised by PM Hasina.

“Discussion regarding Teesta’s water sharing had ended long ago. Only the signing is remaining. We will urge India to sign the Teesta agreement fast,” Mr. Memon told reporters, referring to the negotiations completed in 2011. But the deal was opposed by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and could never be concluded. The two countries have also had initial talks on water sharing for other peninsular rivers including the Monu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gomti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.

The Chilahati-Haldibari rail link, a British-era line, was abandoned after the India-Pakistan war in 1965 (when Bangladesh was East Pakistan), and will be the fifth rail route connecting Bangladesh with Bengal. A sixth line, from Dhaka to Siliguri is expected to be flagged off on Bangladesh’s 50th Independence Day on March 26, when Mr. Modi is expected to travel to Dhaka.

In the run-up to the meet, India’s High Commissioner to Dhaka Vikram Doraiswami met PM Hasina and Delhi for high-level consultations over the weekend.

Officials told The Hindu that the final list of agreements and discussions at the virtual summit on Thursday will include more connectivity and “high-impact” infrastructure projects and a possible mechanism to oversee projects under concessional Lines of Credit (LoCs) of nearly $10 billion from India in 2017. Progress on a petroleum ‘friendship’ pipeline from Siliguri to Bangladesh’s Dinajpur that was agreed to in 2018 and began construction last week, will also be discussed. In addition, talks are on for a sub-regional electricity grid sharing project which would see Bhutan and Bangladesh contribute power, but officials said they are awaiting Cross-Border Trade in Electricity (CBTE) guidelines from India.

An official said the meeting would also seek to set aside concerns in Bangladesh over the Modi government’s plans for a National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which led to massive protests in Dhaka last year ahead of PM Modi’s visit there, which was subsequently cancelled. Four ministerial visits to India from Bangladesh were also cancelled. Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary had also formally raised the issue of blacklisting and arresting more than 2,500 Bangladeshi Tablighi Jamaat members, who had been accused of violating the coronavirus lockdown, but were released by the courts.

Mr. Modi will hold talks with Ms. Hasina a day after Bangladesh’s “liberation day”, the anniversary of the day in 1971 the Pakistani army surrendered, which is celebrated in both India and Bangladesh as Bijoy or Vijay Diwas. Mr. Memon said the timing of the virtual summit was significant and the two sides would “acknowledge the contributions of the then Indian Prime Minister [(Indira Gandhi]” in Bangladesh’s victory.

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