Hasina-Modi Summit: Renewed Focus on Connectivity

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Connectivity has recently gained popularity, with applications ranging from creating economically advantageous links to enhancing political and cultural ties. Thus, connectivity has become a distinguishing feature of bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India. At the recent Bangladesh-India Summit, held on September 5th,2022 two prime ministers shared commitments to support each other with the expansion of connectivity between the two countries and the development of trade infrastructure on the border. “Friendship flows like a river and flows around rocks” Prime Minister Hasina once said.

India and Bangladesh share a unique relationship where connectivity plays a significant role. However, uniqueness is overused in political circles but this one is the textbook example of good neighborhood policy. As part of their shared objectives for more linked regions, the two leaders explored opportunities for strengthening collaboration in the areas of roads, rail, inland waterways, and coastal linkages.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during his meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinaon the 5th September2022that India would continue to extend all support for the development and expansion of Bangladesh’s railway system. Seven Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) has been signed covering a wide range of domains of cooperation encompassing connectivity through rail, road, and water.

Hasina-Modi Summit: A Headway to Connectivity: The focus of Bangladesh-India relations is very clear which prioritises ‘connectivity’ as a substantial area of cooperation. A bridge, one highway, and two rail links were inaugurated in the recent bilateral summit. Amid the summit on 5th September, their discussion covers a wide range of areas regarding railway, road, and maritime connectivity.

During the summit, one rail link is expected to be upgraded which is the Khulna -Dharsana rail link worth 3,012 million dollars. Another is the Parbatipur-Khulna rail link which will receive an investment of 120 million dollars. Both the Prime Ministers welcomed ongoing bilateral initiatives such as the Tongi-Akhaura line’s conversion to dual gauge, the supply of railroad rolling stock, the development of Bangladesh Railway personnel’s capacity, etc.

The restoration of the link between Burimari and Changrabandha, the construction of a container depot at Sirajganj, the creation of a link between Hili and Birampur, the upgrading of the track and signaling systems, and the establishment of the Kaunia-Lalmonirhat – Mogalghat – New Gitaldaha link were all welcomed by both parties. The two leaders were pleased that the trial runs required by the agreement on the use of the Chittagong and Mongla Ports (ACMP) had been successful and anticipated its full operationalization as soon as possible.

The Indian side reaffirmed its demand that efforts be made to extend the 2015 bilateral Coastal Shipping Agreement to cover Exim goods from third countries.

At the regional level, the two leaders underscored the importance of implementing sub-regional rail, road, and other connectivity initiatives. The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement will be quickly operationalized, and the two leaders decided, to speed up efforts to boost bilateral and sub-regional connectivity.

The Indian side advocated the creation of a thorough project study to initiate new sub-regional connectivity projects, such as a highway connecting Hili in West Bengal with Mahendraganj in Meghalaya through Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has also received free passage from India to export its goods to Nepal and Bhutan. The Indian government welcomed the Bangladeshi business community to use its port facilities for transshipments to other nations in this respect. During delegation-level negotiations, held at Hyderabad House in New Delhi between visiting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, the Indian side notified it.

The Bangladeshi side asked for rail access to Bhutan via the recently opened Chilahati-Haldibari link. Based on the request’s viability and feasibility, the Indian side agreed to consider it. India appreciated the contribution of Bangladesh in hosting the BIMSTEC Secretariat and developing its infrastructure and reiterated its support to Bangladesh in its capacity as the Chair of the Indian Ocean RIM Association (IORA).

The bilateral connectivity also exists and can be expanded much further, for instance, in the public domain. During the Summit, both the Prime Minister looked forward to the early launch of the film on Bangabandhu (Mujib: The Making of a Nation) which is a joint venture of Bangladesh and India. Thus, Prime Minister Sheikh Hain’s recent visit has paved the way for future connectivity as well as the scope for unresolved bilateral connectivity projects both on land, water, and regional.

How to Strengthen Connectivity Strides?
The two sides also take up the prospects of connectivity via the Padma Bridge, the iconic engineering marvel. The inauguration of the railway bridge over the Rupsha River is a landmark achievement towards enhancing connectivity.  The bridge is an important part of the new railway line being built between Khulna and Mongla port under India’s Line of Credit.

By agreeing to the second addendum to the treaty on inland water transit and trade in May 2020, the two sides additionally strengthened their inland water connectivity. Protocol-based trade is an economical and ecologically friendly means of transportation. Broad-gauge railway connectivity from Dhaka to Tripura is expected to build as a part of ameliorating railway connectivity between these two neighbours. The necessity of putting into action bilateral and subregional rail, road, and other connectivity efforts was emphasized by the two leaders.

The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) Trilateral Agreement could have advantageous effects on the region’s energy development, where Bangladesh aspires to be a partner. This deal can lessen Bangladesh’s reliance on Europe for energy while also increasing its capability in terms of cost and timeliness.

Connectivity is the key area of collaboration. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit to India which had taken place from September 4th to 8th2022 will enhance the connectedness that already exists while also igniting the field of collaboration that is of profound relevance for both bilateral and regional solidarity through bolstering the connectivity in bilateral, regional, and public domains.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in the daily observer [Website Link]

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