With Mamata out, four CMs to accompany PM to Dhaka

September 5th, 2011 - 8:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Sep 5 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, accompanied by four chief ministers from the northeast, leaves for Bangladesh Tuesday on a visit that is likely to see a “paradigm shift” in ties between the two neighbours

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s pulling out of the trip at the last minute has, however, put a question mark on the Teesta river water sharing agreement.

Mamata Banerjee has decided not to go to protest the final draft of the Teesta river water sharing agreement. The Teesta, which begins its journey in Sikkim, flows through north Bengal before entering Bangladesh.

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said here Monday: “Nothing is done and nothing will be done without the consultation with the state government.”

Manmohan Singh will now be accompanied by the chief ministers of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram on the Sep 6-7 trip, a rare move that emphasises the importance of the visit for both countries.

The two sides are expected to settle boundary disputes, improve trade ties, discuss transit and finalise river water agreements. Terrorism as well as illegal immigration are also likely to feature in the wide-ranging talks.

Mathai said: “We are trying to put in place a broad-based agenda of cooperation in areas including trade and investments, infrastructure, power, water resources, border management, education, cultural contacts, people-to-people exchanges, better border and transport infrastructure or what is called connectivity.

“Both sides are determined to iron out any divergences and lay a firm foundation of mutually beneficial engagement, to enhance trust, cooperation and stability not only between our countries but in South Asia as a whole. Substantial progress has been made first of all in implementing the decisions taken during the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister last year,” he added.

The foreign secretary said the two countries will take steps to implement a 1974 agreement over the exact boundary between the two countries. It is a “very, very major task”, said Mathai.

The India-Bangladesh border runs 4,095 km. India has to hand over 111 enclaves to Bangladesh and in return get 51 enclaves that by a twist of history and geography were pockets of settlement in each other’s territory.

The growing trade deficit between India and Bangladesh will also be addressed during the trip. Indian exports to Bangladesh in 2010-11 was $3.84 billion while imports were $406.3 million. In 2009, China replaced India as Bangladesh’s biggest trade partner.

Physical connectivity is an important factor as the northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China and the only land route access to these states from within India is through Assam. But this route passes through hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.

India has for long been demanding land and rail access to the northeast through Bangladesh, but sections of that country’s political establishment has been opposed to it citing sovereignty issues.

Agartala, for instance, is 1,650 km from Kolkata via Guwahati. But the distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata via Bangladesh is only about 350 km.

A 10-km railway track will directly link southeastern Akhaura town in Bangladesh with Tripura capital Agartala.

“We are working on the Akhaura rail link among other transit routes,” said Mathai.

Mathai said: “We are pleased in the manner in which our ties have evolved.”
The visit will create a “paradigm shift”, he said.

He said the visit will lead to a “major transformation” in the eastern part of India and will be significant for the entire region.

Manmohan Singh’s trip is the first bilateral visit of an Indian prime minister in 12 years. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited Bangladesh to launch the Dhaka-Kolkata bus service in July 1999.

The visit is also likely to see the signing of agreements for resolving differences on sharing of the Feni river water. The Feni, which flows 135 km south of Tripura capital Agartala, has been in dispute since 1934. In a total catchment area of 1,147 square km of the river, 535 square km falls in India and the rest in Bangladesh.

There are 54 rivers flowing from India to Bangladesh, but the dispute is primarily over two of them.

During Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in January last year, New Delhi and Dhaka signed several agreements to improve trade and business, communications and people-to-people contact. The two countries are now implementing those proposals and accords.

Ties between Delhi and Dhaka have been warm ever since Sheikh Hasina became prime minister for the second time in 2009. Bangladesh cracked down on insurgents and in 2009, one of India’s most wanted fugitives, Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), surrendered.

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