Eastern Times Correspondent, Dhaka, 16 December: Delhi and Dhaka are expected to ink nine Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set to hold talks with her counterpart Narendra Modi on Thursday, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said on Tuesday.
“It is likely as many as nine MoUs on different sectors will be signed during their virtual meeting…but these are yet to be finalized [while] they [officials] are still working on it,” he told BSS.
Momen’s comments came as an update on the talks preparedness as officials at his office earlier said the number of the MoUs to be signed could be as high as four.
The meeting of the two premiers on a virtual platform would among other things witness the reopening of an old railway link, the Chilahati-Haldibari rail route, after 55 years since it was snapped during India-Pakistan war in 1965, when Bangladesh was part of Pakistan.
Momen said Dhaka will raise all major bilateral issues that include, water sharing, Covid-19 cooperation, border killing, trade imbalance, connectivity, power swap, and the Rohingya crisis.
Momen hinted that water sharing in common rivers would prominently feature the premiers meeting when Dhaka would seek to bring under a single framework the issues of seven major transboundary rivers – the Monu, Muhuri, Gomti, Dharla, Dudhkumar, Feni, and Teesta. He said the Bangladesh side would seek to hold the ministerial level Joint River Commission (JRC) meeting soon, if possible, by next month, to make the framework to resolve the issues of these seven common streams.
Momen said the Surma-Kushiwara project would also be on the agenda of the JRC talks, which last took place in New Delhi 10 years ago in 2010.
Asked for comments on the pending Teesta treaty the minister said the agreement was finalized long ago as the “Indian side even signed on every page of the agreement.”
“The final [Teesta] deal is there, it now awaits implementation,” he said adding that New Delhi made repeated promises for its implementation in the past several years.
“Now we [Dhaka] leave it as to their [New Delhi] ‘word of honor’…as a friendly country we don’t want to embarrass them by raising the issue all the time,” the minister said.
The foreign minister, however, simultaneously pointed out that the Indian central government was facing a hurdle from the West Bengal state government on the question of implementing the agreement.
Momen said bilateral cooperation on the Covid-19 pandemic was likely to be top on agenda during the summit of the premiers while “India has already promised us they will provide coronavirus vaccine to Bangladesh first” and the talks were expected to reinforce that understanding.
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Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharma signed an MoU with India’s Serum Institute on November 5 for priority delivery of 30 million doses of prospective Covid-19 vaccine to Bangladesh.
Momen said Dhaka would also seek India’s enhanced engagement in resolving the Rohingya crisis at the UN as Bangladesh extended its support for its temporary membership at the UN Security Council this year.
New Delhi previously put on its efforts to get passed a resolution in UNSG regarding the crisis which, however, was upset due to opposition of some permanent members. India in the past also said it wanted safe, secure, and sustainable Rohingya repatriation.
“We will tell them that if the Rohingya crisis is not resolved, and uncertainty may be created in the region that will put your [Indian] investment in Myanmar at risk,” Momen said.
India would start attending UNSG meetings from January next while Dhaka sought the neighbour’s crucial support in line with the current deep Bangladesh-India relation.
Momen said that the Bangladesh side would also re-convey its concern over India’s Border Security Force (BSF) actions claiming lives of Bangladeshis along with the frontier areas while “such kind of tragic incident still occurs sporadically.”
“It’s unfortunate [and] we must have an explanation on that [from Indian side],” he said
According to Momen, the Bangladesh premier would urge New Delhi to take some effective measures to reduce the bilateral trade gap, which continued to tilt heavily on India’s favour, to strengthen further trade cooperation between the two neighbours
“We will urge India to reduce non-tariff trade barriers on Bangladeshi products to reduce the trade gap,” he said.
Momen said that Dhaka would also seek “standard harmonization” between the quality regulating or testing authorities of the two countries “so that Bangladeshi products can enter the Indian market smoothly.”
He said Dhaka would particularly urge India to withdraw an existing anti-dumping policy in importing Bangladeshi jute.
He said Dhaka would also demand India’s preferential treatment to Bangladeshi businessmen as New Delhi “currently is offering the same facilities to investors from Bangladesh and Pakistan.”
“It is shameful…,” Momen commented.
The minister said Bangladesh currently procedure electricity generated in India while it now wants to market its own electricity in possible cases to India and with their cooperation to a third country like Bhutan, which was willing to buy the power.
The foreign minister said Sheikh Hasina would urge her counterpart to expedite the implementation of projects under the Indian Line of Credit (LoC).
“We have already formed a committee including Bangladesh foreign secretary and Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh to monitor projects under the Indian credit line,” he said.
Momen said two countries by now reestablished air connectivity under an “air bubble arrangement” with India amid the pandemic while Dhaka would seek to reestablish other connectivity modes, restoring land borders and railway links to resume travel of mass people.
Officials earlier said Sheikh Hasina and Modi would virtually reopen a defunct cross-border Chilahati-Haldibari railway route re-linking India’s Cooch Behar with Bangladesh’s northwestern Chilahati through which a cargo train would run between the two countries
Momen said the two premiers were set to jointly declare as “Shawdhinota Sark” (Independence Road) an existing two-kilometre road on zero lines along Bangladesh’s western frontier at Mujibnagar in Meherpur. He said the road at the site, where the first Bangladesh government was sworn-in in 1971, would be open for people of both the countries to be cleared at immigration check posts.
Momen said the premiers virtual meeting was set to be followed by a joint inauguration of some projects completed already under the Indian credit line.
He said the meeting was taking place coinciding with Bangladesh’s 50th Victory Day and 49th anniversary of bilateral friendship while the two countries designed a series of ceremonies to mark the occasion.
These included, Momen said, simultaneous parade in New Delhi and Dhaka, the launch of a joint website on 50 years victory of friendship, and the unveiling of commemorative stamps marking the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Sheikh Hasina and Modi will also inaugurate the “Bangabandhu-Bapu Digital Museum” to pay tributes to founders of Bangladesh and India while some footages of the Bangabandhu’s under construction biopic being made by famous Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal would be screened during the summit.
Momen said Dhaka was set to honor another large number of Indian veterans who fought for Bangladesh Liberation.
“We are thankful to India that their premier will talk to our honorable Prime Minister during our victory month as our victory is India’s victory as well…it’s very nice of Narendra Modi,” Momen said.
He called the current phase of bilateral relations “golden chapter” and “rock-solid.”
“Our tie with India is a blood relation…no one can deny and our victory is India’s victory…Our development is India’s development”.
Sheikh Hasina and Modi held the last bilateral talks in New Delhi on October 5 last year while a scheduled visit of the later to join Bangabandhu’s birth centenary celebrations was cancelled due to Covid-19.
Momen said Dhaka by now invited the Indian premier to join in person Bangladesh’s 50 years of the independence celebrations on March 26, 2021.