Hasina visit: No Teesta deal but over 20 accords expected

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New Delhi, April 6 (IANS) Though over 20 accords ranging from ICT to defence cooperation are expected to be signed during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s four-day visit to India from April 7, a key agreement on Teesta river waters sharing is unlikely to be inked.

“We are expecting to sign over 20 agreements. These are meaningful agreements in ICT, in science and technlogy, cyber security, defence, development partnership, trade and investment, shipping, bus services, mass media and so on,” Sripriya Ranganathan, Joint Secretary (Bangladesh/Myanmar) in the Ministry of External Affairs, said at a media briefing here on Thursday ahead of the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit.

Ranganathan said that on the oil and gas front “we have embarked on a very, very new and positive approach”.

“Tangible outcomes which we are looking forward to are finalisation of a long-term arrangement for supply of high-speed diesel to Bangladesh, which we believe will help people in north Bangladesh in particular,” she stated.

When asked about the possibility of the Teesta river waters agreement being signed, Ranganathan said that it remained “a work in progress”.

It is reliably learnt that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a bilateral summit with Sheikh Hasina on Saturday, no forward movement is expected on the Teesta waters agreement despite public opinion in Bangladesh on the matter.

Both India and Bangladesh, as good neighbours, have moved forward on other sectors like power, investment and security but the Teesta waters issue remains a vexed issue.

Though an agreement on sharing of the Teesta waters was drafted ahead of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in 2011, it was withdrawn at the last moment when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee protested against its provisions.

Banerjee’s position is that the treaty would render north Bengal dry and affect Indian farmers. She is of the view that with the Teesta Barrage, Bangladesh’s largest irrigation project, running, that country does not deserve more water.

Now, ahead of Sheikh Hasina’s visit, Banerjee on Wednesday said there is no water in the river.

The West Bengal Chief Minister, whose cooperation is crucial for any river water agreement with Bangladesh, has maintained that she will prioritise her state’s interest while deciding on the proposed water sharing treaty.

She has also claimed the Centre has not consulted her over the issue.

“What will I do if there is no water? There is no water in the Teesta,” she said on Wednesday.

Though Banerjee is scheduled to join a banquet dinner hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee in honour of Sheikh Hasina and a lunch banquet to be hosted by Modi, she will not attend the bilateral summit to be held at Hyderabad House.

Chief Ministers of the northeastern states bordering Bangladesh will also be attending the presidential banquet.

At the media briefing, Ranganathan said that two Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) will be signed with Bangladesh during Hasina’s visit.

“One is a framework agreement on defence cooperation and that provides a structure for the defence-based engagement over the next few years,” she said.

The second MoU, the Joint Secretary said, would allow Bangladesh to buy defence equipment from India.

In terms of development cooperation, the MEA officer said that Bangladesh has shown interest in concessional finance from India in areas like infrastructure, education and health.

Regarding concerns over rising Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh, Ranganthan said there has been “excellent cooperation” between the governments of India and Bangladesh to contain radicalism and an agreement on cooperation in cyber security is likely to be signed during Hasina’s visit.

With energy cooperation showing a lot of positivity, a civil nuclear agreement is also expected to be signed between the two sides.

Connectivity is another issue of mutual interest and an MoU is likely to be signed on running passenger and goods trains which will be of benefit to both Bangladesh and the northeast India.

Modi and Sheikh Hasina will jointly launch a bus service and a train service between Kolkata and Khulna as also a rail link from Radhikapur in north Bengal.

As for bilateral trade, which stands at $6.5 billion with Indian exports accounting for around $5.8 billion, Ranganathan said that an MoU on setting up border haats is likely to be signed.

Following Saturday’s bilateral summit, Sheikh Hasina will visit Ajmer Sharif on Sunday and attend a business event on Monday before leaving for Bangladesh.

Her visit comes seven years after her last bilateral visit to India in January 2010 and is the first bilateral visit since her new government came to power in January 2014.

–IANS

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