Manmohan’s Dhaka visit: Transit, ports, border key issues

By Sujit Chakraborty, IANS,

Agartala : A transit route between the mountainous northeastern states and the rest of India via Bangladesh, use of sea and river ports and border-related issues will be discussed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Sep 6-7 visit to Dhaka.

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“The prime minister’s Bangladesh visit (is) expected to be a historic milestone in terms of economic prosperity of the land-locked northeastern states,” Tripura Industries and Commerce Minister Jitendra Choudhury told IANS.

“Many key and long pending issues are likely to be resolved during this much-expected visit.”

The minister said other key issues expected to be finalised during this trip are setting up of border haats, erection of border fencing and sharing of waters of rivers.

On the invitation of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Singh accompanied by the chief ministers of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, would visit Dhaka Sep 6-7.

“Manmohan Singh has invited the chief ministers of five states, which share border with Bangladesh, to accompany him during his trip to Dhaka,” Tripura Chief Secretary S.K.Panda told IANS.

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.

India-Bangladesh ties have been on the upswing since the Awami League led by Hasina came to power in 2009.

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.

Chaudhury said: “If Dhaka provides transit facilities to India and if we can use the Chittagong international port and other ports in Bangladesh, commodities and machinery can be transported to the northeast from various parts of India and abroad, saving huge time and money.”

“Transit between northeastern India and the rest of the country and abroad via Bangladesh is likely to become a reality in the near future,” added Chaudhury.

On an average, the distance between important cities of Bangladesh and northeastern India is 30 km to 200 km.

Five Indian states – West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam and Tripura – share a 4,095-km border with Bangladesh. These include a 2,979-km land border and 1,116 km are riverine.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who would be accompanying Manmohan Singh to Dhaka, said in Guwahati Thursday that opening of the transit routes via Bangladesh would give a big boost to the economy of the northeastern region.

“Over the years, transport bottlenecks were the worst problems faced by the region. But opening of the communication channels through Bangladesh would be able to change those barriers,” he said.

Gogoi said that there is plenty of scope for development of trade and commerce with Bangladesh.

He added it is perhaps for the first time that the chief ministers of the states that share border with Bangladesh have been invited to join the prime minister on such an official visit, which is a very positive development.

On the issue of handing over of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) general secretary Anup Chetia to India, Gogoi said that New Delhi has already taken up the matter with Dhaka.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Home Minister P. Chidambaram last month separately visited Dhaka and discussed many vexed and pending issues.

“Both the ministers’ visit to Bangladesh was a part of the groundwork for Manmohan Singh’s visit,” said M.L.Debnath, president of the Tripura chambers of commerce and industries.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at [email protected])