September 6th, 2011
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Mamata gets her way

manmohan-and-sheika-hasinaNew Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, left for Bangladesh on a two-day visit with the hope to put the bilateral relation in a new trajectory through signing of deals in a range of sectors including extradition of sentenced persons, connectivity, power, exchange of enclaves and border management.

However, the visit has run into troubled waters as the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee snubbed and embarrassed the Prime Minister by refusing to accompany him. The bone of contention between them is the significant, long awaited, critical Teesta water sharing treaty that was redesigned without her personal consent. The Centre proposed the sharing of thirty three thousand cusecs of water with Bangladesh in the Teesta water sharing pact, while West Bengal was not willing to concede more than twenty five thousand cusecs. The Teesta deal is said to have a direct impact on the West Bengal state.

The Prime Minister has assured Mamata Banerjee that “nothing will be done that will harm Bengal’s interests”. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai assured that the treaty would not be signed without the complete consent of the West Bengal Chief Minister. He said,” In our federal scheme of things nothing is done or will be done without the consultation with the state Government. Any agreement we will conclude will have to be acceptable to them.”

The maiden bilateral visit by Dr. Singh — the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 12 years — aims at consolidating the process set in motion during the landmark visit of Ms. Hasina to India in January, 2010, to craft a new paradigm relations, said Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said ahead of the visit.

Even though Mamata has chosen not to go on the Bangladesh visit, the four Chief Ministers of states bordering Bangladesh-  Assam, Tripura, Mizoram and Meghalaya will accompany the Prime Minister. The temperamental Mamata’s move has invited a lot of criticism from her political rivals. CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said, “this move by Mamata will send the wrong message.”

Though the transit treaty and the Teesta water pact will not be signed several other significant agreements are on the cards. Diplomatic sources said, the two countries are also considering signing of a long-term framework agreement for forging close bilateral relations which will provide a structure, and identify priorities of the relationship.

An extradition pact is likely to be inked by the two sides in the presence of Dr. Singh and Ms. Hasina. Top ULFA leader Anup Chetia, now in Bangladesh after having served out his sentence, could be the first to be sent back to India under the new accord.

The two countries are likely to sign a package protocol under the 1974 Mujib-Indira Land Boundary Agreement which will deal with five legacy issues — exchange of enclaves and adversely possessed land, demarcation of 6.5 km of un-demarcated border, allowing Bangladeshis to use “Tin Bigha Corridor” for 24 hours, and finalisation of a strip map.

A likely MoU on trade liberalisation will allow duty-free entry of several of the 61 Bangladeshi products, most of them garments, to India. This will be signed under the Trade Agreement between the two countries.

A protocol on Protection of Royal Bengal Tiger in the Sundarbans is also likely to be inked. Besides, the two countries might sign MoU on Preservation of Biodiversity in the Sundarbans.

Bangladesh and India are also likely to sign MoUs on cooperation on renewable energy, telecast of programmes of Doordarshan and state-owned BTV, cooperation in fisheries sector and cooperation between Dhaka University and Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

An accord on allowing transit to Nepal through Rohanpur (Chapai Nawabganj) in Bangladesh and Singabad in India might also be signed. There is also the possibility of signing of an agreement on railway connectivity between Akhaura and Agartala, alignment construction of which is nearing completion.

India’s pressing issue of transit is expected to be signed under existing Trade Agreement between the two countries. Under it, three separate protocols on use of Chittagong and Mongla seaports of Bangladesh and roads and railway are on the cards. Both the countries would make arrangements for the use of their waterways, roadways and railways for commerce between the two countries for passage of goods between mainland India to its northeastern states through Bangladeshi territory.

During his visit, Dr. Singh will hold talks with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina, call on President Zillur Rahman and hold meetings with opposition leaders Begum Khaleda Zia and Jatiya Party chief Hussain Muhammed Ershad, the former military dictator.

Agreements on land boundary, water resources, market access and power purchase are crucial for Bangladesh while transit and security are prime concerns of India.










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