Much like the waters of the Teesta, another essential commodity has soured relations between India and Bangladesh at a critical juncture ~ when the equation between the two South Asian neighbours appeared to be on the upswing. The Bangladesh foreign ministry has on Thursday conveyed what it calls its “deep concern” through a note verbale that has been advanced to the Indian High Commission in Dhaka.
Most importantly, the government helmed by Begum Hasina has taken exception to the fact that Bangladesh had not been informed in advance before the ban on the export of onions was imposed. Arguably, India has its economic complusions; but whether or not the terms of trade have been violated remains open to question. The Bangladesh foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen, has said that there was an understanding between the two countries that information would be conveyed in advance when the issue concerns an export-import ban.
“It would have been better had Bangladesh been informed about the abrupt decision beforehand.” It is imperative, therefore, for India to explain its position and the demand-supply constraints that have impinged on the domestic onion trade. The monthly requirement of onions in Bangladesh is about 2 lakh tonnes. The country has a stock of around 5.6 lakh tonnes and import of 11,000 tonnes is under process.
Faced with India’s ban on onion export, Dhaka has approached Turkey to compensate for the onion shortage. The Government of India’s “abrupt decision” runs counter to the “understanding” between the two countries in 2019 and 2020. A clarification by Delhi is essential; after all, it doesn’t have many friends in the neighborhood. Dhaka’s note verbale has mentioned that Bangladesh had requested India to inform its government “ahead of time” in case of any development that necessitates such a restriction.
Has India been caught on the wrong foot? Bangladesh has referred to the commerce secretary-level meeting between the two countries in January this year, and the “VVIP visit” to India in October last year. Indeed, Prime Minister Hasina has regretted India’s ban on onion exports.
“I wish you had informed us before suddenly putting a halt in the export of onions. I had to tell my cook that I have no other option but to have my food without onions. I would request India to inform us beforehand while taking such a decision. After all, we are neighbours.” While West Bengal has its compulsions for not releasing the Teesta water, so too perhaps does the Union government for not exporting onions to its eastern neighbour.
The latest friction needs to be resolved not the least because it is an essential commodity, one that is integral to the cuisine and food habits of the people of Bangladesh. The export ban has already affected the price of the commodity in India. The issue calls for deeper reflection on the part of the Ministries of External Affairs and Food and Supplies.