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Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming India visit to cement Dhaka-Delhi ties

ANN | Dhaka |

India-Bangla ties have seen a steady upswing over the last several years with the two nations moving forward to strengthen connectivity and energy cooperation

Bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India are graduating to a new level, as the two countries have come closer through enhanced mutual cooperation in a wide range of areas.

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Indian high commissioner in Dhaka, said this on Monday in an interaction with journalists of The Daily Star during a courtesy visit to the newspaper office in the capital.

Indo-Bangla ties have seen a steady upswing over the last several years with the two nations moving forward to strengthen connectivity and energy cooperation. India has given Bangladesh duty-free benefits on almost all goods. And the two neighbours have also implemented the Land Boundary Agreement, he said.

On energy sector cooperation, he said India is currently exporting 600 megawatt of electricity to Bangladesh, and is ready to export more as per Bangladesh's requirement.

India is also helping Bangladesh produce power.

“There is no limit to what you can get from India because we have a lot of surplus energy. We can sell you electricity any time… you can take 1,000 megawatt, 2,000 megawatt and even 10,000 megawatt,” Shringla said.

Replying to a query on the 1,320MW coal-fired Rampal power plant, he said India is providing 80 percent of the financing with one percent interest on the loan payable over a period of 30 years. Bangladesh offered the land and it happened to be at Rampal.

The envoy said India has no issues regarding the location of the India-Bangladesh joint venture project.

“As far as India is concerned, we are happy to work with you [Bangladesh] in setting up power plant wherever you like, including in Rampal.”

About Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's upcoming India visit, Shringla said it would be the first state visit in her current tenure. Her previous state visit to India took place seven years ago.

“From our side, this is a very important visit…”

Shringla mentioned that Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar would visit Dhaka on February 23-24, and assess areas of bilateral cooperation and groundwork for the Bangladesh PM's upcoming visit.

“Preparatory aspects of the visit are important and we need to prepare. We need to make sure that both logistically and substantially we have the right input in place before the visit. So, all this work is in progress,” said the Indian envoy.

He noted that the new level of cooperation helped the two next-door neighbours harness the benefits of bilateral and sub-regional trade and investment.

“India now allows duty-free benefits to all Bangladeshi goods, except for cigarette and alcohol items.” Over the past years, the two countries have been moving forward to achieve socio-economic progress.

“For us (India) to prosper economically, socially and everywhere, Bangladesh needs to be a partner in this. For you (Bangladesh) to be a mid-income country by 2021 and developed country by 2041, you need to be a partner.”

In order to achieve this, “we decided that we must remove some major impediments, some perceptions that existed in Bangladesh,” he said.

“One of the aspects that we tried to resolve is the issue of market access…

“The second thing that we resolved was land boundary. We were able to sign the land boundary agreement and implement it. The two countries also sorted out maritime boundary.”

Referring to Indo-Bangla defence cooperation, Shringla said there has been cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries. Extensive training and exercises are held at military and navy levels, he said.

On the Indian defence minister's recent Bangladesh visit, he said it was Manohar Parrikar's first visit to Dhaka. The visit was very significant as he had wide-ranging discussions with political and military leadership of Bangladesh.

“We certainly look forward to continuing our current level of cooperation, which is quite significant because we have talked army to army, navy to navy, air force to air force… we have regular exchange at all levels.”

He said military-to-military exchanges are very extensive, and hoped that those would go on in the future.

On the Teesta water sharing issue, Shringla said India's commitment to conclude an agreement has been there on record and continues to be there. “It is something that is under constant consideration on our side,” he said.

He pointed out that as per the Indian federal system, the centre needs to involve the state government before signing any such agreement.

On Bangladesh's growing relations with China, Shringla said, “Your relationship with other countries, as it develops and progresses, is absolutely, from our point of view, is good development.”

“We want good cooperation, we want amity, we want economic development in the region. Economic development is also good for us. Our economies are so interlinked that if you develop, we also develop.”

On the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, he said India remains steadfast in its commitment to regional cooperation, connectivity and contacts.

But increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region and growing interference in the internal affairs by one country have created an environment that is not conducive to Saarc's success.

He, however, sees huge potential and prospects of The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and regional sub-grouping BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal), which, according to him, can play an effective role in achieving socio-economic development.