India Bangladesh Bilateral Relations
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TOPIC: General Studies 2
- India and its neighbourhood- relations.
- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
In news: India and Bangladesh have moved further to consolidate their ties when External Affairs Minister of India returned after attending Joint Consultative Commission, a machinery under which the two countries hold the consultations. 15 projects have been finalised and have been worked out during this period.
This is a period of re-consolidation where importance should be given to implementation and not announcement to any new projects because a lot of agreements have been signed during the visit of PM Haseena and PM Modi before. This is a period of consolidation, of looking at the implementation of procedures and also a period of expansion in terms of certain things that have been already started like infrastructure projects, railway connectivity and energy.
Collaboration in energy
Energy is a emerging as a major factor in the bilateral relationship because both sides are dependent on imported energy. Both sides needs energy for faster growth of their economies and both countries are growing by more than 6% in their GDP. Hence, energy is a major player to increase and improve ties between both countries.
Bharat Petroleum does the refining in collaboration Bangladesh at the Numaligarh refinery and the oil and gas come from India. It helps Bangladesh in a big way as India is a major exporter of petroleum products like high speed diesel. Bangladesh needs a lot of high speed diesel for their riverine craft, the barges and the boats. It is done in Numaligarh in Assam because it is nearest to the northern Bangladeshi ports. Now there is a plan to build a pipeline so that to deliver that high speed diesel and other petroleum products, so logistics from there can be done easily internally within Bangladesh by barges, by trucks or whatever mode they have. There is a proposal for the LNG terminals along the coast line in Bangladesh so that these terminals can easily import oil, liquefy gas and then re-gasify it and then supply to various industries and households.
The Palatana power production in Tripura is a very bright example of India-Bangladesh joint venture. When the gas in Tripura was first found, there was an idea to request Bangladesh to build a pipeline. There was exploration in Myanmar also where gas was found. And thus there was an idea to build gas pipeline between these 3 countries Myanmar, Bangladesh and India but that didn’t happen. However, it was researched that supplying gas to other parts of country would be expensive, so it was decided to be converted into electricity and then send it to neighbouring states and countries. At present, the total export of electricity to the west and the east is around 700 MWs which is expected to go up.
Issues about water-sharing is still a concern but it has to be sorted out at the earliest. India is an upper riparian country and Bangladesh is a lower riparian. Both countries share about 54 rivers and there is an element of anxiety in Bangladesh about if they will get adequate water but it is no longer about sharing water of just one river. Now it is about management of the whole issue as it is done with Nepal and Bhutan. However, China is not very encouraging in terms of sharing data or in terms of coming forward with water sharing as an arrangement.
The water sharing issue is seasonal as there is too much water in one season and too little in another season. So there is an imbalance in the availability of water in different seasons. It is equally important to manage the agricultural practices in both side which use large amounts of water in the main season when there is less water, especially for water hungry crops like rice cultivation.
Bilateral trade is another issue and there is a huge gap between what Bangladesh imports and exports. In 2016, India exported 5.4 billion and Bangladesh exported 689 million. This can be tackled by making Bangladeshi goods tariff free, giving free customs and free entry into the Indian market and raise their exports to India.
It is true that Bangladesh is small to India, both in terms of the size and economy. Not too many things are manufactured by Bangladesh that can be exported to the Indian market except for garments. But India is also a garment producer so there is a competition there rather than complementarity. So they are competing thus making it very difficult for trade balance to be addressed by just one or 2 commodities or one or 2 lines of goods.
The trade should be constantly encouraged despite trade balance being tilted immensely. For example, though India has huge trade deficit with China but it still carries on as it is aware of its needs. Similarly, Bangladesh also needs goods from India and should focus on increasing trade dynamics to support each other mutually.
There is no doubt that China is encroaching into the Indian neighbourhood in a big way through projects, through incurring their influence via other things including arm sales or selling submarines to Bangladesh. China now regards itself the global power and wants to increase its influence. However, it also regards India as a competitor to some extend and has tried to ensure that the smaller countries will try to balance India v/s China to get benefits from both sides and has to win over them.
Security of the nations
Security cooperation is very important and is growing its importance because of the radicalisation and its attacks on both countries. Bangladesh has gone through a very bad patch in terms of radicalisation as a new kind of terrorism where young people from educated families have been radicalise to an extend that they can conduct an independent attack. Thus, it is important to look at social media to stop radicalisation. Bangladesh has to be made a strong democratic republic where extremism is not able to find any foothold.
Another is Rakhine state problem of Myanmar where influx of Rohingyas is worrisome for India and Bangladesh. Both the countries have to find out ways to not let its security get compromised, especially from threats coming across borders.
There have been talks of restoration of pre-1965 links encompassing road, rail, water and coastal shipping links to increase connectivity between the two countries.
India has been a reliable development partner and the development has been all in competency. At present, 8 million dollars’ worth of line of credit is committed to Bangladesh which is the highest that India has given to any country. So there is commitment in terms of money as well as doing projects on the ground which would affect the lives of the people at the same time.
The Big Picture – Takeaways from Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina’s India Visit
Connecting the dots:
- India-Bangladesh share a healthy relationship which encourages competition as well as complimentary behaviour. Analyse.