President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday made a strong case for Bangladesh granting transit and connectivity to India, contending that this can pave the way for greater integration in South and South East Asia.
As India presses Bangladesh for the transit to connect its mainland to the northeastern Indian states to address their developmental and security concerns, Mukherjee stressed on transit in the larger context of this country's geographical location.
He said that Bangladesh can act as a bridge between South and South East Asia.
"Apart from the potential of its resources on land and sea, the geographical location of Bangladesh is an advantage that must be fully explored and exploited", Mukherjee said in his speech after receiving an honorary law degree from Dhaka University at a special convocation in Dhaka on Monday afternoon.
He said, "Bangladesh lies at the cross-roads of South and South-East Asia. Bangladesh has once again taken the leadership in moving towards sub-regional cooperation".
"This will lead to practical results in terms of better water management, more electricity and grid connectivity, more trade and more cross-country movement of goods and people," Mukherjee said.
"India and Bangladesh can lead the way towards greater integration within our region and beyond in South East Asia", he said.
The President expressed the hope that an early agreement between India and Bangladesh on the sharing of Teesta waters would be worked out as "sharing of the waters of common rivers is a "high priority for us".
He also said the Indian government proposes to introduce a constitutional amendment Bill in Parliament to give effect to the provisions of the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh.
"The sharing of the waters of our common rivers is a high priority for us. We have successfully forged agreements in the past and are hopeful of arriving at an early accord on the sharing of the Teesta waters", Mukherjee said while accepting the honorary degree.
The failure to ink the deal on Teesta following opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and non-implementation of the land boundary agreement by Indian Parliament have remained the sticky points in bilateral relations which otherwise have been on the upswing for the last three years.
Pointing out that India and Bangladesh have vast opportunities to increase bilateral trade and commerce, Mukherjee said India has taken the first step by removing quota and duty restrictions from all categories of imports from Bangladesh except twenty five tariff lines, allowing Bangladeshi products duty-free access to large Indian market.
He said, the two countries are working to remove the remaining non-tariff barriers, open more border haats and harmonise their respective standards for checking the quality of products.
Seeking to address a major concern of Bangladesh over incidents of firing allegedly by BSF to curb trans-border crimes along the border with India, Mukherjee said New Delhi was committed to working closely with Dhaka "to avoid any untoward incidents on our border".
"We can together make it a gateway of peace and mutually beneficial cooperation", he added.
The President assured Bangladesh that India was committed to implementing the decisions taken during the visits of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in January, 2010, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's tour of Bangladesh in September 2011.
"We now have a 'Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development' that lays down the roadmap for our work together in the years to come. I am happy to note that both countries have made considerable progress in the implementation of the far-reaching decisions taken during these historic visits", Mukherjee said.
"India and Bangladesh are interlinked like no other nations on earth. Our destinies are interwoven just like our history and our geography. India and Bangladesh must develop and grow together, ensuring that our growth provides more opportunities to both our peoples," he said.
Pranab calls for political consensus on Teesta
With India failing to ink the Teesta river water-sharing deal and land boundary agreement with Bangladesh due to internal differences, visiting President Pranab Mukherjee underlined the need for building consensus on the two key issues to improve ties with Dhaka.
Choosing to speak in front of lawmakers who included BJP's Chandan Mitra and Trinamool Congress' Mukul Roy who disagree with the Centre's decision to pass the land boundary agreement and share the waters of Teesta, Mukherjee said over the years India has "developed broad consensus across the political spectrum" on foreign policy issues.
He said "in a democracy we have divergence of views on many issues but there are some areas where there is a consensus and "developing good relations with Bangladesh is one such area on which there is consensus".
Mukherjee, who was interacting with the Indian community in Bangladesh at a function on Monday evening, said the relationship with Bangladesh is steady and moving forward and the two countries "are sincerely trying to resolve the issues of demarcation of land boundary and sharing of river waters".
Earlier in the day, in his speech after accepting an honorary doctorate degree of law from Dhaka University, he said the Indian government proposes to introduce a constitution amendment bill in the Parliament to give effect the land boundary agreement and arriving at an early accord on the sharing of Teesta waters.
While BJP President Rajnath Singh on Sunday cautioned the government against counting on his party's support for Parliamentary approval of the land boundary agreement as a bill for this needs constitution amendment and two-thirds majority support, Trinamool Congress has refused to budge from its opposition to Teesta water-sharing deal.
BJP is concerned over loss of Indian land envisaged in the demarcation of land boundary agreement, particularly in Assam and Meghalaya where the party has been up in arms against the accord.
The President's remarks on Teesta and land boundary agreement came after the issues were raised by Jatiya Party President Hussain Muahmmad Ershad.
Ershad is understood to have conveyed to Mukherjee that signing of the Teesta deal would help Bangladesh in a great way.
The issues were also brought up by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her meeting with Mukherjee last night.
Image: President Pranab Mukherjee holding talks with former Bangladesh president and now Jatiyo Party chairman, HM Ershad.
Photograph Courtesy: Rashtrapati Bhawan