« Back to articlePrint this article

Delhi, Dhaka ramp up bilateral visits to solve thorny issues

April 25, 2012 17:00 IST

Agreements on Teesta River water sharing, land boundaries and extradition remain in limbo in spite of friendly relations between India and Bangladesh, reports Syed Tashfin Chowdhury from Dhaka.

In a bid to review the agreements signed and issues discussed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh in September last year and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in January 2010, Dhaka and New Delhi are preparing to host two ministerial-level exchange visits in the coming month.

Dhaka will host the two-day visit of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on May 5. On either May 6 or May 7, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni is scheduled to visit India on a two day-visit.

Foreign ministry officials in Bangladesh have said that the visits are meant to expedite implementation of the agreements and commitments made by both sides. The visits will also help in solving the outstanding issues between the two neighbours including Teesta River water sharing, the exchange of enclaves and over six kilometres of un-demarcated borders.

The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh reported that Mukherjee, who is scheduled to fly to Dhaka following the Asian Development Bank's meeting in Manila on May 5, will call on Sheikh Hasina. He will also meet his Bangladeshi counterpart Abul Maal Abdul Muhith as well as Dipu Moni.

Mukherjee is also scheduled to join the concluding ceremony of the year-long celebration of Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary in Dhaka.

The daily quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Mukherjee will convey to Bangladesh that India is hopeful of overcoming complexities that came in the way of implementing two key decisions -- the Teesta water sharing agreement and ratification of the deal on exchanging adversely possessed lands, enclaves and land boundary demarcation.

Moni, during her India visit, will attend on May 7 the closing ceremony of Tagore's 150th birth anniversary programme.

During his visit to Bangladesh last year, Dr Singh and Sheikh Hasina had both agreed to organise the birth anniversary programme of the Nobel laureate and global literature icon.

Moni will also meet External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to review the implementation of the new initiatives which were committed to by the two nations during the PM's visit last year.

At the time, a framework agreement on cooperation for development, a protocol to the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement and seven memoranda of understandings were signed. An addendum on one protocol to the MoU to facilitate overland transit traffic between Bangladesh and Nepal was also signed.

Several MoUs which were signed included the protection of tigers in the Sundarbans; an exchange programme between Bangladesh Television and Doordarshan; cooperation between Dhaka University and Jawaharlal Nehru University; cooperation on renewable energy and cooperation on fisheries and fashion technology.

Dhaka is expected to stress on an agreement to share the water of Teesta River.

The agreement couldn't come to fruition during Dr Singh's visit last year as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declined to accompany the PM during his visit after she dubbed the proposal to share Teesta River water between the two countries equally as being "against her state's interests".

According to the Indian media, New Delhi is also going to focus on inking an extradition treaty between the two countries.

An extradition treaty will be pivotal in the apprehension and punishment of insurgents from outfits like United Liberation Front of Asom and others as well as for Bangladeshi criminals who have fled to India. Delhi and Dhaka are also likely to discuss issues on terrorism and insurgency.

The ratification of the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement is also likely to be discussed to resolve long-standing land boundary issues between the two countries.

The ratification of a protocol of the 1974 land boundary agreement, signed between India and Bangladesh last September regarding enclaves and other land boundary issues, is being the people living in the enclaves on both sides.

As the protocol does not have any definite timeframe and is again subject to ratification by the governments, the India Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange Coordination Committee observed a ten day agitation programme from September 23 to demand a specific timeframe and immediate initiative to make the exchange a reality.

According to a joint headcount by Bangladesh and Indian authorities conducted in the 162 enclaves last year, Bangladesh has 51 enclaves in India covering a total of 7,110.02 acres of land and 14,090 people while India has 111 enclaves on 17,160.63 acres in Bangladesh with nearly 37,369 people.

The hardships of these people have sustained over the past 64 years, ever since the partition of India in 1947. They are not allowed to legally apply for a Bangladesh government job, subscribe to gas and electricity connections, receive treatment at public hospitals, open bank accounts in Bangladeshi banks and even purchase land or houses in Bangladesh.

The development of roads and other infrastructure in these enclaves are supported through contributions from the residents of these enclaves. There are no schools inside the enclaves.

The case is the same for residents of Bangladeshi enclaves inside India.

But through the ratification of the protocol and exchange of the enclaves and exclaves, these residents on both sides of the border hope to avail these rights after becoming nationals of the countries in which their enclaves fall.

Speaker Meira Kumar is expected to come to Dhaka on a five-day "cultural diplomacy initiative" visit from May 23 on an invitation from her Bangladeshi counterpart Abdul Hamid.

Kumar will attend the joint inauguration of a commemorative function on Bangladesh's national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury In Dhaka