Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday called on Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina here during which they discussed security related issues of mutual interest, co-operation in containing the coronavirus pandemic and revival of the economy in a post-COVID-19 world.
Shringla, who arrived here earlier in the day on his second visit to Bangladesh after he took office as the foreign secretary, met Prime Minister Hasina at Ganabhaban, her official residence. The meeting lasted for an hour.
"It was an excellent meeting, sources said, noting that Prime Minister Hasina has not met anyone from abroad in the past few months. Prime Minister Hasina greatly appreciated her Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi's gesture in sending someone to touch base, convey message and see how the two sides could take the relationship forward," they said.
During the meeting, the two sides discussed the development partnership, enhancing connectivity, revival of economy post-COVID-19, cooperation on COVID-19 assistance, including on therapeutics and vaccine and joint commemoration of Mujib Barsho or the birth centenary of Hasina's father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, sources said.
They said a proposal for a Joint Consultative Commission at Foreign Ministers-level to be convened virtually soon to oversee the relationship, especially projects.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed gratefulness over the supply of locomotives. India last month provided 10 locomotives to Bangladesh under its grant assistance programme which it committed during Hasina's visit to New Delhi in October 2019 and Prime Minister Modi's renewed focus on "neighbourhood first" policy.
Sources said that the proposal for travel bubble for business, official and medical travel was discussed. Security related issues of mutual interest were also discussed, they said. The Rohingya issue and their possible safe repatriation to Myanmar was also discussed, they said.
Nearly one million Rohingya Muslims fled a crackdown by the Myanmar's military in 2017 in Rakhine state and are living in camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Bangladesh had sought India's support in handling the Rohingya issue by mounting pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees.
Shringla is expected to meet Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and his counterpart Masud Bin Momen. "He is expected to have bilateral talks with our foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen on Wednesday," a Bangladesh foreign ministry official said.
Both Bangladesh foreign office and the Indian high commission preferred to keep the visit as a low-key affair amid reports that this is Shringla's first overseas tour since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Talking to reporters, Masud said that he would discuss various bilateral issues particularly regarding COVID-19 situation and prospective cooperation over access to coronavirus vaccine being developed by UK's Oxford University.
"We will talk about trial possibilities of their (India) vaccine (being developed at Oxford University) here as we are continuing our discussion (regarding access to vaccine) with everyone," he said. He said that he would make the offer in his meeting with Shringla on Wednesday.
Developed in collaboration with British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, Oxford University's vaccine candidate is leading the race for a vaccine seen as the only viable option to get the world out of the coronavirus pandemic.
The vaccine is undergoing final stage trials in different countries. Serum Institute is also set to begin trials of the vaccine in India this week.
Masud said Bangladesh has also communicated with Britain's AstraZeneca via the High Commission in London with the offer for the trial to be held in Bangladesh, which has recorded 282,344 coronavirus cases and 3,740 deaths from the disease. It is also trying different ways to secure a vaccine.
"Different vaccine producers in India are dealing with the commercial sides of the vaccine. This is the reason driving our efforts. We are in discussion with different countries that have developed vaccines, be it the Americans or Oxford," he said. "It (vaccine) could be from China, Russia, USA or India...our discussion is underway with them all," he said.
The government will go for the vaccine that will appear as the safest and most efficient, the foreign secretary added. Bangladesh Foreign Minister Momen has described Bangladesh-India ties as a "blood relationship".
Masud on Tuesday substantiated the minister's comment, saying Bangladesh-India ties remained very deep. He said his counterpart Shringla's Dhaka visit was not a sudden one and rather part of regular bilateral engagements.
He said that the meeting was also expected to discuss other bilateral issues like the recent development on transhipment and railway cooperation with India. Shringla, who has served as Indian High commission to Bangladesh before, visited Dhaka in March last after assuming office of the Indian Foreign Secretary in January this year.