A high-level mechanism to monitor implementation of development projects funded by India in Bangladesh will be put in place soon, the two countries said after a virtual ministerial meeting on Tuesday while reaffirming their commitment to finalise an interim agreement on sharing of Teesta river water. The sixth meeting of the India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) also reiterated the importance of the safe, speedy and sustainable return to Myanmar of the forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine State of that country who are being sheltered by Bangladesh, according to the Ministry of External Affairs.
The meeting, co-chaired by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Bangladeshi counterpart A K Abdul Momen, carried out a comprehensive review of bilateral ties ahead of a virtual summit between prime ministers of the two countries in December. On the Rohingya issue, a joint statement issued by the MEA said the Bangladesh foreign minister emphasised that unless the "problem is resolved quickly, there are possibilities of pockets of radicalism disrupting economic growth, peace and stability in the region, and requested India's leverage to address the crisis." Recognising that terrorism remains a significant threat to global peace and security, both sides reiterated their strong commitment to eliminate it in all its forms and manifestations, it said.
In the talks, the two ministers noted that India and Bangladesh are currently the top two economies in South Asia and greater measures could be taken for mutually beneficial enhancement of trade and investment between the two countries, including the removal of all forms of barriers to trade. The joint statement said both sides decided to form a 'high-level monitoring committee' headed by the economic relations secretary of Bangladesh and the Indian high commissioner in Dhaka to regularly review the progress of projects being implemented under India's Line of Credit to Bangladesh.
It sad the ministers also stressed on the need to further strengthen the implementation of the coordinated border management plan (CBMP) to effectively guard the frontier between the two countries. "Both sides agreed that the loss of civilian lives at the border is a matter of concern and urged the concerned border forces to enhance coordinated measures to bring such border incidents down to zero," the statement said.
"The Indian side also requested for an expeditious approval to erecting the single row fencing in vulnerable patches along the border, within 150 yards, that will help contain border crimes," it added. Bangladesh and India share a 4096-km-long border and a large section of it is porous.
According to the joint statement, the two ministers also reiterated their commitment to finalisation of the interim agreement for the sharing of waters of the Teesta river. "They also underscored the need for early conclusion of framework of interim agreement on sharing of waters of six other joint rivers, namely, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar," it said.
The long-pending Teesta water-sharing deal was set to be inked during the then prime minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh in September 2011 but was postponed at the last minute due to objections by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. During discussions on the coronavirus pandemic, Jaishankar reiterated India's priority to supply COVID-19 vaccines to Bangladesh while talking about the importance of the country in New Delhi's 'Neighbourhood First' policy.
"In this context, the ministers directed their officials to expedite the exchange of required information regarding Phase-III testing, vaccine distribution, co-production and delivery in Bangladesh," the joint statement said. It said both sides expressed satisfaction at the increasing pace of defence cooperation including in training, exchanges and capacity building, while emphasising on an early implementation of the defence Line of Credit.
On the economic front, Bangladesh appreciated India for duty free access of Bangladeshi products into the Indian market under SAFTA as a result of which the exports from the country to India could cross the USD 1 billion dollar mark in 2018-19. "It was highlighted that for Bangladesh to better utilise the concessions under SAFTA, both sides need to focus on adequate trade facilitation," the statement said.
The South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) is a free trade arrangement under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It said Momen reiterated the request to the Indian side for informing in advance of amendments in export policy that India may initiate which could impact India's export of essential commodities to Bangladesh since such exports are an important factor influencing Bangladesh's domestic market.
The Bangladeshi foreign minister also requested the Indian side to extend uniform treatment to investors from his country under India's FDI policy so that they can invest under the automatic route. According to the joint statement, both ministers tasked officials concerned to work closely to avoid disruption of supply chains, particularly in the post-COVID period.
"They emphasised the need to resume unhindered two-way trade through the land ports, while optimising use of the four trans-border railway connections as well as inland and coastal waterways," it said. Both countries agreed to initiate air travel bubble' flights to meet the urgent requirements of certain categories of travellers on both sides during the pandemic.
The Bangladesh side also requested the Indian side to resume regular travel through land ports at the earliest. The statement said Momen requested the Indian side to consider resuming issuance of visa to Bangladeshi nationals, including medical patients seeking urgent treatment and students studying in various educational institutes in India.
At the meeting, the two ministers also jointly unveiled a commemorative postal stamp issued by Bangladesh on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The External Affairs Minister announced India's decision to launch a commemorative postal stamp on the occasion of the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on December 16.
The statement said both countries decided to jointly celebrate the golden jubilee of the 'Liberation War' and 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in India, Bangladesh and in select third countries. The joint statement also said that Jaishankar and Momen underscored the value of positive media reporting on the bilateral engagements between the two countries and agreed to call upon their respective media communities to play more responsible roles in this regard.