India, Bangladesh relations transcend even strategic partnership
There have been significant advances in connectivity through railways, ports, and inland waterways
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday will hold bilateral summit with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in a virtual format.
An important neighbour of India, bilateral relations between New Delhi and Dhaka transcend even strategic partnership.
In recent past both sides have worked to restore and also develop connectivity links for the benefit of the people on the two sides.
There have been significant advances achieved in the connectivity area in the recent months, especially in railway connectivity, connectivity using ports and inland waterways connectivity.
Both sides have a long standing and time-tested Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT), which was first signed in 1972. It was first renewed in 2015 for a period of five years with a provision for its automatic renewal for a further period of five years.
The 2nd Addendum to the PIWTT was signed by both sides on May 20, 2020. Through this, two new routes were added to the India – Bangladesh Protocol Routes: Sonamura – Daudkandi and Daudkandi – Sonamura.
The trial run was successfully completed in September 2020 on this route, thereby connecting Tripura for the first time with the Protocol Route and through this with national waterways network through Bangladesh.
Bangladesh will also benefit as it creates another viable trade route for them to the North-East.
Another recent important development has been the movement of Indian cargo under the agreement on the use of Chattogram Port in July 2020 to Tripura.
Railway connectivity has been a major focus area for the two countries. progress has been achieved in recent months.
Firstly, during the COVID-19 related lockdown, both sides facilitated the operationalisation of container and parcel train services in July 2020.
Till the end of November, more than 1 million tonnes of cargo has been transported using these services. Secondly, both sides have been working on restoring all the six pre-1965 rail links between India and Bangladesh.
Currently, four out of the original pre-1965 six rail links have been operationalised. Out of the remaining two, Chilahati-Haldibari rail link, which used to be the old Darjeeling mail via Siliguri, will be inaugurated at the summit.
The other - Karimganj – Mahisashan rail link, on the Assam side is likely to get operational in 2022. Finally, the new rail link between Akhaura (Bangladesh) and Agartala is being financed under grant assistance from India and is expected to be operational by end 2021.
To support enhancement of railway infrastructure of Bangladesh, India has handed over ten Broad Gauge locomotives in July 2020. This was the fulfillment of India’s commitment made in October 2019.
Two countries have also stepped up efforts to improve road connectivity between the two countries, including through discussions in the BBIN format.
The last meeting of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) was held in February 2020 in New Delhi. Currently, both sides are in the process of finalizing passenger and cargo protocols.
On the civil aviation front, in the face of restrictions to air travel on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, both sides established an ‘Air Travel Bubble’ on October 28, 2020 to facilitate movement of travellers on both sides, especially of medical travellers. Currently, the approved frequency is 56 per week.