Indo-Bangla Relations: Connectivity

 

Connectivity between Bangladesh and India has reached new heights since Bangladesh Awami League came to power in 2009. Several connectivity agreements between the two countries have been executed during this period, while older agreements have been renewed, with appropriate modifications where necessary.

Rail Connectivity: During the last eight years, services of the Maitree Express, the only rail service between Dhaka and Kolkata, has been extended by increasing frequency of services. Talks are underway for a further extension of this service, which officially resumed rail connectivity between the two neighbouring countries after a 43 years gap in 2008. During his visit in 2015, Prime Minister Modi announced that India will construct a modern International Passenger Terminal (IPT) at a suitable location in India so as to facilitate customs and immigration requirements of passengers travelling on the Kolkata-Dhaka Maitri Express and other trains that are to connect India and Bangladesh.

As part of efforts to further improve rail communication, five rail routes are to be launched between Bangladesh and India in phases by 2018. Freight services will begin on the route from Biral in Dinajpur to Radhikapur in West Bengal and passenger services on Khulna-Kolkata route via Benapole. The other three routes are Shahbazpur-Mahisasan, Akhaura-Agartala and Chilahati-Holdibari routes, which will be used for carrying goods. Other routes being considered are Feni-Belonia, Burimari-Changrabandha and Banglabandha-Siliguri. At present, three rail routes are operational between the two neighbouring countries. The route from Darshana in Chuadanga to Gede in West Bengal is used for carrying both passengers and goods and the other two -- Benapole-Petrapole and Rohanpur-Singhabad routes -- for freight services.

Bus Services: Recently, Bangladesh and India have begun a new bus service connecting Khulna and Kolkata, opening up a new horizon in the road connectivity between the countries. It is the third direct bus service between the neighbours after Dhaka and Kolkata, and Agartala and Dhaka. It should be noted that it was during Sheikh Hasina’s first tenure as Prime Minister that the bus route between Dhaka and Kolkata was opened as a result of the signing of the Agreement for Regulation of Motor Vehicle Passenger Traffic and its Protocol in June 1999 with Prime Minister Vajpayee.

On 22 May 2015, the trial run for the direct bus service between Dhaka, Bangladesh and Guwahati, India via Shillong started, with the hopes of regularizing the service. On June 1, 2015, the trial run of direct bus service between Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala also began. Bangladesh Cabinet has already approved the draft deals for regularizing these services. Agreements have also been for air connection between Dhaka and Guwahati.

Coastal and Inland Water Transit: In May 2016, India and Bangladesh launched coastal shipping to allow river vessels to carry cargo between the two countries, the agreement for which was signed during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister. This arrangement is providing the boost for trading between the neighbours manifold and taking advantage of the proximity the cost of transportation will be greatly reduced. The two countries have also extended their Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade Agreement – first signed under Bangabandhu – which is not only enhancing trade but also facilitating greater investments in transport infrastructure through public-private partnerships. Under the new agreement, Bangladesh will be allowed the use of channels for trade with other countries like Nepal and Bhutan. The agreement came into effect in June 2016, when the vessel carrying Indian goods consigned for Tripura marked the official transit to India’s north-east via the inland waterways of Bangladesh. Now, the direct route is around 620 nautical miles, down from 3,000, which has also cut the trade cost by nearly 50%.

Direct Shipping: In March 2016, a new era was heralded in India and Bangladesh with the launch of direct shipping. The direct shipping service was launched between Krishnapatnam and Chittagong ports at a ceremony held at the Krishnapatnam port in India. Named after the Krishnapatnam-Pangaon weekly direct service, the new shipping line was welcomed by the traders on both sides as it would greatly reduce the transit cost and also saves a lot of time. The direct service is expected to significantly reduce transportation cost and infuse fresh dynamism on the export business between both countries.

Border Cooperation: In July 2016, the Governments of India and Bangladesh stepped up with an agreement that merged the busiest land check-post at Benapole-Petrapole, easing the movement of people and goods, let alone lifting up their relations a notch higher. Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi opened the new ‘Petrapole Integrated Check Post’ (ICP). The integrated post is aimed at eliminating infrastructural bottlenecks to achieve effective and efficient security, immigration, customs, and quarantine functions.

REGIONAL CONNECTIVITY
Cooperation and connectivity between India and Bangladesh have also received and will continue to receive further boost from Bangladesh's proactive stance on enhancing connectivity in South and Southeast Asia. Bangladesh is playing a leading role in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which groups together Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan in a forum for multilateral cooperation. Since 2014, the secretariat for this group has been hosted in Bangladesh.
On June 2015, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan and Nepal (BBIN) signed an agreement to ensure seamless travel of transports between the borders of these countries. The BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement, based on the EU model, envisages uninterrupted transit of passenger, personnel and cargo vehicles between the said countries.

During the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, the renewed bilateral trade agreement was signed, which allows both countries transit through each other's territories. This is expected to usher in a new era of regional connectivity. Under the deal, Bangladeshi vehicles would be able to carry goods to Bhutan and Nepal through Indian territories while India can transport cargo through Bangladesh, from the mainland to its northeastern states. Bangladesh was also instrumental in pushing for the SAARC deal on energy cooperation. In November 2014, the eight South Asian countries signed the Framework Agreement on Cooperation in Power Sector in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Further regional cooperation between Bangladesh and its neighbours is expected in the implementation of the planned concept of "Blue Economy" now that the country is in receipt of large new marine territories as a result of the maritime verdict wins against India and Myanmar. To that end, the premier educational institution in Bangladesh, Dhaka University, has signed an agreement for joint research in the Bay of Bengal with an Indian research institute during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in June 2015.

India, Nepal and Bangladesh: In February 2016, India and Nepal signed an agreement that will, among other things, allow trade transit between Bangladesh and Nepal. Rail transit facility will be operationalised through Singhabad in India for Nepal's trade with and through Bangladesh, according to the letter of exchange signed after Nepal's Prime Minister KP Oli's talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. The transit between Nepal and Bangladesh will be through the Kakarbitta (Nepal)-Banglabandha (Bangladesh) corridor. It will simplify modalities for traffic of cargo between the two countries.

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