Tuesday, August 23, 2011

India-BD bhai bhai, season for unilateral concessions?

1. Teesta agreement:

The 60-year-old Teesta dispute between India and Bangladesh could become a thing of the past with Delhi likely to agree to a 50-50 water-sharing deal, an official source in Dhaka has said.
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The two sides have agreed to a 50-50 water-sharing deal that has been a longstanding demand of Bangladesh, the source said, but there could a rider in the pact favouring India. Delhi may want to draw more water at certain times of the year, he hinted. Bansal is expected to sign the deal for a 15-year term and leave before Singh’s arrival, he added.
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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is said to be under tremendous pressure to extract a fair deal from India because the dispute has become an emotional issue in her country.

How about a fair deal to West Bengal?

According to media reports in Bangladesh, International Farakka Committee chairman Atiqur R.K. Eusufzai, a leading water activist, favoured setting aside at least 25 per cent of the water for the river and splitting the rest — 60 per cent for Bangladesh and 40 per cent for India. Delhi is unlikely to agree to such terms, but a 50 per cent share will vastly help dilute apprehensions in Dhaka.

2. Extradition treaty: Linky

Official sources in Dhaka said India was keen on inking the treaty during Hasina’s tenure and were ready with a draft, which has to be given to Bangladeshi officials for inputs and feedback. “India is keen that the treaty is signed during this regime as Indo-Bangla ties have never been better. We are at the most positive stage of our relationship and the treaty will heighten this sense of mutual confidence. Also, one has to take into account that Bangladesh is a highly polarised country and for us the time and situation is just right to go ahead with the deal,” said a senior official closely associated with the developments. The sources said the deal would most likely be inked during Hasina’s next trip to India and before Bangladesh goes to polls in 2013.

How naive of people to think that Sh. Hasina will be able to sign a deal before the Polls and will commit hara-kiri?

Delhi’s concerns are understandable. A sizeable section of the public and the opposition, led by Khaleda Zia’s BNP, have been criticising Hasina for selling out to India. There are also doubts whether the Awami League will return to power in the 2013 elections. However, it is not just India which will benefit if the treaty is signed. India is holding some 200 Bangladeshi criminals and Dhaka has given the Indian home minister a list of 100 wanted men.

Bangladesh is also keen to lay its hands on 19 absconding persons accused of involvement in the August 2004 grenade attack on Hasina. While Dhaka has already sent Interpol notices on all of them, those in India — Haris Chowdhury, Mohammad Hanif, Ratul Babu, Anisul Morsalin and his brother Muttakin — could be handed over if an extradition treaty is inked. Also on the radar are two killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who are believed to be hiding in India.

3. Elsewhere, slowing down coal project: Linky

Bangladesh and India's move for a $1.5 billion joint venture coal-fired power plant in Khulna has somewhat slowed down due to various hitches, and a feasibility study has scaled up cost of civil construction at the project site due to poor soil condition.

4. However, BD wants power from the Indian grid: Linky

According to officials, Bangladesh will formally place a proposal in the Bimstec technical committee meeting to import 500 MW of additional electricity from India and also another proposal to import electricity from Myanmar. “We'll try to convince India to export 250 MW power from its under-construction Palatana power plant and another 250 MW from other plants in West Bengal,” said an official at the power ministry who is a member of the Bangladesh working group for the meeting.

Officials said Bangladesh's present target is to import a total of about 1000 MW of electricity from neighbouring India. They further said another proposal for establishing inter-regional power grid connectivity among the member countries, particularly among Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan, will be placed in the meeting from Bangladesh side.

And more news on the power grid: Linky

Bimstec member states plan to finalise a memorandum of understanding today on exchange of electricity among them, said Power Secretary Abul Kalam Azad yesterday. The secretary was talking to reporters after the inauguration of a two-day Third Task Force Meeting on Trans Power Exchange of the Bimstec (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) at Ruposhi Bangla Hotel in Dhaka.

The process of exchanging power through the national grids among the Bimstec members is still at the initial stage though it was thought a lot earlier, Azad added. “We are hopeful this initiative will provide energy security in the region as it will enable the member states to share their surplus gas and electricity with each other.” Once it is finalised, the member countries will sign the MoU in the next ministerial meeting, said the power secretary.

5. On border settlement: Linky

Of the 4,156 km borderline, 320 km border with the Indian state of Mizoram had been drawn earlier. Land surveyors of both the countries have been working on the rest of the borderline, and so far finalised 1,083 maps for 3829.5 km of the borderline except 6.5 km strips along Panchagarh, Moulvibazar and Feni. The remaining 6.5 km boundary line will be drawn in a month, said Abdul Mannan, director general of Directorate of Land Record and Survey (DLRS).
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A total of 628 maps have been drawn for 2,262 km border with West Bengal, 93 maps for 264 km border with Assam, 20 maps for 320 km border with Mizoram, 269 maps for 874 km border with Tripura, and 139 maps for 436 km border with Meghalaya.
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The prime ministers of the two nations will decide on 111 Indian enclaves (17,160 acres of land) with a population of 37,000 and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves (7,110 acres of land) with a population of 14,000 during Manmohan Singh's Bangladesh visit on September 6-7. The two countries have disputes over land at about 25 points in West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam. Bangladesh adversely possesses 1,880.81 acres of India's land at seven points while India adversely possesses 1,165.49 acres of Bangladesh land at 18 points.

6. On Transit fees: Linky

A government panel on transit may suggest charging India, Nepal and Bhutan minimum transit fees between 2.5 cents and 7 cents a tonne for every kilometre of travel depending on the mode of transport. The committee, led by Tariff Commission Chairman Mujibur Rahman, is likely to submit its report to the government soon.
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Wishing anonymity, a commerce ministry official said the protocols may not be signed during the Indian prime minister's visit. They could be inked after the fixing of transit fees. The finance minister said the charges have to be fixed after discussions with India, Nepal and Bhutan. The government formed the committee on transit in November last year after the signing of the joint communiqué. The committee submitted a report to the government in April without recommending route-wise transit charges or details of Bangladesh's benefits from transit. The government asked the committee to submit a more detailed report. Apart from India, two major development partners -- the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank -- have been pressing Bangladesh for the last two decades to give transit to the three countries.

Wishing anonymity, a foreign ministry official said deals on transit will be signed with India in line with the joint communiqué inked in January 2010. The communiqué reads, “It was agreed that Bangladesh will allow use of Mongla and Chittagong seaports for movement of goods to and from India through road and rail. Bangladesh also conveyed their intention to give Nepal and Bhutan access to Mongla and Chittagong ports.”

7. Sea boundary demarcation: Linky

The United Nations will hear Bangladesh's claim on the continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal on August 25, months after Dhaka sought international arbitration following disputes with neighbouring India and Myanmar. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni will present Bangladesh's case in the hearing scheduled at the UN headquarters in New York, official sources said in Dhaka. Bangladesh's claim on the Bay of Bengal continental shelf extends up to 400-460 nautical miles (850 km) from the coast. Dhaka says it should have total rights over the undersea natural resources within this area.

The continental shelf is an undersea extension of a continent which can stretch for many miles out to the sea. Many nations have asserted mineral and land rights to their associated continental shelves since these are rich in natural resources. Bangladesh submitted its arbitration on February 25 to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a UN body that deals with the continental shelf.
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Bangladesh's claim is that the dispute should be resolved on “equity principle” meaning that the countries adjacent to the Bay of Bengal would get proportional areas in the zone. India and Myanmar favours "equidistance" system to get bigger maritime areas. Under a UN charter, the principle of "equity" takes into account a country's population, economic status and needs, GDP growth, and other human issues, while the "equidistance" system marks the boundary through geometric calculations.

8. And finally, the gullibility of the Indian neta-class. Gogoi pins hopes on Dhaka visit Linky

Gogoi is of the view that Assam can gain a lot from improved connectivity — air, land and waterways — between the state and the neighbouring country as this would give a big boost to the Look East Policy in the real sense of the term. “More importantly, he is also looking for connectivity of the minds. More person-to-person interactions will help understand each others point of view, improve neighbourly relations,” one of them said.

A question that is often missed is: how stable are person-to-person interactions to sea changes in popular identification of The Other? Have nt we seen enough of this Indira Gandhi-Bandaranaike, Sheikh Mujib-Indira Gandhi-type special bonds? What have they come to today? We already have precedents on unilateral concessioning that has come back to bite us: Linky

I have written extensively on the 1974 Maritime Boundary Agreement between India and Sri Lanka and the background to the ceding of the Island of Kachchatheevu. I do not propose to dwell on those details here. However I would like to highlight one point. New Delhi’s decision that Kachchatheevu is a disputed territory was a political decision taken by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The personal chemistry between Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi came into play in a big way and the island was ceded to Sri Lanka. As stated earlier, if the principle of median line was strictly enforced Kachchatheevu should have been an integral part of India. In order to gift Kachchatheevu to Sri Lanka the precedent of the 1921 fisheries agreement was followed (where Kachchatheevu came within the fisheries jurisdiction of Ceylon). Let us await Supreme Court’s decision in this subject.

The personal equation between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike which played a decisive role in the conclusion of the 1974 Agreement has been aptly summed up by Prof. Partha Ghosh of Jawaharlal Nehru University. To quote Prof. Ghosh, “Kachchativu was the most typical case of a personal equation, playing the role of diplomacy. When the negotiations had virtually failed, and the Indian official delegation was virtually pressurizing Indira Gandhi not to give up India’s claim on the islet, Sirimavo Bandaranaike made a personal appeal to Indira Gandhi to come to her rescue, as it would otherwise spell political disaster for her. Indira Gandhi appreciated Mrs Sirimavo Bandaraniake’s predicament and manipulated the situation in such a way that it became a fait accompli even before the Indian delegation could react. Sirimavo Bandaranaike remembered this gesture as late as 1990 with immense gratitude”.

9. As a postscript, Why India's largest textile exports hub is dying? Linky
10. And as a post-postscript on what BD-Burma relations are like: Linky

Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh Mijarul Quayes will be paying a visit to Myanmar to meet his counterpart on August 24 for two days to discuss bilateral and regional issues. The last meeting at the foreign secretary level took place in Dhaka on December 28, 2009. The trip is welcomed. It is reported that the issues to be discussed, among others, may include:
* Multi-modal transport connectivity;
* Border security to prevent criminal activities and illegal immigration;
* Facilitation of trade;
* Repatriation of remaining Rohingya refugees;
* Cooperation in other areas including energy and agriculture.
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Since the present government came to power, there has been an attempt to inject momentum and dynamism into bilateral relations. On May 16, 2009, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni visited Myanmar and held official talks with her counterpart U Nyan Winz. They reportedly discussed a host of issues, including repatriation of the remaining Myanmar refugees, relaxation of visa requirements for citizens of either country, facilitation of banking services, increased border trade, export of surplus power to Bangladesh, road link between the two countries up to China, direct air link, and sharing bandwidth with fiber-optic cable.

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