Remarks by High Commissioner of India, H.E. Ms. Riva Ganguly Das at the Vision North East, India-Bangladesh Partnership[11 May, 2020 ]
Hon’ble Minister, Department of North Eastern Region, Government of India, Dr. Jitendra Singh
Hon’ble Minister of Commerce, Government of Bangladesh, H.E. Tipu Munshi
Hon’ble Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Mr. Conrad Kongkal Sangma
Dr. Mohammad Jaffar Uddin, Commerce Secretary, Government of Bangladesh
Mr. Vineet Agarwal, Senior Vice President Assocham
Mr. Deepak Sood, Secretary General, ASSOCHAM
Senior Government Officials, Assocham Members and Distinguished Guests
At the beginning, I would like to congratulate ASSOCHAM for organizing this timely initiative focusing on North East region and the India – Bangladesh Partnership.
2. Friends, as you all know, under the visionary leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, our bilateral relationship has transformed significantly. Prime Minister Modi aptly described it as ‘Sonali Adhyay’, ‘Golden Chapter’ of our relation.
3. The current format of our meeting is a reminder that we are going through extraordinary times as a result of the COVID pandemic. Trade and economic activities have got disrupted and supply chains are under stress. Taking the lead and as a part of India’s Neighborhood First policy and with a view to taking a collaborative regional approach to containing the spread of COVID-19, Prime Minister Modi took the initiative to hold a video conference with leaders of other SAARC Countries on 15 March, 2020. Taking forward this initiative, separate video conferences between Health experts and Trade representatives of the SAARC nations discussing specific measures, exchange of best practices, capacity building, trade facilitation and supply chains amongst other were also held. India has also assisted Bangladesh by providing medical supplies and protective gear in containing COVID.
In a Phone conversation on 29th April 2020, both the leaders discussed the regional situation in the wake of COVID-19 and agreed to work together.
4. Friends, in the last 6 years, we have been able to make significant progress in furthering our bilateral relationship. Today, our relation is multifaceted and cooperation covers a wide spectrum of areas including trade, commerce and investment, security & border management, connectivity, energy & power, IT technology, space, nuclear science, development projects, culture and greater people to people exchange. India stands by Bangladesh as a committed friend and neighbour.
5. There is, however, no doubt that we are today facing an unprecedented challenge because of COVID-19. The economic forecast for the world is grim. India and Bangladesh cannot be immune but we can certainly try and explore opportunities in the midst of this situation. I think our geographical proximity and the rail, road & river water and soon port connectivity that exists between our two countries provides us with many opportunities that we can leverage.
6. COVID is a reminder to us that connectivity is extremely important for eco well-being. As Chief Minister and Vineet Agarwal said North-eastern India & Bangladesh is one such sub-region whose economies can be invigorated through increased connectivity. India-Bangladesh cooperation in the area of building connectivity – on land, on water and in the skies has seen rapid strides under the visionary leadership of both our Prime Ministers.
7. As you are all aware, our road connectivity has got disrupted because of COVID. We are, therefore, exploring railway as an option. In railways, we have 4 existing rail links between India and Bangladesh at Petrapole-Benapole, Radhikapur-Birol, Gede-Darshana and Rohanpur-Singhabad. As railways also provide a cheaper, safer and faster means of transport for essential cargo, I am happy to inform that both sides are looking forward to the maximum utilization of the existing 4 railway links. A consignment of 1 rake of onions has reached Bangladesh on Saturday. 3 more are on the way. These there were loaded from Nasik directly.
8. In the area of maritime and waterways connectivity, we have signed Coastal Shipping Agreement in 2015, Protocol on Inland Waterways Trade and Transit (PIWTT) for improving inland waterways connectivity has been in existence for a long time. We are about to sign the 2nd Addendum to PIWTT with 2 additional routes between Sonamura-Daudhkandi and Rajshahi-Godagir-Dhulian extension upto Aricha and additional Port of Calls. This will provide additional connectivity to the North-East.
9. We have also signed the Standard Operating Protocol on the use of Chattogram and Mongla in 2019 and the first trail run on this route will begin as soon as it is conducive to do so. With the present 4 lane Chattogram to Dhaka highway and further upgradation of the Dhaka to Sylhet Highway into 6 lane highway by the Asian Development Bank, the distance between Meghalaya and Chattogram will be reduced significantly and will take less than few hours. Government of India is also constructing a new railline between Akhaura and Agartala under grant funding and a four-lane highway project from Ashuganj river port to Akhaura land port under LOC amongst other projects. We are certain that once all these projects are operational, it will greatly enhance economic cooperation between North eastern States of India and Bangladesh and further the development of the logistics and transport infrastructure in the region. It will benefit Bangladesh as only Bangladesh Transport vehicles will be allowed for these services. I am confident that transshipment between India and Bangladesh will also prove to be a defining economic partnership between us.
10. India is dedicated to take regional cooperation forward through various initiatives, including BBIN and BIMSTEC. Bangladesh is the fulcrum of India’s Act East policy. Various connectivity project including BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement, Asian Highways Network and the railway networks will integrate our economies together and will propel our region forward. I am happy to inform that that 1st round of negotiations under the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) for seamless passenger, personal and cargo movements were recently concluded in Delhi and I am certain that once signed the BBIN MVA will be a game-changer for our neighbourhood cooperation.
11. India is also a committed development partner of Bangladesh, and we have extended three lines of credit of worth USD 8 billion to Bangladesh. This is the largest amount of concessional credit India has given to any single country which demonstrates that India accords highest priority to relations with Bangladesh. The projects covered under these Lines of Credit will help improve infrastructure in Bangladesh in sectors like ports, power, railways, roads& transport, airports, health and IT etc. More than 80% of Indian LOCs are for infrastructure projects, which is by itself an engine of growth.
12. would like to underscore that given the geographical proximity with the North Eastern States of India, Bangladesh is in the best position to tap into the abundant natural resources and the economic potential of the Northeast. Bangladesh companies can also consider investing in the Northeastern states.
13. I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the 4 day visit of Hon’ble Chief Minister of Meghalaya with a business delegation in November 2019. He arrived in Bangladesh through Dawki- Tamabil land port in Sylhet region and returned back through Dalu- Nakugaon land port in Mymensingh. His entire trip which was by road by itself signals the closeness between our two countries. During his visit, Chief Minister interacted with diverse stakeholders from agro industry, tourism, business leaders, community members and the college students. It speaks volumes about his interest in intensifying the connectivity in the region. We hope for more such delegation from the North eastern states to Bangladesh and vice versa in the coming future.
14. Friends, South Asia is at a critical juncture of history. A world of opportunity is beckoning us. In a region like ours which is emotionally connected by historical links and deep cultural linkages, it requires careful articulation of ideas. There is no denying that COVID-19 is one of the most difficult challenges, the world has ever seen, but it is also an opportunity to look out for new ideas in terms of innovation. I am certain that South Asia with its young, risk loving and willing to take up challenge population will come out to a future which will be much brighter and where we emerge much stronger. All stakeholders will have to work harder to make our region and sub-region more integrated. Business community has to come forward to identify the synergies that exist and leverage the geographical proximity and the framework of connectivity already in place.
15. I once again congratulate ASSOCHAM for organizing the webinar event. I also pay my compliments to all the senior dignitaries, members of Chamber of Commerce and Industry for participating in this significant dialogue. I sincerely hope that this dialogue will give valuable insights to take forward our mutually beneficial partnership to newer heights and opening of new vistas for co-operation between India and Bangladesh.