International Relation between India and Bangladesh
Bangladesh and India relations have mostly been of friendly neighbors and they share unique bond and a special relationship rooted in a common cultural heritage, shared principles and values and forged by common aspirations and sacrifices of its peoples.
Bangladesh and the east Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam’s Barak region are Bengali-speaking. Though some border disputes and immigration issues exist. The historic land boundary agreement was signed on 6 June 2015 which opened a new opportunities for better and peaceful relationship.
In 1971, the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out between East Pakistan and West Pakistan, India intervened in December 1971 on behalf of East Pakistan and helped secure East Pakistan’s independence from Pakistan as the country of Bangladesh. In a 2014 survey, 70% percent of Bangladeshis expressed a favorable opinion and perception of India.
They are common members of SAARC, BIMSTEC, IORA and the Commonwealth. Bangladesh has a high commission in New Delhi with consulates in Mumbai and Kolkata. India has a high commission in Dhaka with a consulate in Chittagong.
Strategic Bilateral relationship
Bangladesh’s geopolitical importance for India is due to three factors. First, Bangladesh’s location is a strategic wedge between mainland India and Northeastern seven states of the Indian Union. Each of these states is land-locked and has shorter route to the sea through Bangladesh. Currently, Kolkata port is used by these states for both domestic and imported cargo.
Bangladesh is a natural pillar of “Look East Policy”. A friendly Bangladesh that ensures no anti-India terror or insurgent activities can be carried out from its soil unlike in the past will substantially assist India in handling security problems in some of its restive north-east States. Importantly, a ‘neutral’ Bangladesh also ensures containment of an assertive China in this region, including along the strategic sea-lanes of the Bay of Bengal. The navigable rivers in India’s Northeast that could connect West Bengal or Orissa ports pass through Bangladesh.
Major areas of contention
Illegal Bangladeshi immigration into India. The border is porous and migrants are able to cross illegally, though sometimes only in return for financial or other incentives to border security personnel. Bangladeshi officials have denied the existence of Bangladeshis living in India and those illegal migrants found are described as having been trafficked.
The construction and operation of the Farakka Barrage by India to increase water supply in the river Hoogly. Bangladesh insists that it does not receive a fair share of the Ganges waters during the drier seasons, and gets flooded during the monsoons when India releases excess waters.
India and Bangladesh share 54 trans-boundary rivers, big and small. In 1996, the sharing of the Ganga waters was successfully agreed upon between the two nations. However, the major area of dispute has been India’s construction and operation of the Farakka Barrage. Dispute arose between India and Bangladesh over the sharing of the lean season flow at Farakka. The inadequacy of water during the lean season to meet the assessed demands in the two countries is the root cause of the conflict.
The other water dispute is related to Teesta River, which flows through the northern part of West Bengal in India before entering Bangladesh. In 1983, an ad-hoc water sharing agreement was reached between India and Bangladesh, whereby both countries were allocated 39% and 36% of the water flow respectively. The new bilateral treaty expands upon this agreement by proposing an equal allocation of the Teesta River. But the deal did not materialized due to reservation from West Bengal state govt.
Construction of the Tipaimukh Dam hydel power project, proposed on the river Barak in Manipur, is another issue between India and Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s objection is that it would have adverse ecological effects in its eastern Sylhet district.
India shares it’s longest land border with Bangladesh, which runs through five states, viz., West Bengal (2217kms), Assam (262 kms), Meghalaya (443kms), Tripura (856 kms) and Mizoram (318 kms), including nearly 781 kms of riverine border.
Large number of illegal immigrants crossing from Bangladesh into India, a controversial shoot-on-sight policy has been enforced by the Indian border patrols. The killing of Bangladeshi nationals by Border Security Force (BSF) has become a major irritant between the two countries in the recent past. The border has also witnessed occasional skirmishes between the Indian Border Security Force and the Border Guards Bangladesh.
Further the Agreement on the demarcation of Land Boundary between Bangladesh and India was signed in May 1974, was not full filled by both Governments, till very recently, which also added to the woe of the effected peoples of both the countries and effected the bilateral relation adversely. Only on 7 May 2015 the Indian Parliament, unanimously passed the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) as its 100th Constitutional amendment.
Northeast India has been facing insurgency since 1956 due to feelings of ethnic separatism among its inhabitants. Various insurgent groups of Northeast India like National Liberation of Tripura (NLFT), Liberation Front of Assam(ULFA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFM) are carrying out their activites from bases in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is increasingly being used as a transit point by drug dealers and the drug mafia, to different destinations. The land border is used as a route for smuggling livestock, food items, medicines and drugs from India to Bangladesh, which also created tension and law and order disorder in border areas of both countries.
India has been urging Bangladesh to provide rail and road transit to connect with its north-eastern states. Bangladesh’s historical reluctance to granting India rail and road transit was on the grounds that transit facility once given was difficult to take back and such a facility may encourage terrorism and insurgency. Other reasons for delay was that Bangladesh’s infrastructure was not yet prepared to take the load of the increased traffic that will follow with the granting of transit to India. Addressing Bangladesh’s concern, India provided a credit line of $1billion to Bangladesh for development of infrastructure projects because of the strict conditions attached, it was not used to the fullest extent. Transit would not only boost connectivity between the two countries, but also offer opportunities for regional connectivity and help Bangladesh develop Chittagong port into a regional hub.
Trade and Investment
Bangladesh is an important trading partner for India. In 2016, Bangladesh is India’s one of the top 10 trading partners and India has it’s fourth highest trade surpluses with Bangladesh of $5 billion, only after US ($21billion), UAE ($11 billion) and Hong Kong ($6 billion).
The trade deficit with India is frequently highlighted by Bangladesh as a major contentious issue. For long, Bangladesh has been urging India to reduce this gap by lifting the tariff barriers as they were a major impediment to the growth of Bangladesh’s exports to India. In November 2011, India granted duty free access to all products, except 10 tobacco and liquor items from Bangladesh which amounts 30% of Bangladesh export. As much as 98 per cent of Bangladesh products now enjoy zero duty benefits in the Indian market. Bangladesh is now urging India to remove all non-tariff barriers (NBTs) as it views NTBs as the major obstacles to its export growth. To encourage exports from Bangladesh, India must move proactively to provide facilities of customs and testing at the border check posts.
India is also encouraging investments in Bangladesh and a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement have been signed between the two countries. The agreement is expected to increase Indian investment in Bangladesh. Recently, India’s Reliance Power agreed to invest US$3 billion to set up a 3,000 MW LNG-based power plant (which is the single largest foreign investment ever made in Bangladesh).
Bangladesh Cabinet has approved a revised trade deal with India under which the two nations would be able to use each other’s land and water routes for sending goods to a third country, removing a long-standing barrier in regional trade.
In April 2017, Bangladesh and India signed two defence agreements, the first such agreements between India and any of its neighbours. Under the agreements, the militaries of the two countries will conduct joint exercises and training. India will help Bangladesh set up manufacturing and service centres for defence platforms that both countries possess with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency in defence manufacturing in Bangladesh, and will also provide the Bangladesh military with expert training, and technical and logistic support.
India also extended its first ever defence-related line of credit to a neighbouring country, by providing Bangladesh with $500 million to purchase defence equipment.
On 9 October 2011, Indian and Bangladeshi armies participated in Sampriti-II (Unity-II), a 14-day-long Joint military exercise at Sylhet to increase synergy between their forces.
India is also looking to export electricity from its north-eastern region with potential to generate some 58,971 MW to its eastern States through Bangladesh. Bangladesh hopes to have access to Nepal and Bhutan’s power through India. Bangladesh has formally requested a ‘power corridor’ to access the Bhutanese and Nepalese markets. It has agreed to allow India to transfer hydroelectricity from Assam to Bihar through its territory.
India’s Reliance Power agreed to invest US$3 billion to set up a 3,000 MW LNG-based power plant (which is the single largest foreign investment ever made in Bangladesh). Adani Power will also be setting up a 1600 MW coal-fired power plant at a cost of US$1.5 billion.
On 8 November 2017, Adani Power (Jharkhand) has inked long-term pact with Bangladesh Power Development Board to supply electricity from its upcoming 1,600 MW plant at Godda in Jharkhand.
Nuclear Energy Pacts: India would set up nuclear reactors in Bangladesh and technical cooperation and sharing of information in the field of nuclear safety and radiation protection.
In 2011, India gave $750 million for developing Bangladesh infrastructure. In 2014 India extended a $1 billion soft loan for infrastructure development. India provided Lines of Credit of $862 million to buy equipment and services from Indian entities such as BHEL, RITES, small and medium enterprises.
India announced a grant of nearly $10 million to Bangladesh for the implementation of various small development projects and also assured it to address trade imbalance issues.
India and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the fields of health and medical sciences that will include joint research in health and exchange of doctors and health professionals. The MoU is aimed at promoting cooperation between the two countries in the fields of health and medical sciences.
In September 2011, the two countries signed a major accord on border demarcation to end the 4-decade old disputes over boundaries. This came to be known as the tin bigha corridor. India also granted 24-hour access to Bangladeshi citizens in the Tin Bigha Corridor. The agreement included exchange of adversely held enclaves, involving 51,000 people spread over 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladesh enclaves in India. The total land involved is reportedly 7000 acres.
In 2012, Bangladesh allowed India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and cargo through Ashuganj for Palatana Power project in southern Tripura.
From October 2013, India started exporting 500 megawatts of electricity a day to Bangladesh over a period of 35 years. A 125-kilometre Baharampur-Bheramara transmission line, 40 km of it in Bangladesh, connects the two substations.
The two country’s Prime Ministers also unveiled the plaque of the 1,320-MW coal-fired Rampal power plant, a joint venture between the two countries.
On 7 May 2015 the Indian Parliament, unanimously passed the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) as its 100th Constitutional amendment, thereby resolving all 68-year old border disputes since the end of the British Raj. The bill was pending ratification since the 1974 Mujib-Indira accords. Ending a prolonged dispute, the two nations swapped 162 enclaves on the border region, allowing the people living there to stay or opt out to the other country, on 31 July 2015.
Bangladesh allowed India to ferry food and grains to the landlocked Northeast India’s using its territory and infrastructure.
During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent state visit to Bangladesh during June 2015, as many as 22 agreements were signed by two sides, including the ones on maritime safety co-operation and curbing human trafficking and fake Indian currency. India extended a US$2 billion line of credit to Bangladesh & pledged US$5 billion worth of investments.
It is time that India and Bangladesh built not only strong economic links, but also greater cultural and educational ties. Apart from more border haats, trans-border transportation, the two sides should explore the possibility of sister city arrangements to promote more people-to-people interactions. India needs to strengthen the various regional groupings in this region like the SAARC, BIMSTEC, BBIN Network and should work together to resolve all the issues. India and Bangladesh share much in common, beyond culture. They represent one of the most important relationships in South Asia and, for India, a vital element in its Act East Policy. The relations have more potential to take the whole region to a different level of development.