India and Bangladesh on Tuesday signed their first water-sharing agreement in 25 years, an area which remains of high importance for Bangladeh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
India and Bangladesh signed an interim water sharing agreement for Kushiyara river, the first such pact since the signing of the Ganga water treaty in 1996. It was among the seven pacts signed on Tuesday, which also cover connectivity and science and technology sectors.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina helt bilateral talks on Tuesday. Hasina is on a four day visit of India. Besides water-sharing, security cooperation is understood to have figured prominently in the bilateral talks between Modi and Hasina.
Focus on terrorism, fundamentalism
Modi said, "Today we also stressed on cooperation against terrorism and fundamentalism. To keep the spirit of 1971 alive, it is also very necessary that we face such forces together, who want to attack our mutual trust."
Briefing on Hasina's visit, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra termed counter-terrorism and radicalisation as an "obstacle and security threat" to India-Bangladesh relationship. He said Modi and Hasina held comprehensive talks on how to improve cooperation on the issue.
Radical Islamist elements in Bangladesh have fomented trouble in recent years, which have reflected most prominently in repeated violence against minorities Hindus in the country. Most recently in July, temples, shops, and houses of Hindus were vandalised in southwestern Bangladesh. Bricks were thrown at a temple, furniture inside was broke, one Hindu house was burnt, according to reports at the time.
Outlook's Seema Guha noted, "India and Bangladesh have succeeded in isolating bilateral ties from the sound and fury of domestic politics. With national elections slated for next year, Islamic groups will try to disrupt Sheikh Hasina’s chances with attacks on Hindus to trigger a backlash in India."
Water-sharing remains a priority
Hasina noted that India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers and sought early conclusion of the Teesta water sharing agreement, which has been hanging fire for more than a decade due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
India and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding on sharing of waters of Kushiyara river, a pact that will benefit people residing in southern Assam and the Sylhet division of Bangladesh.
"Today, we have signed an important agreement on sharing water of the Kushiyara river. This will benefit southern Assam in India and Sylhet region in Bangladesh," said Modi after the talks with Hasina.
Modi said there were 54 rivers that pass through the Indo-Bangladesh border, and have been linked to the livelihood of the people of the two countries for centuries.
"These rivers, folk tales about them, folk songs, have also been witness to our shared cultural heritage," said Modi.
Hasina shared the sentiments expressed by Modi and also stressed on the need to have water-sharing agreements for other rivers as well. She also expressed confidence in Modi's leadership in the context of bilateral relationship.
"I recall that the two countries have resolved many issues in the spirit of friendship and cooperation. We hope that all outstanding issues, including Teesta water sharing agreement, will be concluded as an early date. There are 54 rivers. As long as Prime Minister Modi is here, India and Bangladesh will resolve all these issues," said Hasina.
Modi also said he and Hasina had a fruitful conversation on enhancing cooperation in relation to flood mitigation.
"India has been sharing flood-related data with Bangladesh on a real-time basis and we have also extended the period of data sharing," Modi said.
Earlier, Hasina had said that "India should show more broadness" on the issue of water-sharing since India is an upstream country.
"So water is coming from India, so India should show more broadness. Because both the countries will be beneficiaries. So sometimes our people suffered a lot because of this need of water. Especially Teesta, we could not go for harvest and so many problems take place. So I think it should be solved but, yes we found that the Prime Minister is very, you know, eager to solve this problem," said Hasina in an interview with ANI.
India-Bangladesh trade, economic ties
Hasina said India and Bangladesh were also working to develop stronger economic ties to fulfill the basic needs of the people of the two countries.
"Our main aim is to develop the economy and fulfill the basic needs of our people. With friendship you can solve any problem. So we always do that," said Hasina.
Modi also said India and Bangladesh will soon start discussion on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Kwatra said the CEPA agreement is expected to be reached before Bangladesh graduates from the category of Least Developed Countries by 2026 and moves to the ranks of developing countries.
Seven pacts inked, five projects launched
India and Bangladesh signed seven memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on Tuesday, including one on sharing of waters of Kushiyara river which is expected to benefit the regions of southern Assam and Bangladesh's Sylhet region.
Last month, India and Bangladesh finalised the text of the agreement on interim sharing of the water of the Kushiyara river. The text of the MoU was finalised at the 38th ministerial-level meeting of the India-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) that took place in Delhi on August 25.
The agreements cover the following sectors of water-sharing, railways, science and technology, and broadcasting.
Modi and Hasina also launched five projects spread over connectivity, railways, and infrastructure sectors.
One of the projects carries $1.6 billion aid. The Maitree power plant is a 1320 (660x2) MW super critical coal-fired thermal power plant at Khulna in Bangladesh. It is being set up at an estimated cost of approximately $2 billion out of which $1.6 billion is Indian aid.
(With PTI inputs)