India, Bangladesh review expanding connectivity in road, rail, inland waterways

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen co-chaired Bangladesh-India Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) meeting on September 29. Jaishankar said that they discussed early return to normalcy in trade and travel affected by COVID-19 pandemic and addressed specific concerns of both sides on economic and commercial issues.

The two ministers reviewed and discussed the cooperation on connectivity, security, political issues, development, trade and investment, power and energy sector and people to people contacts. They also talked about the scope of collaboration in the health sector in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, especially in terms of supply, delivery, distribution and co-production of COVID-19 vaccine.

The JCC meeting comes after China’s aggressive backing of Bangladesh as Beijing announced $1 billion for the Teesta river project. India and Bangladesh, normally friendly neighbours, have been at loggerheads on the Teesta river water sharing arrangement and local media reports suggest that Dhaka is willing to accept the Chinese deal.

The river originates from Sikkim and passes through West Bengal before merging with the Brahmaputra in Assam and Jamuna in Bangladesh. The water-sharing agreement was almost finalised in 2011 but was put on hold after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not cooperate to seal the deal.

India and Bangladesh underscored the necessity of early resolution of the Teesta water sharing and early resolution of agreements on sharing of all common rivers. Both sides also agreed to hold the long-pending Joint Rivers Commission meeting soon at the Ministerial level to address outstanding issues on water resources cooperation.

Meeting between PMs in December

After the meeting, Jaishankar and Momen jointly unveiled two commemorative stamps as part of the celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. He also informed India’s decision to issue a commemorative stamp on the birth centenary of Bangabandhu on 16 December 2020. The minister further announced that India will prepare for the Virtual Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina in December 2020.

On September 28, Momen said that though India is Bangladesh’s “best friend”, the two countries have “many things to discuss”. He also reportedly announced a likely meeting in December between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina.

“It is too early to say whether the meeting will take place in person or virtually…If the Covid-19 situation remains unchanged, the meeting will be virtual,” Momen was quoted as saying by the Bangladeshi daily.