EDITORIAL : Indo-Bangla Relationship—– North East Bridge

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By Pradip Chakraborty
Even though Indo-Bangla relations have so far demonstrated little success,leaving major issues unresolved so far,apparently a positive gesture as never shown before from both sides has currently begun to be reflected on the surface.For example, in recent years both countries have come forward to resolve the long pending conflicts on border management,infiltration and trade issues. The dymanics of Indo-Bangla relation has,of late,geared up towards achieving :a leap forward in bilateral cooperation in the sub region.Both the next –door neighbours,who were separated by dint of Indian freedom from British rule ,have seemed to chane their adamant attitude tin the interest of coming closer and enhanching  mutual co-opeartion.
Even though Indo-Bangla relations have so far demonstrated little success,leaving major issues unresolved so far,apparently a positive gesture as never shown before from both sides has currently begun to be reflected on the surface. For example, in recent years both  countries have come forward to resolve the long pending conflicts onborder management, infiltration and trade issues.
Amidst all these, most encouragingly both nations have appeared to show interest in bilateral trade issues. For, during the recent bilateral talks,trade and commerace issues were discussed at length.
On the trade front, while Dhaka is reported to have pressed for specific measures to remove non-tarrif barriers from Bangladeshi export items. New Delhi kept on insisting that Dhaka give Delhi transshipment facilities for carrying  goods from its main land to the north esat region using Bangladesh land, Despite having failed to sign up to an agreement along such lines, the latest trade talks should not be termed a futile exercise as it could draw an outline to shape the
Free Trade Agreement[FTA].This initiative was a follow –up action of the joint Economic Commission[JEC],which was held in august in Dhaka and reached two major decisions .the first was to launch a Dhaka-Agartala bus service that came into commercial operation from September 22 in 2012  and the second to initiate FTA negotiations.
What is most pertinent to note here is that in all recent trade talks India,s North East has come up into the scene and drawn much attention from both sides. This is no coincidence since Dhaka has eyed the North East Indian markets while New Delhi has intended to get the transit facility from Bangladesh area. It is beyond doubt that the merchant communities and their associations had begun lobbying for trade initiatives between Bangladesh and India,s North East from long before the officials talks took a concrete step.
It is widely acknowledged that North East India is the most undeveloped part of the sub region. The area comprising  8 province now was badly affected due to the partition of the country, resulting in geo-physical isolation from the mainland of the country.
Before partition, all provinces except Sikkim had wide communication links with rest of India and no doubt that was in operation through the land and waterways of the then East Bengal, which was another partof the undivided Indian union. The North East, covering an area of 262,500 sq.km,with a population of 39.04 million, now shares a long international boundary with Bangladesh.
Despite being landlocked and under developed ,all north eastern states are endowed with a rich variety of natural resources like gas and oil,coal,limestone,minerals ,hydro potential and forest resources.
The Forest resources in the region are rich ,offering sal, teak,timber plants  ,cane and bamboo, reeds, medicinal plants, roots, herbs, orchids, flower plants and other valuable wood. It is estimated that 10.69  % of the forest –produce requirement of India is met from forests of these region. In a few sectors, the natural resources of the region are taking a lead in the country. Assam produces about 40 % of the country’s mineral oil and 50 % of its tea production. There is
abundant reservoir of natural gas in Tripura,  which ranks 3rd in Tea production and 2nd in pine apple and natural rubber production in the country. Meghalaya produces 90% of countrys  sillimanite. Mizoram is rich for its cotton production. Jute  is another profitable cash crop,cultivated in Assam and Tripura. The Region has also the higest power potential of 48000MW ,being 30% of the countrys total reserves.
These North Eastern states had a closer link in trade and commerce with the former East Pakistan,now Bangladesh,the then Burma ,now Myanmar ,prior to partition. The sothern part of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura had been traditionally connected with Kolkata via Bangladesh directly until 1965 war with Pakistan when a rail transit through East Pakistan was snapped. However since 1972 both the countries have been using waterways for mutually beneficial trade and commerce. As of today eight river routes between the two countries are in operation for cargo transit purposes.With this facility onlu Kolkata and Assam have been connected, leaving Tripura and Meghalaya untouched.
It is interesting to say that Tripura has the closest proximity with Bangladesh. From Dhaka it taks only 3 hours to get to Agartala,The provincial capital of Tripura,Vice versa. Simultaneously, Chittagong port is only 6 hours away from Agartala.In recent times Bangladeshi export-import merchants have preferred  bringing coal from Meghalaya via the Akhura-Agartala border in order to reduce transport costs.
Apart from geographical proximity, Akhura-Agartala route is chosen as an optimum corridor for maintain a closer cultural and linguistic affinity between the people in two sides.Many people ,in Agartala in particular, proudly say  that they have an emotional  attachment with Bangladesh.
Both countries have taken a good number of measures to rationalize bilateral relations in recent years. For example ,Indian Ministry  of surface transport has proposed a doubling of the total number of river routes from 8 to 16 by an inclusion of new routes like Kolkata-Chittgong and Karimganj-Chittagong.It is also proposed that Ashuganj should be declread a port of call and fo r transshipment ofIndian cargo from Ashuganj to Agartala by road.
Currently,out of 89 approved land custom stations for movement of goods on Indo-Bangladesh border ,35 fall in north esat and 14 of them are now in operation.
From such a point of view the North East seems to be an ideal corridor to cement relations between India and Bangladesh.
[The author can be  reached at  iambinita@gmail.com]
 twitter: @iampradip


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