Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

China twist in Teesta Challenge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Teesta River

Mains level : Recent trends in India-Bangladesh ties

Bangladesh is discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river. These discussions with China come at a time when India is particularly wary about China following the standoff in Ladakh.

Try this question from our AWE initiative:

Teesta River has become an important factor in India – Bangladesh relations. What are the hindrances in successful implementation of river water sharing agreement and what are its possible implications on India-Bangladesh relations? What could be the possible solutions?

Teesta Project

  • The project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods, and tackling the water crisis in summers.
  • India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water-sharing in the Teesta.

How has the Teesta dispute progressed?

  • The two countries were on the verge of signing a water-sharing pact in September 2011, when PM Manmohan Singh was going to visit Bangladesh.
  • But, West Bengal CM objected to it, and the deal was scuttled.
  • After the regime change in 2014, the government hoped that it could reach a “fair solution” on the Teesta through cooperation between central and state governments.
  • Five years later, the Teesta issue remains unresolved.

Trends in India’s relationship with Bangladesh

  • New Delhi has had a robust relationship with Dhaka, carefully cultivated since 2008, especially with the Sheikh Hasina government at the helm.
  • Security: India has benefited from its security ties with Bangladesh, whose crackdown against anti-India outfits has helped the Indian government maintain peace in the eastern and Northeast states.
  • Trade: Bangladesh has benefited from its economic and development partnership. Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia.
  • Bilateral trade has grown steadily over the last decade: India’s exports to Bangladesh in 2018-19 stood at $9.21 billion, and imports from Bangladesh at $1.04 billion.
  • Visas:India also grants 15 to 20 lakh visas every year to Bangladesh nationals for medical treatment, tourism, work, and just entertainment.

Recent irritants in ties

  • There have been recent irritants in the relationship.
  • These include the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December last year.
  • Bangladesh had insisted that while the CAA and the proposed nationwide NRC were “internal matters” of India, the CAA move were “not necessary”.

Chinese affinity with Bangladesh

  • China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports.
  • In 2019, the trade between the two countries was $18 billion and the imports from China commanded the lion’s share. The trade is heavily in favour of China.
  • Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries.
  • This move has been widely welcomed in Bangladesh, with the expectation that Bangladesh exports to China will increase.
  • China has promised around $30 billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh.
  • Additionally, Bangladesh’s strong defence ties with China make the situation complicated. China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh and it has been a legacy issue — after its liberation.
  • Recently, Bangladesh purchased two Ming class submarines from China.

India’s engagement post CAA

  • Over the last five months, India and Bangladesh have cooperated on pandemic-related moves.
  • Hasina supported Modi’s call for a regional emergency fund for fighting Covid-19 and declared a contribution of $1.5 million in March 2020. India has also provided medical aid to Bangladesh.
  • The two countries have also cooperated in railways, with India giving 10 locomotives to Bangladesh.
  • The first trial run for trans-shipment of Indian cargo through Bangladesh to Northeast states under a pact on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports took place in July.
  • Bangladesh gave its readiness to collaborate in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, including its trial, and looks forward to early, affordable availability of the vaccine when ready.

Among other issues

  • The two sides agreed that Implementation of projects should be done in a timely manner and that greater attention is required to development projects in Bangladesh under the Indian Lines of Credit.
  • Bangladesh sought the return of the Tablighi Jamaat members impacted by the lockdown in India.
  • Bangladesh requested for the urgent reopening of visa issuance from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, particularly since many Bangladeshi patients need to visit India.
  • India was also requested to reopen travel through Benapole-Petrapole land port which has been halted by the West Bengal government in the wake of the pandemic.

Way forward

  • While the Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, it will be difficult to address it before the West Bengal elections due next year.
  • What Delhi can do is to address other issues of concern, which too are challenging.
  • Now, the test will be if India can implement all its assurances in a time-bound manner.
  • Or else, the latent anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, which has been revived after India’s CAA -NRC push can permanently damage the historic ties.

Back2Basics: Teesta Water Dispute

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