Opening remarks by High Commissioner of India H.E. Pankaj Saran at DCAB meeting
9 April 2015, Thank you very much for inviting me to meet the Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Bangladesh.
The DCAB is an important and influential body of journalists who specialize in foreign affairs. They not only report on but also influence relations between countries. They also serve as monitors and guardians of the national interest. This is just as it should be given that diplomacy today has gone beyond the narrow confines of the government. Like so many other disciplines, the formulation, conduct and execution of foreign policy has become more complex and broadbased. There are a large number of stakeholders in this, of which media is a critical one.
Secondly, we live at a time of a communications and information revolution. Today, information has become much more democratized. Information has also never travelled faster. Bangladesh, despite being a Low Income Country, is in the midst of a mobile phone revolution, with over an estimated 120 million phones in use. Internet usage is growing rapidly as is the TV and print media in Bangladesh.
Social media is the new medium of expression which will continue to witness rapid growth in this country. All this means that Bangladesh is well on its way to becoming much more interconnected with the rest of the world. The flow of ideas, opinions and information will increasingly transcend physical boundaries.
There is no doubt that this scenario has not only changed the way diplomacy is conducted but also the role of a diplomatic correspondent.
I am confident that members of DCAB will use the new tools of technology to better educate the reader, and work in partnership with Bangladeshi and foreign diplomats to advance Bangladesh’s national interest as well as build bridges of friendship and understanding with other countries.
I am therefore very happy to have my first interaction with DCAB today. I look forward to your views and comments, and I wish each and everyone of you Shubho Navobarsho in advance. This is the month of Pohela Baisakh and I convey my greetings to you on this festive occasion.
India is a close and friendly neighbour of Bangladesh. Building the best of relations with our immediate neighbours is of the highest priority for our Government. Relations with Bangladesh are a key pillar of this policy. Both Bangladesh and India are countries with large populations. India’s population is more than the population of Africa’s 54 countries and twice the population of European Union. Bangladesh is 7th most populated country in the world.
Our challenges are similar, as are our ambitions. We have many success stories from which we can learn from each other. Our relations impact the lives of millions. These are some of the realities which are useful to remind ourselves about from time to time.
The manner in which Bangladesh has grown in economic terms tells its own story.
I believe it is not a coincidence that Bangladesh’s growth rates have been high exactly at a time when India’s have also been high. Closer economic ties and cooperation between India and Bangladesh have been mutually reinforcing and complementary.
Both our countries have matured. We are today dealing with a new generation. We have to constantly ask them what they want and expect from their policy makers. Most would like to look ahead, and wish for a more rapid pace of development of our relations.
Whether we look at trade and commerce, investment, political and security cooperation, border management, development cooperation, water management and the environment, energy cooperation or cultural and people-to-to people exchanges, the India-Bangladesh relationship today touches almost every sphere of human activity.
The scale of our interaction today is much more than has been in the past. The relationship has gone beyond government to government relations. This is a welcome sign.
The visit by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh H.E. Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010 was a historic landmark. The Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development that the two Prime Ministers signed in September 2011 in Dhaka was a visionary document.
This was followed by the major policy address given by External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj at the BIISS in Dhaka in June 2014, which was her first bilateral visit abroad which outlined a roadmap of our relations in the future.
There are many initiatives that we have taken in the last few years for the first time in our history. These have been in areas of interest to both sides, and almost all of these have a lasting value going beyond governments. Let me illustrate with a few examples:
• We have put in place a comprehensive border management system which comprises a web of institutional mechanisms, a Coordinated Border Management Plan, an Extradition Treaty, opening of border haats, revival of DC/DM level talks and upgradation of border infrastructure.
• 24 hour access has been given across Tin Bigha to Dahagram and Angarpota enclaves and their electrification has been done.
• We have jointly agreed on the terms of the settlement for the enclaves, adverse possessions and undemarcated areas, as per the Protocl of 2011. This involved house to house surveys by teams from both sides. 99.7% of all maps pertaining to our boundary have been signed and exchanged.
• The maritime boundary was demarcated last year in 2014.
• On the Teesta waters, on February 10, 2012, for the first time, both sides exchanged flow data at Gazaldoba in India and Dalia in Bangladesh between 1998 and 2010. We have agreed on the elements of a solution for sharing of waters of Feni River. The Ganges waters sharing Treaty is working to mutual satisfaction. We have identified six other rivers for initiating discussions on water sharing. We are cooperating on providing flood data, dredging and bank protection works.
• To help address the trade imbalance, we have opened the Indian market to all Bangladeshi products except for 25 tariff lines on zero duty zero tariff basis. Bangladesh’s exports to India in 2013 were the highest ever recorded. Bangladesh is emerging as a prospective destination for major Indian investments.
• There have been concrete improvements in trade infrastructure. New Integrated Check Posts are coming up.
• SOPs have been signed to facilitate road and rail transit traffic between Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
• A 1 billion dollar Credit Line, the largest single such Line, is in advanced stage of implementation involving 15 projects, of which 200 million dollars has been converted to outright grant.
• New initiatives are underway in social sectors such as IT, education, health, environment and Small development Projects.
• For the first time, inter-grid connectivity for flow of power has been established and is functional with flow of 500MW of power. Bangladesh has sought and we have agreed to facilitate purchase of much higher amounts of power by Bangladesh from projects in India’s North East. In the meantime, we have agreed on additional flow of 500 MW power between Behrampur-Bheramara and 100 MW additional power from the Palatana Power Station in Tripura.
• India and Bangladesh have jointly taken the initiative to open discussions with Bhutan and Nepal for exploitation of their hydro power potential.
• Indian companies are showing keen interest in investing in Bangladesh in different sectors, especially energy.
• Our cooperation in the railways sector is stronger than ever before, and the number of coaches and frequency of Maitree Express has been increased.
• Discussions on coastal shipping have made progress, and direct contacts have been established between different ports of Bangladesh and ports on India’s Eastern coast.
• People to people links have become more streamlined, regular and common place. We have significantly increased our cooperation in the area of training, capacity building and skill development. Cultural exchanges are taking place in both directions.
In the course of working on our relations over the last many years, we have learnt a number of lessons. We are also in a constant process of planning ahead.
Our two countries are united by geography, history and culture. We have to survive and prosper together. This relationship is far too important for both countries.
A strong, stable and prosperous Bangladesh is not only in the interest of Bangladesh but also in the interest of India, the region and beyond.
Our security is mutual. Cooperating on security issues does not imply that we are sacrificing our sovereignty, or reducing our policy options.
In fact, cooperation in combating criminal, insurgent, terror, smuggling and trafficking activities is the best way to enhance national strength.
India and Bangladesh are natural partners, and we have to solve our problems ourselves. The more we cooperate and connect the better we both do. At the same time, we should respect each other’s differences and way of life.
We have to share the burden of scarcity of resources.
Water is a major challenge for both our countries as well as for this entire region. We have to find ways to manage this precious resource, to share it and to make the best possible use of what we have. Since this is a resource which affects millions of people, we have to share the pain and find equitable solutions which will involve burden sharing and that have broad consensus among all stakeholders.
We should continue to broaden our relationship in terms of sectors and in terms of involving wider cross sections of society.
We should address each other’s core interests, and be sensitive to each other’s aspirations. We should listen to each other better. We should make life for the innocent and law abiding citizen easier.
We should learn from each other. Both countries have their own success stories and national experiences. Exchange of experience should be a two way street.
We should allow each other to benefit from our respective strengths. India has a large and growing market. Bangladesh should have access to it. Similarly, Bangladeshi companies should have the freedom and opportunity to source raw materials, intermediate goods or even machinery and equipment from India if it is cost effective and makes the Bangladeshi economy more competitive.
This is happening in areas like readymade garments and textiles, leather and pharmaceuticals. Bangladesh’s strength is its abundant work force, vibrant culture and geographical location. This can be leveraged in a way that creates prosperity and generates employment in Bangladesh.
We should enhance people-to-people exchanges and better connectivity between us. Many important initiatives are underway to make business and travel between us easier and smoother.
We should start coastal shipping and have a long term inland waterways usage plan so that we can decongest the land ports and roads. Areas like food security, environment protection and water management need greater focus.
We should make further progress in sub-regional and regional cooperation, and work together on global issues. Bangladesh, But hutan, India and Nepal or BBIN have met in February to finalise a Motor Vehicles Agreement, and the same four countries have held the second round of discussions on power/hydropower cooperation, trade, transit and connectivity.
The potential for further expansion of our relations is huge. India is committed to playing its role in ensuring that India and Bangladesh grow and prosper together, in an atmosphere of peace, stability and mutual security and mutual benefit.