29th January 2023

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Teesta River management and restoration project

Bangladesh is discussing a nearly $ 1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive Teesta River management and restoration project. The project aims to manage the watershed efficiently, control flooding and address the water crisis in summers.

  • India and Bangladesh have been involved in a long-standing dispute over the water exchange in Teesta. More importantly, Bangladesh’s discussions with China come at a time when India is particularly wary of China after the clash in Ladakh.

How has the Teesta dispute evolved?

  • The two countries were about to sign a water-sharing pact in September 2011, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was due to visit Bangladesh. But West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee objected and the deal fell through.
  • After came to power in 2014, he visited Dhaka in June 2015, accompanied by Mamata Banerjee, and told the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, that he was confident they could reach a “just solution” in the Teesta through cooperation between central and state governments. Five years later, the Teesta problem remains unsolved.

How has India’s relationship with Bangladesh developed over the years?

  • New Delhi has had a strong relationship with Dhaka, carefully cultivated since 2008, especially with the government of Sheikh Hasina at the helm. India has benefited from its security ties with Bangladesh, whose crackdown on anti-India groups has helped the Indian government keep the peace in the eastern and northeastern states.
  • Bangladesh has benefited from its economic and development partnership. Bangladesh is India’s largest trading partner in South Asia.
  • Two-way trade has grown steadily over the past decade; India’s exports to Bangladesh in 2018-19 amounted to $ 9.21 billion and Bangladesh’s imports to $ 1.04 billion. India also grants 15-20 lakhs of visas each year to Bangladeshi citizens for medical treatment, tourism, work, and simply entertainment.
  • A weekend shopping trip to India by the Bangladeshi elite is quite common; when the movie Bahubali was released, a group of Bangladeshi nationals came to India on chartered flights to see it in Kolkata.
  • For India, Bangladesh has been a key partner in neighborhood policy first, and possibly the success story in bilateral relations between its neighbors.
  • However, there have been recent irritants in the relationship.

What are these irritants?

  • These include the proposed National Registry of Citizens (NRC) for the entire country and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December last year.
  • Bangladesh has canceled ministers’ visits and Hasina has expressed reservations about the CAA. She had said that while the CAA and the proposed national NRC are “internal affairs” of India, the CAA measure “was not necessary.”
  • Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who served as India’s envoy in Dhaka, flew to Dhaka in early March to mitigate such concerns.
  • Amid the discussions between Bangladesh and China, Shringla also went to Bangladesh this week. He was the first visitor Hasina met since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

How have relations between Bangladesh and China developed?

  • “China is Bangladesh’s biggest trading partner and the main source of imports. In 2019, trade between the two countries was $ 18 billion with imports from China getting the most.
  • Trade is very much in favor of China, Recently, China declared zero tariffs on 97% of Bangladesh’s imports. The concession grew out of China’s duty-free and quota-free program for the least developed countries. This move has been very well received in Bangladesh, with the expectation that Bangladesh’s exports to China will increase.
  • India has also provided development assistance worth $ 10 billion, making Bangladesh the largest recipient of India’s total aid of $ 30 billion globally. China has pledged about $ 30 billion in financial assistance to Bangladesh.
  • Furthermore, Bangladesh’s strong defense ties with China complicate the situation. China is Bangladesh’s largest arms supplier and it has been an inherited problem; after liberation, Pakistani army officers who were well versed in Chinese weapons joined the Bangladesh army and this is how they preferred the Chinese weapons As a result, Bangladeshi forces are equipped
  • Moreover, Bangladesh’s strong defense ties with China complicate the situation. China is Bangladesh’s biggest arms supplier and it is a hereditary problem; after liberation Pakistani army officers who were familiar with Chinese weapons joined the Bangladesh army and so ‘They preferred Chinese weapons As a result, the Bangladeshi forces are equipped with Chinese weapons, including tanks, missile launchers, fighter jets and various weapon systems. Recently, Bangladesh bought two Ming class submarines from China.
  • Following the standoff, India has become more sensitive to Chinese defense incursions into Bangladesh.

What is the connection between India and Bangladesh after CAA?

  • Over the past five months, India and Bangladesh have cooperated in actions related to the pandemic. Hasina supported Modi’s call for a regional emergency fund to fight 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 on railways, with India delivering 10 locomotives to Bangladesh. The first test of transshipment of Indian goods through Bangladesh to the northeastern states under a pact on the use of the ports of Chittagong and Mongla took place in July.
  • However, in recent weeks, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s appeal to Hasina has drawn attention in Delhi. While Islamabad described it as However, in recent weeks, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s appeal to Hasina has caused astonishment in Delhi. While Islamabad described it as a conversation about Kashmir, Dhaka said it was about cooperating to deal with Covid-19.

How did India try to respond to China’s latest move?

  • During Shringla’s recent meeting with Hasina, “security issues of mutual concern” were discussed. The visit attempted to resolve issues in areas that came up as potential irritants in the relationship.
  • Bangladesh expressed “deep concern” about the increase in killings on the Indo-Bangladesh border by “BSF nationals or nationals of India” in the first half of this year, with the Indian side saying that the BSF authorities on the issue and which will be discussed in detail during DG-level talks between the Bangladesh border guards and BSF, to be held in Dhaka next month.

Among other problems:

  • Both parties agreed that project implementation should be done in a timely manner and more attention is required for development projects in Bangladesh with Indian credit lines.
  • Bangladesh has called for the return of the Tablighi Jamaat members affected by the closure in India, as well as the early release of the 25 Bangladeshi fishermen detained in Assam. India has assured Bangladesh that its citizens will be able to return soon.
  • Bangladesh has called for the urgent reopening of visa issuance at the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, especially as many Bangladeshi patients must travel to India.
  • India has also been urged to reopen travel through the Benapole-Petrapole land port, which was cut off by the West Bengal government following the pandemic.
  • Bangladesh has told Shringla that it is ready to collaborate on the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, including its trial, and expects rapid and affordable availability of the vaccine when it is ready.

Wich is the way to go?

  • While the Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, it will be difficult to tackle before the West Bengal elections scheduled for next year.
  • What Delhi can do is address other areas of concern, which are also difficult. Now the test will be whether India can implement all its guarantees within a limited time frame.
  • Or, latent anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, rekindled after the push from India’s CAA-NRC, threatens to damage Dhaka-New Delhi relations.
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