Q. India-Bangladesh relations face various hurdles that need to be dealt with for a smooth relationship in the future. Discuss the challenges between the two countries.
The relations between Bangladesh and India are important and have a strong historic basis. The prospects for these relations to grow in strength are indeed enormous if they are pursued for mutual beneﬁt and with mutual respect. PM Modi deﬁned the current phase of India-Bangladesh relations as the ―golden era.‖ Increased connectivity, a line of credit of $4.5 billion and the resolution of the maritime dispute by UNCLOS and land boundary issue via Constitutional amendment have added to the enthusiasm. However, some issues, both remnants of colonial past as well contemporary problems persist between the two neighbours.
- Farakka Barrage issue: The Ganges Water Treaty determines the water-sharing arrangements between India and Bangladesh, however, its ability to suitably divide riparian water rights and foster co-operation is limited at best. India‘s construction of the Farakka Barrage has, in part, soured the bilateral relationship between the two countries. The Farakka Barrage was created by India in 1975 to divert water from the Ganges River to the Bhagirathi-Hoogly river system. Both India and Bangladesh face increased pressure to meet rising water demands
- Tipaimukh Dam: Development of the Tipaimukh Dam is another petulant issue amongst India and Bangladesh. Tipaimukh Dam is a hydel control venture proposed on the waterway Barak in Manipur. Bangladesh‘s protest is that it would have unfriendly natural impacts in its eastern Sylhet region. Notwithstanding India‘s emphasis that no dam would be built disregarding Bangladesh‘s protests, the contention is a long way from being done
- Teesta Sharing: The prolonged water dispute of Teesta river water sharing has been a major issue. Sharing the waters of the Teesta river which originates in Himalayas and ﬂows through Sikkim and West Bengal to merge with the Brahmaputra in Assam (and Jamuna in Bangladesh), is perhaps the most contentious issue between two friendly neighbours, India and Bangladesh. Mamta Banerjee has been a leading critic. Bangladeshi hydrologist and architect of Ganga Water Treaty Ainun Nishat, is embedded suggests construction of giant artiﬁcial reservoirs where the monsoon water can be stored for the lean season. The reservoirs need to be built in India as the country has some mountain-induced sites favourable to hosting dams with reservoirs, unlike Bangladesh.
- Illegal migration and Refugees: The inﬂux of such a large number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, particularly in the border states, has proved to be a huge challenge for India with serious implications for its resources and national security. It has substantially contributed to changing the demographic pattern in the northeastern states of India, where the locals feel overwhelmed by the outsiders. The compilation of NRC in Assam is a consequence of the same. Meanwhile, SD Muni writes how Dhaka is also burdened by the inﬂow of the Rohingyas. Alongside, India has the onus to resolve issues pertaining to illegal immigration—supported by adequate facts (suggesting the exact number of refugees) whilst maintaining sensitivity towards Bangladesh‘s historic tragedy.
- Insurgency and Fake currency notes: In the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh, there was a widespread prevalence of insurgency groups which however have been resolved through cooperation between the two countries. National Liberation Front of Tripura and Manipur valley groups like Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and United National Liberation Front (UNLF) were the major IIGs. In countering terrorism, India‘s intelligence sharing as well as agreements over building comprehensive counter-terror mechanisms—both cyber and space security is a must-do to strengthen bilateral ties. During the visit of HM, Rajnath Singh, issue of the continuous inﬂow of fake Indian currency notes (FICN) from across the border and the attacks on its personnel by criminals based in Bangladesh was also taken up. The FICN with face value of about Rs 13.66 lakh have been seized along the border in 2018.
- The China card: Another key factor that continues to imperil Indo-Bangladesh ties is China‘s growing links with Bangladesh. In 2016, Xi Jinping‘s landmark visit to Bangladesh after three decades signalled Beijing‘s increased focus on Bangladesh. As China remains Bangladesh‘s largest trading partner, China‘s Belt and Road Initiative yields massive opportunities for Bangladesh. This has been complemented with stronger military ties—Bangladesh accounts for 20% of China‘s arm export on a review of the last ﬁve year transactions
Despite these challenges, both the countries have evolved cooperation on multiple fronts that can aid in greater convergence:
- India‘s ﬁrst and second lines of credit worth nearly $3 billion to Bangladesh were utilised for projects in transport and infrastructure such as roads, railways, bridges and inland waterways.
- Emergence of huge cooperation in power and energy: 600 MW of electricity ﬂows through BheramaraBahrampur and Tripura-South Comilla interconnections. Indian private sector is also investing in Bangladesh power sector. There is growing civil nuclear energy cooperation (Rooppur Nuclear Project)
- The two countries are in the process of restoring former railway linkages. Rail link between Akhaura and Agartala to be completed by the end of 2018 and bus service between Kolkata-Khulna-Dhaka was launched. Even the development of waterways is on the table, which will increase the scope of connectivity for India‘s Northeastern region.