No Teesta deal during PM’s Bangladesh visit

Last Updated: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 23:32

Dhaka: India and Bangladesh today resolved a
long-standing border problem, signing a historic agreement on
demarcation of land boundary and exchange of 162 adversely-
held enclaves, but their failure to sign any deal on sharing
of Teesta and Feni river waters cast a shadow on Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh`s maiden visit here.

However, Singh who met his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh
Hasina, said the two countries had decided to continue
discussions to reach "a mutually acceptable, fair and amicable
arrangement for the sharing of the Teesta and Feni river
waters".
Seeking to placate Dhaka, upset over the last-minute
scrapping of the Teesta water-sharing pact, Singh announced a
major trade sop allowing duty-free access with immediate
effect to 61 items from Bangladesh to Indian market and
permitting 24-hour access to Bangladeshis through Tin Bigha
corridor.

Of the 61 items, 46 are textile products for which
Bangladesh had sought access into the Indian market.

Aware of Bangladesh`s sensitivities over the failure to
reach an interim agreement on Teesta, Singh said "our common
rivers need not be sources of discord, but can become the
harbingers of prosperity to both our countries".

The two sides were scheduled to sign an agreement on water
sharing during Singh`s two-day visit, but strong objections by
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee over the draft of
the agreement, led India to back off at the last minute.

"We have decided to continue discussions to reach a
mutually acceptable, fair and amicable arrangement for the
sharing of the Teesta and Feni river waters," Singh said.

Earlier in the day, the failure of inking the Teesta deal
betrayed the rough edges in Indo-Bangladesh relations when
Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Rajeev Mitter was summoned
by Bangladesh Foreign Ministry who conveyed Dhaka`s sense of
deep disappointment and frustration.

Mitter, for his part, made it clear that the Teesta
agreement could not be inked as "internal discussions" in
India on the issue were yet to be completed.

Once the internal discussion is completed, the Teesta
accord would be signed as early as possible, the Indian envoy
conveyed to Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mijarul Qayes this
morning shortly before the arrival of Singh, who is the first
Indian Prime Minister to visit Bangladesh after Atal Bihari
Vajpayee in 1999.

Under the agreement protocol on land boundary agreement
signed by Foreign Ministers S M Krishna and Dipu Moni in the
presence of the two Prime Ministers, the two countries
demarcated the entire land boundary and resolved the status of
enclaves and adversely possessed areas.

India and Bangladesh share a 4,096 km land boundary
covering five states?West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya
and Mizoram.

The agreement on swap of 111 Indian enclaves in
Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves, where an approximately
51,000 people have been living for centuries, fulfills a
vision laid out by the Indira-Mujib pact of 1974.

Non-resolution of the enclaves had plagued the
India-Bangladesh ties for decades and the agreement signed
today was the most important event of Singh`s visit.
This is for the second time time since 1974 that India
has agreed to give up some part of its territory to another
country. India had earlier ceded the island of Kachhateevu to
Sri Lanka.

In all, the two countries signed ten agreements relating
to a Framework of Agreement on Cooperation and Development
signed by the two Prime Ministers, protocol on land boundary
agreement, renewable energy and overland transit to Nepal.

The other agreements which were inked were on
preservation of the Sundarbands, conservation of Royal Bengal
tiger, fisheries and livestock, audiovisual media, cooperation
between Dhaka University and Jawaharlal Nehru University and
Institutes of Fashion Technology in both the countries.

In a statement to the media after the signing of the
agreements, Singh described the deals as a "new architecture
for our partnership which will open new vistas of bilateral
cooperation, strengthen regional cooperation within South Asia
and set an example of good neighbourly relations".

Singh said relations between India and Bangladesh enjoy
"our highest priority and there is a national consensus in
India that India must develop the best possible relations with
Bangladesh."

Singh said he and Hasina and have had "very wide-ranging
and in-depth discussions which have built upon the momentum of
the Bangladesh Prime Minister`s historic visit to India in
2010."

Conveying India`s "deep appreciation" to Hasina for the
cooperation rendered by Bangladesh in "our joint fight against
terrorism and insurgency", Singh said "this has brought much
needed stability to both of us and to this region as a whole."

"India is a true and genuine partner of Bangladesh. We
will do the utmost to build this relationship on a sustained
basis, and I believe this also reflects the approach of Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina`s government."

Later, addressing a banquet hosted in his honour by
Hasina, Singh said "our talks today and the agreements that
have been signed represent a qualitative leap forward in our
relations".

"We have found solutions to seemingly difficult problems
which had defied solutions for years", Singh said in an
unspecified reference, apparently referring to the agreement
on land boundary agreement.

Singh commended the "personal sacrifices" made by Hasina
and her "belief in values of pluralism, democracy and human
dignity which have earned you respect throughout the world".

Singh also singled out Hasina for upholding the great
legacy of "your illustrious father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman".

In her banquet speech, Hasina said "throughout our
discussions today, we have reached understanding in areas as
diverse as demarcation of land boundary, sharing of waters of
Teesta and Feni, connectivity, power, electronic media,
education and conservation of common heritage of the
Sunderbans."

"I firmly believe that our decisions today will have a
far-reaching positive impact in the lives of our peoples and
nations as well as in the region."

"Indeed, our discussions today were held, as among the
best of friends, in an atmosphere of complete harmony of views
and mutual respect", Hasina said.

Describing the Bangladesh-India relationship now at a
"historical juncture" she said, the enthusiastic response to
joint celebrations of 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath
Tagore in the two countries demonstrated connectivity of
minds, cultures and philosophies between our peoples".

PTI



First Published: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 09:08

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