Hasina-Modi summit on 17 December; infrastructure, connectivity projects to be highlighted

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Newsnow Desk: Connectivity projects including the resurrection of the 12-km Chilahati-Haldibari rail link after 55 years will be highlighted when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and India Prime Minister hold a virtual bilateral summit on December 17, officials in Dhaka and Delhi said.

The meeting will also seek to restore the ‘momentum’ in ties, an official said at the end of a year in which the pandemic and political differences over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act meant several high-level visits, including PM Modi’s proposed visit to Dhaka in March, were put off.

Announcing the virtual meeting on Sunday, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the “major issues” including the water sharing agreement for the Teesta and at least six other rivers as well as continued reports of killings of its nationals at the border would also be raised by PM Hasina.

Referring to the negotiations completed in 2011 Mr. Momen told the reporters, `Discussion regarding Teesta’s water sharing had ended long ago. Only the signing is remaining. We will urge India to sign the Teesta agreement fast.’ But the deal was opposed by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and could never be concluded. The two countries have also had initial talks on water sharing for other peninsular rivers including the Monu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gomti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.

The Chilahati-Haldibari rail link, a British-era line, was abandoned after the India-Pakistan war in 1965 (when Bangladesh was East Pakistan), and will be the fifth rail route connecting Bangladesh with Bengal. A sixth line, from Dhaka to Siliguri is expected to be flagged off on 50th Independence Day of the country on March 26, when Mr. Modi is expected to visit Dhaka.

In the run-up to the meet, India’s High Commissioner to Dhaka Vikram Doraiswami met PM Hasina and Delhi for high-level consultations over the weekend.

Officials told that the final list of agreements and discussions at the virtual summit on Thursday will include more connectivity and ‘high-impact’ infrastructure projects and a possible mechanism to oversee projects under concessional Lines of Credit (LoCs) of nearly $10 billion from India in 2017. Progress on a petroleum ‘friendship’ pipeline from India’s Siliguri to Bangladesh’s Dinajpur that was agreed to in 2018 and began construction last week, will also be discussed. In addition, talks are on for a sub-regional electricity grid sharing project which would see Bhutan and Bangladesh contribute power, but officials said they are awaiting Cross-Border Trade in Electricity (CBTE) guidelines from India.

An official said the meeting would also seek to set aside concerns in Bangladesh over the Modi government’s plans for a National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which led to massive protests in Dhaka last year ahead of PM Modi’s visit there, which was subsequently cancelled. Four ministerial visits to India from Bangladesh were also cancelled. Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary had also formally raised the issue of blacklisting and arresting more than 2,500 Bangladeshi Tablighi Jamaat members, who had been accused of violating the coronavirus lockdown, but were released by the courts.

PM Hasina will hold talks with Mr. Modi a day after country’s `Liberation Day’, the anniversary of the day in 1971 the Pakistani army surrendered, which is celebrated in both Bangladesh and India as Bijoy or Vijay Diwas.

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