In a momentous development, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina have jointly inaugurated three development projects along with Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee and Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb.
The projects for the development of Bangladesh include additional supply of 500 MW power from India to Bangladesh and two railway projects, the Akhaura-Agartala rail link and rehabilitation of Kulaura-Shahbazpur section of Bangladesh Railways, both aimed at further improving railway connectivity, trade and commerce between the two neighbouring countries of South Asia.
The inauguration of three important projects via video conference marked further cementing of cordial relations between New Delhi and Dhaka. “Brightening lives, furthering connectivity and improving India-Bangladesh friendship,” Prime Minister Modi tweeted soon after the event. This sums up the importance of the three projects.
India’s decision to supply additional 500 MW of electricity through the existing Bheramara (in Bangladesh) and Bahrampur (in India) transmission lines, has underlined the country’s desire to be a partner in Bangladesh’s journey to become a middle income country by 2021, and a developed country by 2041- a point highlighted by the Indian Prime Minister during his speech during the inauguration event.
Mr. Modi appreciated Prime Minister Hasina’s development goals of transforming her country from a middle income country into a developed country in the coming two decades. India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh also joined the video conference from Delhi and Dhaka respectively.
Prime Minister Modi said with the completion of the power transmission link, the total power being supplied to Bangladesh now stands at 1.16 Gigawatts. He termed the journey from Megawatts to Gigawatts as ‘symbolic of a golden era in the relations between India and Bangladesh’.
Speaking about the Akhaura-Agartala rail connectivity, the Indian Prime Minister said it would provide another link in the cross-border connectivity between the two countries. “Closer relations and people to people links between the two countries would take our development and prosperity to new heights,” Mr. Modi said. He said that in the last few years, there had been a steady progress towards this goal. Mr. Modi added, with the inauguration of these three projects both India and Bangladesh had increased power and railway connectivity between the two countries.
The supply of extra power to Bangladesh and construction of the railway line between Agartala in Tripura and Akhaura in Bangladesh and rehabilitation of the Kulaura-Shahbazpur section of Bangladesh Railways offer a win-win situation for the two countries. Both the countries stand to gain from the development of each other.
The rail projects plans to connect the north eastern states of India with Bangladesh and South-east Asia through railways for increasing trade and development in the hitherto neglected region of the country.
The Kulaura-Shahbazpur section of Bangladesh Railways to be restored by the two countries existed in the days before the partition of the Indian subcontinent. The line, once restored, would form an important part of Trans Asian railway project seeking to connect South Asia to South-east Asian countries.
The 15.5 km long Akhaura-Agartala rail line is expected to facilitate increased trade between India and Bangladesh through the Chittagong port, considered among the world’s busiest ports. The railway line project cleared during Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in 2010 would significantly reduced the distance and travel time between Tripura and Assam and West Bengal as it would reach Kolkata via Akhaura in Bangladesh. If all goes as per plan, the project is likely to be operational in two years’ time.
Significantly, Prime Minister Modi has sought to showcase India-Bangladesh bilateral, trade and commerce relationship as a model for emulation when he said, “Leaders of neighbouring countries should have a relationship like neighbours, talking and visiting frequently, without getting bogged down by protocol.”
Script: Dipankar Chakraborty, Special Correspondent, The Statesman