India has agreed to hold the Joint River Commission (JRC) meeting on solving outstanding issues relating to water sharing, especially the Teesta deal, with Bangladesh soon.
“Next JRC meeting will be held soon. Previously, the meeting was not held as data was not ready. We agreed in principle to hold the meeting soon,” Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told reporters yesterday, after a Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) meeting was held virtually.
Momen and his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar led the delegations from their respective sides at the sixth JCC.
Momen said both Bangladesh and India were very serious about solving the outstanding issues concerning water sharing of common rivers. The neighbouring countries have 54 rivers in common. So far, only one treaty has been signed on the Ganges.
The Teesta water-sharing deal was finalised in 2011, but could not be signed due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Last year, both the countries began talks on water-sharing deals on six small rivers — Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.
Regarding the Teesta water sharing, Jaishankar, the Indian external affairs minister, said, “We remain committed to Teesta water-sharing and, in the meanwhile, are equally committed to move forward on other seven rivers on which data has already been shared with your side.”
During the one-hour meeting from 3:30pm yesterday, the Bangladeshi side reiterated that the entire nation was deeply concerned at the rise in killings of Bangladeshis by Indian Border Security Force (BSF).
The Indian side agreed that the loss of civilian lives on the border was a matter of concern. Both the sides urged the border forces concerned to enhance coordinated measures to bring down such incidents to zero, Momen said.
Against a backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, both sides discussed collaboration in the health sector, especially in terms of supply, delivery, distribution and co-production of Covid-19 vaccine.
Dhaka appreciated Delhi’s assurance on prioritising Bangladesh for supply of vaccine in the future.
Sources said the third phase trial of the vaccine will start simultaneously in both Bangladesh and India.
India has proposed Bangladesh for co-production of vaccine and both the countries agreed in principle.
Soon after launching trial of the vaccine in India, trial is likely to start in Bangladesh, the sources said.
In the meeting, Dhaka and Delhi agreed to sign an air bubble agreement to operate flights with equal share of frequencies and routes by the carriers of the countries during the pandemic.
“We have instructed the officials concerned to prepare modalities,” Momen said. Bangladesh requested India to reciprocally ease visa and land border restrictions for Bangladeshi nationals, particularly for medical patients and students enrolled in various educational institutions in India.
COMMITTEE TO MONITOR PROJECTS UNDER LoC
Both the sides agreed to form a high-level monitoring committee for fast implementation of the development projects under Indian Lines of Credit (LoC). Bangladesh’s Economic Relations Division’s secretary and Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh would lead the committee on each side.
They also agreed to enhance cooperation on energy and power through facilitation of tripartite power-energy cooperation among Bangladesh-India-Nepal and Bangladesh-India-Bhutan.
Asked why the projects have slow down, Momen said there were issues on both the sides. On the Indian side, there are issues related to regulations as approvals are required in every step of the projects. “Also, there are conditions that we have to import raw materials from India … We said if we have the raw materials available here, those should be used.”
According to a joint statement, the Bangladeshi side thanked India for the concessions being provided under SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Agreement), but said various non-tariff barriers and lack of adequate trade facilitation impeded the flow of Bangladeshi products into India, particularly, the North East.
Bangladesh requested India to address issues related to accreditation, certification, standardisation, port restrictions and developing port infrastructure to enable Bangladesh’s exports to India. Bangladesh also requested India to look into the export of essential commodities, such as onions by India, since this impacts the domestic market of Bangladesh.
Recently, a sudden ban on Indian onion exports has led to hike in its prices in Bangladesh. The Indian minister said they would take adequate measures so that it does not happen in the future, Momen said.
Both the sides agreed to jointly celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Independence of Bangladesh and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
They agreed that a virtual meeting at the prime minister level would be held in December this year between the two countries.
A number of programmes were proposed to jointly mark the two events, such as revival of the historic Mujibnagar-Kolkata Road, honouring the Indian war veterans, ceremonial military parades on December 16, organising friendship fairs, year-long seminars in different cities of Bangladesh and India and simultaneous launching of a website on 50 years of victory and friendship.
Momen also said Dhaka hoped that as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, India would play a more meaningful role for a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis, including their early repatriation to Myanmar, in a safe and sustainable manner.
Meanwhile, diplomatic sources said a home secretary-level meeting between the two countries is likely to be held in November in Dhaka.