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Special Report

Published on: March 21, 2021, 10:37 a.m.
India-Bangladesh: Building bridges and more
  • The Maitri Sethu (bridge of friendship) is built over the Feni river, which originates in Tripura and flows across Bangladesh

By Daksesh Parikh. Executive Editor, Business India

Over the last 50 years, Bangladesh has been implementing quite a few mega projects. The funding for these projects is largely through tie-ups with different foreign countries, including India, Japan, Korea, China, Italy, Germany and a host of others. Internal savings ratio is relatively low, at 23-24 per cent. The mega projects are spread across diverse sectors, such as communications, power, railways and roads. India, sharing the largest land border of more than 4,000 km with Bangladesh, is involved in quite a few such projects. As the two countries share nearly 52 rivers, it makes sense for India to play a hand in developing ports, bridges and railway lines, which can also be used for transporting goods to and from the north-eastern states.

The Maitri Sethu (bridge of friendship), one such bridge, is built over the Feni river, which originates in Tripura and flows across Bangladesh. The bridge stretches across the two countries – from Sabroom in Tripura to Ramgarh in Bangladesh. Rodic Consultants, a pan-India service provider, was involved in the project, while the actual construction was done by National Highways & Infrastructure Development, at a cost of Rs118 crore. This bridge was inaugurated on 9 March 2021 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It allows Tripura to access Chittagong port, which is about 80 km from Sabroom. An integrated checkpoint, facilitating easy movement of goods and people across the border, has also been put in place.

While SAARC has not proved effective in fostering relations between India and its neighbours, other initiatives have helped – in particular, BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India & Nepal) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal initiatives for connectivity, infra and transit facility). Look East and Neighbour First have also helped in deepening relations. Bangladesh had initiated a Transport Policy 2004, which spelt out plans for the expansion of railways, along with the development of international rail networks. This policy envisaged the implementation of 44 projects, supported by various international bodies across countries.

Bridge over Meghna

India has also been participating in the building of the Bhairab (double-gauged) bridge over the Meghna river, which originates in the Manipur hills of north-east India (where it is known as Barak river). It is one of the three most important rivers in Bangladesh and a part of the delta. At over 964 km, it is considered a holy river and, at many places, is nearly 490-metres deep. A double-line rail bridge over the river linking Dhaka to Chittagong, beginning from Tripura, was constructed by a JV formed by IRCON and AFCON International, a Shapoorji Pallonji unit.  Texmaco Rail and Engineering got the order for the supply of the bridge’s infrastructure. This bridge, with a revised cost of Rs265 crore, was completed in 2017.

It was one of the projects built from the $1 billion line of credit extended by India to Bangladesh. India has extended the line of credit to $4.5 billion, the largest to any state.  Besides helping to ease the movement of goods from Bangladesh to other countries in its vicinity, this bridge will shorten the distance from Kolkata to Tripura.

  • Duty-free trade access has been granted to Bangladesh under the South Asia Free Trade Area since 2011. This is one reason for improving trade between the two countries, which has risen to over $10 billion

Rampur power project

The strong bond of co-operation between India and Bangladesh has also facilitated another power project in India. The 1,320 MW Rampal thermal project has been set up on an area of about 1,800 acres and is expected to be completed by August 2021. The project is being set up by NTPC and Bangladesh Power Development Board under a JV aptly called Bangladesh India Friendship Power Co Ltd. The project cost envisaged was Tk160 billion. Today, Bangladesh imports 1,160 MW power from India. The Rampur project is expected to help in easing the power problem in a country which has a good amount of coal and natural gas. 

Besides easing transportation problems by helping in building infrastructure, India has been contributing materially too, with Ashok Leyland supplying nearly 290 double-decker busses and 88 single-decker air-conditioned buses to Bangladesh. India has also strengthened the Inland Water Transport and Trade by signing the second addendum to the Protocol of Water Transit and Trade. The earlier agreement was signed in 1972, with the addendum followed up in 2015. The protocol is for a period of five years and is automatically renewed every five years. The treaty envisages free movement of vessels of both countries across specified inland routes.

Also, a 50:50 sharing of cargo by Indian and Bangladeshi vessels is permitted across 10 specified routes. The tally of intermediate ports – ports of call as they are known – has been increased to 11 each from the earlier five each. Two extended ports of call, one in West Bengal and the other in Assam, have been added on the Indian side, with corresponding extensions to Muktapur and Ghorasal on the Bangladesh side. The one in Assam is particularly important as it will enable connectivity to Meghalaya and Bhutan also.

Duty-free trade access has been granted to Bangladesh under the South Asia Free Trade Area since 2011. This is one reason for improving trade between the two countries, which has risen to over $10 billion. There is, of course, huge potential for strengthening business ties between the two countries; this can increase multifold, enhancing the interests of both countries.

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