• Bangladesh is discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river.

Key Details

  • The project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods, and tackling the water crisis in summers.
  • India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water-sharing in the Teesta.
  • More importantly, Bangladesh’s discussions with China come at a time when India is particularly wary about China following the standoff in Ladakh.

India’s relationship with Bangladesh

  • New Delhi has had a robust relationship with Dhaka, carefully cultivated since 2008
  • India has benefited from its security ties with Bangladesh, whose crackdown against anti-India outfits has helped the Indian government maintain peace in the eastern and Northeast states.
  • Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia. Bilateral trade has grown steadily over the last decade: India’s exports to Bangladesh in 2018-19 stood at $9.21 billion, and imports from Bangladesh at $1.04 billion.
  • India also grants 15 to 20 lakh visas every year to Bangladesh nationals for medical treatment, tourism, work, and just entertainment.
  • A weekend shopping trip to India by Bangladesh’ elite is quite common — when the film Bahubali was released, a group of Bangladesh nationals came to India in chartered flights to watch it in Kolkata.
  • For India, Bangladesh has been a key partner in the neighbourhood first policy — and possibly the success story in bilateral ties among its neighbours.

Bangladesh and China

  • China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports. In 2019, the trade between the two countries was $18 billion and the imports from China commanded the lion’s share.
  • Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries.
  • India too has provided developmental assistance worth $10 billion, making Bangladesh the largest recipient of India’s total of $30 billion aid globally.
  • China has promised around $30 billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh.
  • Bangladesh’s strong defence ties with China make the situation complicated. China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh.
  • Bangladesh forces are equipped with Chinese arms including tanks, missile launchers, fighter aircraft and several weapons systems. Recently, Bangladesh purchased two Ming class submarines from China.

Post CAA

  • India and Bangladesh have cooperated on pandemic-related moves.
  • Bangladesh supported India’s call for a regional emergency fund for fighting Covid-19 and declared a contribution of $1.5 million in March 2020. India has also provided medical aid to Bangladesh.
  • The two countries have also cooperated in railways, with India giving 10 locomotives to Bangladesh. The first trial run for trans-shipment of Indian cargo through Bangladesh to Northeast states under a pact on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports.

Key Issues

  • The two sides agreed that Implementation of projects should be done in a timely manner, and that greater attention is required to development projects in Bangladesh under the Indian Lines of Credit.
  • Bangladesh sought return of the Tablighi Jamaat members impacted by the lockdown in India, and also early release of the 25 Bangladeshi fishermen in custody in Assam. India assured Bangladesh that its nationals would be able to return soon.
  • Bangladesh requested for urgent reopening of visa issuance from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, particularly since many Bangladeshi patients need to visit India.
  • India was also requested to reopen travel through Benapole-Petrapole land port which has been halted by the West Bengal government in the wake of the pandemic.
  • Proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)
  • Bangladesh has expressed concerns at the rise in killings at the Indo-Bangladesh border by the Border Security Force (BSF).
  • Bangladesh told Shringla that it is ready to collaborate in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, including its trial, and looks forward to early, affordable availability of the vaccine when ready.

Way Ahead

  • While the Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, it will be difficult to address it before the West Bengal elections due next year. What Delhi can do is to address other issues of concern, which too are challenging.
  • Now, the test will be if India can implement all its assurances in a time-bound manner.
  • Or else, the latent anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh — which has been revived after India’s CAA -NRC push — threatens to damage Dhaka-New Delhi ties.

Back to Basics

About Bangladesh

  • a country in South Asia.
  • shares land borders with India to the west, north, and east, Myanmar to the southeast, and the Bay of Bengal to the south.
  • narrowly separated from Nepal and Bhutan by the Siliguri Corridor, and from China by Sikkim, in the north, respectively.
  • Member of NAM, SAARC, BIMSTEC, Commonwealth of Nations, Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA)
  • State party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
  • Bangladesh is a member of the Sustainable Aquaculture and Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Groups.

About Teesta River

  • Teesta River, is a 315 km long river that rises in the eastern Himalayas, flows through the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal through Bangladesh and enters the Bay of Bengal.
  • In India, it flows through Darjeeling district and the cities of Rangpo, Jalpaiguri and Mekhliganj.
    • It joins the Jamuna River at Fulchhari in Bangladesh.
  • Teesta river area is in the seismically active Zone-V and has experienced micro-seismic activity.