Saturday, 2 July, 2022

JCC meet to focus on connectivity

Says Dr S Jaishankar

JCC meet to focus on connectivity

New Delhi: Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar has flagged the agenda for the upcoming Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) meeting with Bangladesh, especially on more new connectivity projects to bring ASEAN countries closer.

Land connectivity through Myanmar and sea connectivity through Bangladesh will open up all the ways to Vietnam and the Philippines, he said.

Dr S Jaishankar was speaking at the Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence (NADI) Asia confluence river conclave 2022 at Guwahati on Saturday.

The meeting between Bangladesh and India foreign office consultation will be held at New Delhi on June 18 and 19 instead of May 30.

S Jaishankar said, “The coming together of 'Act East' and 'Neighbourhood First' policies will have an enormous reinforcing impact.. On a commercial scale, a world all the way to Vietnam and Philippines, from Haiphong to Hazira and from Manila to Mundra will open up, creating an east-west lateral with sweeping consequences for the continent.”

‘It will not only build on the partnerships that we have with the ASEAN and Japan, but would actually make a difference to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that is now in the making. It is definitely within our ability to overcome geography and rewrite near history if only we can get the politics and the economics right.”

He said enhancing connectivity with Bangladesh, especially with the North East will be the starting point. The restoration of six historical cross-border rail links, dormant since 1965 is one major step. Once operational, the Shahbazpur (Bangladesh) to Mahisasan (Assam) link will be extended. The Kuluara-Shahbazpur rail line is currently being modernised using an Indian line of credit (LoC). Inaugurated in December 2020, the Haldibari–Chilahati (West Bengal) line will further enhance Assam’s connectivity to Bangladesh through New Jalpaiguri, including passenger traffic. A new rail link from Akhaura (Bangladesh) to Agartala (Tripura) too is being developed under grant assistance and we all know that this is already increasing trade between India and Bangladesh.”

On the land connectivity, he said overland movement of goods is taking place using 28 notified Land Customs Stations (LCSs) and three Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) along the border. The Maitree Bridge over the river Feni connects Sabroom (Tripura) to Ramgarh (Bangladesh) and was opened by the Prime Ministers of the two countries in March of 2021. Negotiations are also underway to operationalise the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement to ensure seamless vehicular movement.

India is collaborating on a series of road projects inside Bangladesh, including improving the Ashuganj River Port-Akhaura Land Port Road under an LoC of more than US$ 400 million. The road project connecting Basurhat to Ramgarh on the India-Bangladesh border, which will increase Tripura’s road connectivity with Bangladesh, is also being implemented under another LoC of US$ 80.06 million. The intricate and intertwined cross-border geography is being synergised by agreements on the movement of goods from Indian ports through Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh, and from there overland to Tripura and other parts of the Northeast. The Protocol on Inland Waterways Transit and Trade, which offers similar potential, is using 10 specific routes along with shared and intersecting river systems.

Dr S Jaishankar thinks that the success of four border haats between India and Bangladesh in the period before the pandemic has spurred enthusiasm.  Nine new haats are being set up, three in Meghalaya, four in Tripura and two in Assam. Cross-border power transmission lines and digital connectivity infrastructure offer additional dimensions of connectivity. Today, 1160 MW are already being supplied and 1500 MW more are already in the pipeline from India to Bangladesh. The international gateway between Agartala and Cox’s Bazar is helping provide faster Internet access and broadband services in Tripura. ‘We will be reviewing all these developments and more at the Joint Consultative Commission Meeting with my Bangladesh counterpart in mid-June.”

He visualised, “What happens when the North East, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar get more deeply intertwined? Each of them stands to benefit from more access, opportunities, resources, and markets. These endeavours will bring the ASEAN closer to us.”