Leaders recognise that to preserve their vision of South Asia, India and Bangladesh need each other more than ever.

Bangladesh and India (September 6) signed seven MoUs and unveiled new connectivity and energy initiatives engendering cooperation in a number of areas, including water sharing of the Kushiyara River.

In what is bound to be regarded as the biggest gain for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from this pre-election year summit with her most important international partner, the Indian side has offered free transit via its territory to Bangladesh for exporting its products to third countries - namely Nepal and Bhutan - through specified land customs stations, airports and seaports.

This was a late surprise that no one had really anticipated, and just goes to show the advantage of summits, where leaders can exercise their executive authority to make decisions with impact.

Bangladesh still remains hopeful that the two countries will resolve the issue of the Teesta's waters - an agreement on the matter has been pending since 2011- as the two sides settled many outstanding issues in the "spirit of friendship".

"We hope that all outstanding issues, including signing of the Teesta water sharing treaty, are resolved at an early date," said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after her "extensive discussions" with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on all bilateral, regional and international issues. Both Prime Ministers held a restricted meeting and tête-à-tête followed by delegation level talks.

There are 54 transboundary rivers between the two countries, and almost all have been intrinsically linked to the livelihoods of the people on both sides of the border since time immemorial. These rivers, and their folk tales and the folk songs they inspire, have also been witness to the shared cultural heritage.

One of the MoUs was signed on withdrawal of water from the common river Kushiyara which will help Bangladesh to address its irrigation needs and facilitate water projects for South Assam.

"We have signed an important agreement on sharing water of the Kushiyara River. This will benefit Southern Assam in India and Sylhet region in Bangladesh," PM Modi said.

Both leaders stressed on cooperation against terrorism and radicalism. "To keep the spirit of 1971 alive, it is also very important that we fight together against such forces, which want to attack our mutual trust," Modi said, referring to Bangladesh's War of Liberation.

In realising the vision of a stable, prosperous and progressive Bangladesh that Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had seen, the Indian PM said his country will continue to walk step by step with Bangladesh. "Our conversation today was also an excellent opportunity to reiterate this core commitment," he said.

With the expansion of connectivity between the two countries, and the development of trade infrastructure on the border, Modi said, the two economies will be able to connect more with each other, and support each other.

MoUs flatter to deceive

In many ways it was what came after the signing of MoUs that made the trip a success. The seven MoUs that were signed on the prime minister's second day in Delhi were rather underwhelming, and at one point when it seemed as if that was all there would be on offer from this trip, the critics were already sharpening their knives to brand the visit a failure.

It wasn't until the joint communique was released, after a long and unusual delay - it didn't come out till afternoon the next day - that the true breadth of what was covered by the two sides during the trip really came to the fore.

For a full listing of the MoUs and what they entail, see the box item at the end.

The two prime ministers witnessed the signing of the bilateral instruments after holding bilateral talks at Hyderabad House in India's capital city on September 6 as the two countries seek enhanced cooperation.

Projects of bilateral importance

Two leaders unveiled the unit-I of the Maitree power plant. The 1320 (660x2) MW supercritical coal-fired thermal power plant in Rampal is being set up at an estimated cost of approximately USD 2 billion with USD 1.6 billion as Indian Development Assistance under a Concessional Financing Scheme.

They jointly inaugurated the Rupsha Bridge. The 5.13 km Rupsha rail bridge is a key part of the 64.7 km Khulna-Mongla Port single track broad gauge rail project, connecting for the first time Mongla Port with Khulna by rail, and thereafter to central and north Bangladesh and also to the India border at Petrapole and Gede in West Bengal.

The inauguration of the railway bridge over the Rupsha River is a remarkable step towards enhancing connectivity.

"This bridge is an important part of the new railway line being built between Khulna and Mongla Port under India's Line of Credit. India will continue to extend all support for the development and expansion of Bangladesh's railway system," Modi said.

Supply of road construction equipment and machinery: The project consists of supply of road maintenance and construction equipment and machinery in 25 packages to Bangladesh Road and Highways Department.

Khulna Darshana railway line link project: The project is an upgrade of existing (doubling of broad gauge) infrastructure linking the current cross border rail link at Gede-Darshana to Khulna thereby augmenting the rail connections between the two countries, especially to Dhaka, but also in future to Mongla Port. The project cost is estimated at US$ 312.48 million.

Parbatipur -Kaunia railway line: The conversion of the existing metre gauge line to dual gauge line project is estimated at US$ 120.41 million.

The project will connect to the existing cross border rail at Birol (Bangladesh)-Radhikapur (West Bengal) and will enhance bilateral rail connectivity.

Transit: The clincher

The Indian side invited the Bangladesh business community, which was out in force as part of the PM's entourage, to use its port infrastructure for transshipment to third countries. India will also be providing free transit to Bangladesh for exporting its products to Nepal and Bhutan, according to the joint statement. This is an important step towards realising the potential of the BBIN grouping (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal).

The Bangladesh side requested rail connectivity with Bhutan through the newly inaugurated Chilahati - Haldibari route. The Indian side agreed to consider the request, based on its viability and feasibility.To make this and other cross border rail links viable, the Indian side requested the Bangladesh side to remove port restrictions, inter alia at the Chilahati - Haldibari crossing.

The two leaders agreed to expedite efforts to improve bilateral and sub-regional connectivity through early operationalisation of the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement.

The Indian side requested the Bangladesh side for cooperation for initiating new sub-regional connectivity projects including a highway from Hili in West Bengal to Mahendraganj in Meghalaya through Bangladesh and, in this regard, proposed preparation of a detailed project report.

In the same spirit, Bangladesh reiterated its eagerness to partner in the ongoing initiative of the India - Myanmar - Thailand trilateral highway project.

The two leaders underscored the importance of implementing bilateral and sub-regional rail, road, and other connectivity initiatives. Both sides welcomed the ongoing bilateral initiatives, such as, conversion to dual-gauge of Tongi-Akhaura line, supply of railway rolling stock, capacity building for the personnel of Bangladesh Railway, sharing of IT solutions for improved services of Bangladesh Railway etc.

They also welcomed new initiatives, namely, Kaunia-Lalmonirhat-Mogalghat-New Gitaldaha link, establishing a link between Hili and Birampur, upgradation of track and signaling systems and railway stations along the Benapole-Jashore line, link restoration between Burimari and Changrabandha, construction of a container depot at Sirajganj.

And both sides agreed to explore funding of these projects through a range of financial instruments under the bilateral development cooperation.

The Bangladesh side welcomed the gesture of India for providing 20 broad-gauge diesel locomotives on grant. The two leaders welcomed the successful completion of trial runs under the agreement on the use of the Chattogram and Mongla Ports (ACMP) and looked forward to its full operationalisation at the earliest.

The Indian side reiterated its request to work towards the expansion of the bilateral Coastal Shipping Agreement of 2015 to include third-country export-import cargo. They agreed to expeditiously explore direct shipping links between the two countries.

They also agreed to implement the decision to start riverine services under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) routes 5 and 6 (Dhulian to Rajshahi -extension to Aricha) and 9 and 10 (Daudkandi to Sonamura).

The Indian side requested Bangladesh to complete remaining infrastructure, immigration, and customs facilities for the operationalisation of the Maitri Bridge over River Feni, connecting Tripura with Bangladesh, at an early date.

The road to CEPA

Bangladesh and India also agreed to start negotiations within this year - for signing the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)

PM Hasina and her Indian counterpart Modi directed trade officials on both sides to complete the negotiations of CEPA at the earliest and in time for Bangladesh's graduation from LDC status.

The two leaders welcomed the recent finalisation of a joint feasibility study which advised that a CEPA will be beneficial for both countries, according to the joint statement issued on September 7, 2022.

In public remarks following the summit-level talks with his counterpart, Modi said Bangladesh is "India's largest development partner" and their largest trade partner in the region.

"To further accelerate this growth, we will soon start discussions on the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement," he said.

With the expansion of connectivity between the two countries, and the development of trade infrastructure on the border, the two economies will be able to connect more with each other, support each other, Modi said, adding that their bilateral trade is growing rapidly.

President of India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IBCCI), Abdul Matlub Ahmad, has said the CEPA will be a win-win for both the countries.

Defence Cooperation

Bangladesh and India also signed the first contract under the US$500 million line of credit (LoC), which India considers an "important first step" in strengthening defence cooperation between the two countries.

"I think the first contract under the defence Line of Credit was signed earlier this week. I'm sure you have been following this closely. It was a modest amount but it was an important first step," said Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, adding that it may be a defence LoC but it is also a part of the development partnership framework.

"Our effort is that this will open up a path for further engagement between the two countries in the field of defence and security and take our cooperation further," he said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi expressed satisfaction at the "intensification" of bilateral defence ties.

They also agreed for early finalisation of projects under the LoC for defence, which would be beneficial for both countries, according to the joint statement issued after the bilateral talks between the two leaders.

India welcomed the finalisation of "initial procurement plans'' for vehicles for the Bangladesh Armed Forces in this regard and looked forward to enhancing bilateral defence ties. Delhi reiterated its request for implementing the 2019 MoU for providing a coastal radar system for greater maritime security at an early date. Most of the legwork for this was done in the weeks leading up to the summit.

At the 4th Bangladesh-India annual defence dialogue held in New Delhi in August, both sides emphasised the need to work closely to implement the $500 million line of credit extended from India for defence items. They also expressed their commitment to elevating engagements between their armed forces and reviewed the progress of bilateral defence cooperation initiatives.

Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division of Bangladesh, Lieutenant General Waker-Uz-Zaman, and Indian Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar co-chaired the dialogue. Different aspects of defence industrial and capability-building cooperation came up for detailed discussions.

Both countries explored potential for cooperation in defence trade, co-development and joint production.

Overview on agreements

Upon Bangladesh's request, India has committed to provide 20 broad-gauge diesel locomotives to Bangladesh, on a grant basis.

A special G2G arrangement for predictable supply of essential food commodities such as rice, wheat, sugar, onion, ginger and garlic from India to Bangladesh is expected to be worked out.

The two countries agreed to expedite completion of development work within 150 yards of the international border, including critical immigration and trade-related infrastructure on the various border crossings along the over 4,000 km long border.

For a peaceful and crime-free border, completion of fencing along the unfenced patches of the entire border, beginning with the Tripura Sector, was agreed upon by both leaders.

Stepped up efforts by border guarding forces has helped decrease the number of deaths at the border. Greater cooperation against smuggling of arms, narcotics, fake currency, and trafficking, particularly of women and children, was also appreciated.

Both leaders reiterated their strong commitment to eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. To this end, further strengthening cooperation to counter and prevent the spread of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation in the region and beyond was agreed upon.

Bangladesh noted a request from Tripura government on sharing of Feni river water. Drinking water project for the people of Tripura will now soon be operationalised, with the necessary approvals and clearances provided by Bangladesh to activate the 2019 MoU on withdrawal of 1.82 cusec of water from the Feni river.

More of the common rivers will now be included for data exchange and formulating framework of interim water sharing agreements. Formulation of a Joint Technical Committee to conduct a survey for optimum utilisation of the Ganges waters was agreed upon, with a view to the expiry of the existing 30-year agreement on sharing the great river's waters in 2026. Both sides agreed to enhance cooperation on tackling river pollution, improving riverine environment and navigability.

Power and Energy

Bangladesh-India JV on a Special Purpose Vehicle to connect a high capacity 765 kV transmission line from Katihar (Bihar) to Parbatipur (Bangladesh) to Bornagar (Assam). This line is expected to facilitate both import and export of electricity by Bangladesh, as per seasonal demand.

Sub-regional power grid connecting Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh got a boost. India informed that its internal guidelines are in place for the setting up of such a network.

To help address Bangladesh's energy needs, both sides hoped for the early completion of the transboundary India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline that will carry diesel from India directly to Bangladesh.

To meet the growing requirements of petroleum products for Bangladesh's economy, India agreed to facilitate preliminary discussions between authorised agencies to facilitate Bangladesh's purchase of finished petroleum products from India. Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL), India's state hydrocarbons agency, will be eligible to supply petroleum products to Bangladesh on G2G basis.

India thanked Bangladesh for the support extended to facilitate movement of petroleum, oil and lubricants from Assam to Tripura via Bangladesh, in light of the devastating flood situation in Assam and Meghalaya this year.

Bangladesh lauded India for the efficiency and speed with which funds disbursement under Government of India-linked Lines of Credit have taken place, especially over the last year. Close to USD 1.1 billion of the concessional aid extended to Bangladesh has already been disbursed.

To enhance sub-regional connectivity, India proposed preparation of a Detailed Project Report on a new highway connecting Hili (West Bengal) via Bangladesh to Mahendraganj (Meghalaya). In this context, Bangladesh also proposed its participation in the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway.

Successful trial runs under the 2015 Agreement on India's use of Chattogram and Mongla ports have been completed.

The Maitri Bridge connecting Bangladesh with India's Tripura also awaits operationalisation and India requested Bangladesh to expedite completion of remaining infrastructure, immigration and customs facilities at Ramgarh.

To enhance two-way business, removal of port restrictions imposed by Bangladesh on Indian goods was again emphasised on.

To facilitate movement of goods between Bangladesh and India, India's proposal to fund and build a second freight gate at the country's busiest landport, the Benapole-Petrapole ICP, was welcomed by Bangladesh.

India expressed appreciation at the generosity of Bangladesh in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to over a million of the Rohingya refugees, 'forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals' in official parlance, and underlined its continuing commitment to ensure their safe, sustainable, and expeditious return to their homeland.

India appreciated the contribution of Bangladesh in hosting the BIMSTEC Secretariat and developing its infrastructure. The Indian side reiterated its support to Bangladesh in its capacity as the Chair of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

Inspiring a Nobel laureate, and repaying her guardian

Indian social reformer Kailash Satyarthi, who was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize along with Malala Yousafzai in 2014, has lauded Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's efforts for the most vulnerable in Bangladesh.

"Her compassion and resolve to ensure the welfare of the most vulnerable is commendable," Kailash said. The Nobel laureate said meeting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is always a pleasure.

"I thank her for supporting my vision of a Global Social Protection mechanism for marginalised children," Satyarthi tweeted after meeting Hasina in New Delhi.

Sharmistha Mukherjee, daughter of late Indian president Pranab Mukherjee, has described Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as a guardian for her.

"She (PM Sheikh Hasina) would always say that my father (Pranab Mukherjee) was like a guardian to her family. Now in his absence, she (PM Hasina) is being the same for me," she tweeted after she met with Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi.

Sharmistha also mentioned the long association between the two families. "May God grant her (PM Hasina) a long and healthy life," she said.

The prime minister was also called on by Rahul Gandhi, acting president of India's grand old party, the Congress, that Mukherjee served throughout his life. Now a shadow of their former self, but it was the Congress that was in power when Sheikh Hasina returned to power in 2009, and much of the bilateral path that has been traced between the two countries since was the brainchild of the then leadership.

Bangabandhu: A hero to both nations

India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said Indians consider Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman an icon - a man of action, courage and conviction.

"He (Bangabandhu) is as revered and remembered in India, as he is in Bangladesh," he said.

Jaishankar mentioned that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said Bangabandhu is their "hero" too.

As a mark of respect to Bangladesh's founder, the two countries have commissioned a biopic on him, which is nearing completion, said the Indian minister. The jointly produced biopic on Bangabandhu, "Mujib - the making of a nation", is likely to be launched next year. Joint production of a documentary on the Liberation War and compilation of rare video footage were agreed upon.

Jaishankar was speaking at the award giving ceremony of the "Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Student Scholarship" in New Delhi on the third day of her trip (September 7).

PM Hasina conferred the first Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Scholarship on descendants of Indian armed forces personnel who were martyred or critically wounded during the Liberation war of 1971.

"Prime Minister, under your and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visionary leadership, India-Bangladesh relations have taken great strides forward in ways that have not only shaped the contemporary but also the future trajectory of the partnership in mind," said the Indian foreign minister.

Jaishankar said for many years, freedom fighters have acted as a bridge between the two countries.

"That bond is now reaffirmed as the families of our war veterans and of those who made supreme sacrifices in the Liberation War, gather here today," he said, adding that the decision of the government of Bangladesh to award the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Student Scholarship is a testament of how the Liberation War of 1971 continues to inspire the bilateral relationship.

"It is truly a symbol of our unique history," the Indian foreign minister said.

The 7 MoUs

Here is a list of the MoUs signed between India and Bangladesh on September 6 in New Delhi, in the presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India:

MoU between the Ministry of Jal Shakti, India and Ministry of Water Resources, Bangladesh on the withdrawal of water by India and Bangladesh from the common border river Kushiyara.

MoU between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board), India and the Ministry of Railways of Bangladesh on the training of Bangladesh Railway personnel in India.

MoU between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board), India and the Ministry of Railways, Bangladesh on the collaboration in IT systems such as FOIS and other IT applications for the Bangladesh Railway.

MoU between the National Judicial Academy, India and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on the Training and Capacity Building Programme for Bangladesh Judicial Officers in India.

MoU on Scientific and Technological Cooperation between the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, India and the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

MoU on the cooperation in the areas of space technology.

MoU between the Prasar Bharti and the Bangladesh Television on cooperation in broadcasting.

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