The prime minister, as always, remains her own best spokesperson.

Holding her usual debriefing session with the press following an important bilateral visit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this week said that her recent visit to India, after a gap of three years, has opened a new horizon in Bangladesh's relations with its big neighbour.

"Throughout the visit, we observed India's sincerity and commitment to continue cooperation between the two countries on the basis of equality and respect as good neighbours," she said, at the press conference held, as usual, at her official residence Ganobhaban.

The premier said the people of both countries will benefit from the decisions taken during her visit (Sept 5-8) to resolve the existing bilateral issues, and the areas of cooperation identified during the bilateral talks.

"After all, in the changed world situation, this visit would accelerate both the countries to move forward together in a new way. I firmly believe that this cooperation will continue for the welfare of the people of both countries. South Asia, including Bangladesh and India, will become a prosperous region soon," she said in her prepared remarks at the start of the session.

She said the issues of Teesta water sharing, cessation of border killings, trade expansion, withdrawal of anti-dumping duty on Bangladesh jute products, repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar, and import of electricity from Nepal and Bhutan via India, were discussed.

The PM highlighted the significant achievements of her visit as the MoU on sharing the waters of the Kushiara River allowing Bangladesh to withdraw 153 cusec of water from the river, consensus to bring down the border killings to zero, India agreeing to lift restrictions on rail communication and other cross-border rail links with Bhutan and India taking steps for alerting Bangladesh before stopping the export of essential food items like sugar, onion, ginger and garlic.

She also mentioned the planned opening of historic "Swadhinata Road" from Mujibnagar in Bangladesh to the Bangladesh-India border.

In case of river pollution and common rivers, immediate steps will be taken to improve the environment and navigability of the rivers, IT solutions will be exchanged to enhance the quality of railway services, and the commerce officials of the two countries have been instructed to begin work for signing the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement by 2022.

Sheikh Hasina said as per the first MoU on water-sharing between the two countries since the Ganges Water Treaty of 1996, Bangladesh will receive 153 cusecs of water under the Surma-Kushiara project from the common river Kushiara and as a result, 5,000 hectares of land in Bangladesh will get irrigation facilities through the Rahimpur Link Canal.

Apart from this, the premier said, an agreement has been made on cooperation in the fields of environment, climate change, cyber security, space technology, green economy, cultural and people-to-people communication, she added.

"We agreed to complete the construction work of the second gate proposed by India at the Petrapole- Benapole border as soon as possible to expand trade. A delegation from Bangladesh will soon visit India to participate in the start-up fair," she added.

Focusing on the energy cooperation between India and Bangladesh, the PM said fuel (diesel) from theNumaligarh Refinery Limited in Assam will flow to Parbatipur in Dinajpur district of Bangladesh through India's Siliguri through a pipeline. In this regard, an MoU was signed between Bangladesh and India on April 9, 2018 under the "India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline Construction Project", she added.

"Under this project, a 131.57 km (126.57 km in the Bangladesh part and 5 km in the Indian part) pipeline is being constructed with the finance of the Government of India. Out of the 126.50 km of pipelines in the Bangladesh part, 125 km pipeline has been completed," she said, adding that due to construction of the pipeline, fuel transportation cost will be saved and diesel could be imported from India easily, quickly and in adverse conditions to meet the needs of northern parts of the country;

She said now, 60,000-80,000 metric tonnes of diesel are imported from India annually through Railway Wagon and once the construction of the pipeline is completed, it will be possible to import about 10 lakh metric tonnes of diesel from India annually.

Currently, the storage capacity in Parbatipur is 15,000 metric tonnes and under the ongoing project, the storage capacity will increase by 28,800 metric tonnes, she said, adding that India's state-owned company has been enlisted as a supplier of fuel oil on G-to-G basis with an aim to diversify the import source of fuel.

About LNG import, the premier said considering the huge gas demand in the south-western part of the country, particularly in Khulna area, the government is considering importing Regasified LNG (RLNG) from India to Bangladesh through a cross-border pipeline and to this end, against the proposals of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL) and H-Energy, Patrobangla signed respective Non-binding MoU with both the agencies.

"India is our closest neighbour and friendly country. Our relationship with India is historic. Our relations have been deepened due to similarities of language and culture," she said.

Besides, the support during the 1971 Liberation War and cooperation after the independence have cemented this friendship at a special level, said the prime minister.

'Assurance of getting oil, gas a big accomplishment'

Replying to a question from UNB editor Farid Hossain, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that her recent visit to the neighbouring country didn't end with nothing. She said what Bangladesh achieved from India depends on one's perception.

"Bangladesh is going to get fuel from India. The (fuel) oil will be transported from Assam's Numaligarh to our depot in the north through a pipeline which will also be built by India. Once the supply of fuel starts, the economic activities of north Bangladesh and the wellbeing of the people living there will get a boost," the PM said.

She added that Bangladesh has also discussed the issue of LNG import with India.

"Khulna region faces acute gas crises from time to time. We're thinking of importing LNG from India through that region, so that people living in that part of the country can be directly benefited," added Hasina.

During the briefing, PM Hasina termed the assurance of getting oil and gas from India as big accomplishments of her recent India visit.

It may be mentioned that during the visit, the two sides signed seven MoUs, including withdrawal of 153 cusec of water from Kushiara river to Bangladesh under Surma-Kushiara project, Scientific and Technological Cooperation between Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), she said, adding that MoUs were also signed between India and Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR), MoU between the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal, India and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, MoU between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board), Government of India and the Ministry of Railways, Government of Bangladesh on Training of Bangladesh Railway Personnel in India, MoU between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board), Government of India and the Ministry of Railways, Government of Bangladesh on Collaboration in IT systems such as FOIS and other IT Applications for Bangladesh Railway, between the Indian state-run television 'Prasar Bharti' and Bangladesh Television (BTV) on Cooperation in Broadcasting and MoU on Cooperation in the Areas of Space Technology between BTCL and NSIL.

'People will vote AL if they want development'

With speculation running rife on the political dimension of the visit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina brushed it aside saying the people will definitely vote for Awami League in the next general election - for the sake of continued development of the country.

"I firmly believe that people will vote for Awami League if they want the ongoing development trend to continue. And if they don't, there's nothing to do. It is up to them," she said at the press conference.

Turning to the domestic scenario, the premier said there is nothing wrong with the formation of new political alliances as her party wants participation of all parties in the next national election.

"We want everyone to participate in the election. If anyone doesn't join, it is up to the decision of the respective (political) party. But we can't halt the constitutional trend. The democratic trend in line with the constitution will continue," she said, focusing on her government's successes to ensure the overall socio-economic development of the country, particularly in economic progress, trade and business and employment generation.

In reply to a question on whether Jatiya Party will join the next national election as an ally of the AL-led combine, given the recent noises coming out of the party's camp, the AL president said it was too early to tell, with more than a year still left to hold the next general election. "Time will tell which party will stay with us or not or form a new alliance. We don't have any problem," she added.

Replying to another question, Hasina said the dollar crisis is not only in Bangladesh alone, rather the crisis is seen throughout the world.

She feared that if the war (Russia-Ukraine) and sanctions and counter-sanctions are not lifted, the world may face a deeper crisis including famine and acute economic crisis. In this context, the PM renewed her call to the citizens to grow their own foods as part of the preparation to face the imminent crisis.

Asked about India's stand on Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar during her visit, she said India thinks and realises that the long stay of Rohingya here in Bangladesh is creating a crisis and damaging the natural resources and environment.

"We've asked India to cooperate in this regard and we've received a positive response. India always thinks it should be solved," Hasina said. She, however, added that the problem lies with the Myanmar government and it is engaged in internal conflicts.

Responding to another question, the premier said that she has received much more sincerity from the Indian side during her recent visit from September 5 to 8.

"I received enough sincerity. When I had talks to the (Indian) President, the Prime Minister and others, they always showed sincerity," she said.

She said all parties and the people from all creeds in India can reach consensus regarding Bangladesh as they did during the 1971 Liberation War and implementation of the historic land boundary agreement on exchange of enclaves between the two countries.

Sheikh Hasina said there might be various problems between the two neighbouring countries. "But I always think the problems can be solved through discussion," she asserted.

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