B'desh rules out inking transit agreement with India

"No transit agreement will be signed during the visit. We (however) don't need any new agreement on transit either as it is not a new subject," Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's foreign affairs adviser Gowher Rizvi has said.

Speaking to a group of newsmen overnight on the sidelines of an Iftar party, he said that no transit agreement was needed to be signed since Bangladesh and India already had bilateral trade agreement of 1974 that envisaged transit facilities through rail, road and water ways.

Asked about the tentative time to allow India to use the transit facility he said at this moment our roads are not at all ready. First, transit through waterways will be operationalise, then railway and later on road.

But, Rizvi said, the two countries would need to sign protocols to make operational the transit facilities under the 1974 trade agreement while the two countries would also require signing of protocols to make operational Bangladesh's offer to India to use the Chittagong and Mongla seaports.

Asked what was likely to be the outcome of Singh's September 6-7 visit, he said the two neighbours were expected to sign a framework agreement encompassing cooperation in different fields including water, trade, culture and education and a major treaty on railway connectivity in north-eastern Akhaura-Agratala and northwestern Rohanpur- Singabad routes.

The senior technocrat adviser who taught governance and international relations in Oxford and Harvard for some 30 years, said there had been road and rail connectivity between the then East Pakistan and India since 1947 which was snapped during the 1965 Indo-Pak War.

"What Bangladesh now needs is to construct infrastructure, roads, rail tracks, bridges and expansion of ports facilities and fixed the transit fees. We are now working on modalities of the transit," he said.

Regarding the transit fees he said a committee of experts has submitted its report to the government but declined to elaborate it immediately saying after detailed analysis the government would fix an amount.

Rizvi said the two nations were also expected to sign deals and memorandums of understanding (MoU) on demarcation of the remaining 6.5 kilometre of the un-demarcated borders, exchange of enclaves and adversively possessed land, free movement of Bangladeshis through Tin Bigha Corridor, interim agreement on sharing of the Teesta water and purchase of electricity.

"Whatever agreements are signed will be made public and placed in Parliament. Nothing will be kept secret," he said, in an apparent reference to main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) concerns of "compromised national interests" through proposed deals with India.

Rizvi evaded a question on inclusion of Nepal and Bhutan under the identical transit facilities while Finance Minister AMA Muhith earlier this week said communications infrastructures in Bangladesh and neighbouring countries were not readied yet for transit though Dhaka was set to offer the facility to India, Nepal and Bhutan.

"Roads and railways need to be improved in at least three countries -- Bangladesh, India and Bhutan. But it is not possible right away," newspapers quoted Finance Minister AMA Muhit as telling a roundtable on trade facilitation in Dhaka.

Muhith added: "We've serious problems in our waterways, roads and railways. We should go to India, Nepal and Bhutan, but it seems not possible now for lack of facilities in infrastructure. These need to be developed."

The finance minister, however, expected Bangladesh and India to reach an agreement on the complicated transit fee issue during Singh's crucial Dhaka visit as a government committee working on it to recommend the government to fix the amounts.

Transit through Bangladesh, for India in particular, remained to be a contentious issue as BNP and its rightwing allies were opposed to the facility for "security and economic concerns" an argument rejected by mainstream financial and security analysts.

Off late, BNP, however, apparently softened its stance saying they were not opposed to the connectivity it it did not compromise the country's interest but all transit related deals have to be made public and discussed in parliament.

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