India, Bangladesh agree on mega project to conserve and manage Teesta river water

Both sides also firmed up a "futuristic vision" for bringing transformative cooperation between the two "trusted" neighbours in a raft of new areas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina before a meeting, at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi, Saturday, June 22, 2024.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina before a meeting, at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi, Saturday, June 22, 2024. PTI

NEW DELHI: Sending a technical team by India to Bangladesh soon for a mega project to conserve and manage the Teesta river, moving ahead to start negotiations on a comprehensive trade pact and boosting defence ties were among major outcomes of talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Saturday.

The two sides signed 10 agreements providing for bolstering ties in a range of critical areas such as digital domain, maritime sphere, blue economy, railways, space, green technology, health and medicine.

Both sides also firmed up a "futuristic vision" for bringing transformative cooperation between the two "trusted" neighbours in a raft of new areas.

A major focus of the talks between the two prime ministers was to explore ways to shore up India-Bangladesh cooperation in digital and energy connectivity even as both sides resolved to work towards peaceful management of borders between the two countries.

In his remarks to the media, Modi, describing people-to-people contacts as the foundation of ties between the two nations, said India will launch an e-medical visa facility for people from Bangladesh coming to India for medical treatment.

India has also decided to open a new assistant high commission in Rangpur.

In the talks, Modi and Hasina also resolved to strengthen bilateral defence cooperation including in areas of defence production and modernisation of Bangladeshi armed forces and agreed to enhance engagement on countering terrorism and radicalisation.

The issue of Rohingya refugees as well as the situation in Myanmar and boosting regional cooperation under the framework of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) grouping also figured in the talks.

"We have decided to start negotiations at the technical level for the renewal of the 1996 Ganga Water Treaty," Prime Minister Modi said.

"On the conservation and management of the Teesta river in Bangladesh, a technical team will soon visit Bangladesh for talks," he said in his media statement, The mega project assumed significance as China too apparently showed interest in it.

Under the project, it is envisaged to build large reservoirs and related infrastructure to manage and conserve Teesta river water.

The move on the project comes amid a long-pending proposal to have a pact on sharing of Teesta water between the two countries.

The deal was set to be signed during the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh in September 2011, but it was postponed at the last minute due to objections by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

At a media briefing, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said India plans to undertake conservation and management of the Teesta River inside Bangladesh with suitable Indian assistance.

In his remarks, Modi said Bangladesh is India's largest development partner and New Delhi attaches highest priority to its relations with that country.

"Bangladesh is situated at the confluence of our Neighbourhood First policy, Act East policy, Vision SAGAR and Indo-Pacific vision. India has been cooperating with the countries of the Indian Ocean region under the broader policy framework of SAGAR or Security and Growth for all in the Region.

"We have kept our focus on connectivity, commerce and collaboration. In the last 10 years, we have restored the connectivity that existed before 1965," Modi said.

"Now we will emphasise more on digital and energy connectivity. This will give impetus to the economies of both countries," he said.

"To take our economic relations to new heights, both sides have agreed to start negotiations on CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement)," he said.

The prime minister said both sides decided to expand defence cooperation as well.

"We had extensive discussions on further strengthening defence cooperation, from defence production to modernisation of armed forces," he said.

"We have decided to strengthen our engagement on counter-terrorism, de-radicalisation and peaceful management of borders."

"We share a common vision for the Indian Ocean region. We welcome Bangladesh's decision to join the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative," he said.

In her remarks, Hasina described India as Bangladesh's major neighbour and a trusted friend.

"India is our major neighbour, trusted friend, and regional partner. Bangladesh greatly values our relations with India, which were born out of the War of Liberation in 1971," she said.

"I recall with gratitude the contribution of the government and the people of India to Bangladesh's independence," she said.

Hasina also paid homage to the "brave fallen heroes of India" who sacrificed their lives in the 1971 war.

"Today, we had very productive meetings where we discussed cooperation in areas of security, trade, connectivity, sharing of water from common rivers, power and energy, and regional and multilateral cooperation," she said.

The Bangladesh prime minister began her two-day visit to India on Friday.

It is the first incoming bilateral state visit by a foreign leader after the formation of the new government in India following the Lok Sabha elections.

In the morning, Hasina visited Rajghat and paid rich tributes to Mahatma Gandhi.

Ahead of the talks, the visiting leader was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the fore-court of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Officials said the focus of the Modi-Hasina talks would be to impart a new momentum to the bilateral ties including in areas of trade, connectivity and energy.

Hasina was among seven top leaders from India's neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean region who attended the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union council of ministers on June 9.

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