India and Bangladesh discuss development cooperation, defence line of credit

India and Bangladesh on Thursday discussed ways to speed up development cooperation and operationalise a $500-million line of credit for defence ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka in March.

The matters figured in foreign office consultations that were co-chaired by foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and his Bangladesh counterpart Masud Bin Momen in New Delhi. The two sides focused on deliverables that could be implemented by the time of PM Modi’s visit to participate in celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bangladesh, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.

Bangladesh is perceived as a key pillar of India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy and has benefited from development cooperation worth about $9 billion, including $7.8 billion in lines of credit at concessional rates. India provided seven million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, including two million doses as a grant, to Bangladesh this month.

“A lot of the India-funded projects are at the planning stage on the Bangladesh side and the consultations focused on ways to expedite them. We have a list of deliverables and five to six MoUs are expected to be signed during the prime minister’s visit, besides the inauguration of key projects,” one of the people cited above said.

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The two sides also discussed the operationalisation of the line of credit of $500 million for Bangladesh to procure defence equipment from India. The agreement for this was signed last year and the two sides are exploring the supply of “kinetic and non-kinetic equipment,” the people said.

India provided 18 120mm mortars and ammunition to Bangladesh last December – the first supply of kinetic equipment – and a 122-member Bangladeshi tri-services contingent participated in the Republic Day parade this year, reflecting the burgeoning defence ties between the two countries.

The sharing of waters of the Teesta river, a long-standing demand of the Bangladeshi side, figured in Friday’s talks, the people said. Though the Indian side remains committed to an agreement on this issue, the people said the two sides should forge ahead with an agreement on six other rivers, for which data has already been shared.

The Bangladeshi side also raised repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, another long-standing issue for which Bangladesh has sought India’s help in view of its good ties with Myanmar.

The people said the Indian side is ready to play the role of a facilitator for the safe and sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas and pointed to development projects being implemented in Rakhine state. “India has built 250 houses in Rakhine and is currently identifying projects for the third phase of a project in Myanmar. It is also developing Sittwe port in Rakhine to boost economic development despite security challenges,” the person cited above said.

The two sides also renewed an air bubble arrangement to facilitate essential travel.

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