Doraiswami puts emphasis on data harmonization; technical body meeting soon

Relations between Bangladesh and India are based on fraternal ties and reflective of an all-encompassing partnership based on sovereignty, equality, trust and understanding that transcends a strategic partnership. The two countries vowed to uphold and protect the cherished values of democracy and equality in line with the aspirations of the people of the two friendly countries.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi expressed satisfaction over the current state of bilateral relations based on shared bonds of history, culture, language, and other unique commonalities that characterize the partnership.

There are many achievements in our relations including peaceful solution of Land Boundary Agreement and maritime boundary but water sharing issue remains unresolved that frustrates Bangladeshis.

Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram K Doraiswami has said they want to move "very quickly" on water sharing of six common rivers during the celebratory year of 2021 showing that the spirit of partnership and sharing between the two countries remains very strong.

"We see no barrier to sharing (six common rivers) water with Bangladesh. I think we can move very quickly. The main thing is to come up with data," he told Dhaka Courier in an interview.

The High Commissioner said water is a sensitive topic for everybody and they all need water; and laid emphasis on harmonization of data from both sides. "So, we have to be sure; and your side will have to be sure that data is harmonized."

Doraiswami said the technical committee-level meeting is likely to be held in the first week of January and then the two countries can put together a broad framework of sharing water.

After the technical committee meeting, water resources secretaries will hold a meeting with the intention that both sides will try and finalize this within this celebratory year so that they can show that the spirit of sharing of partnership remains very strong.

"We've to share the waters. We're friends. We're neighbours. I think this will move very quickly," said the High Commissioner expressing his optimism to hold the Joint Rivers Commission meeting in 2021 if the pandemic allows.

He said, "We're fully in support of holding JRC if the pandemic allows."

During the December 17 virtual Summit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted the need for the early signing of an interim agreement for sharing of the Teesta waters, as agreed upon by both the governments in 2011.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated India's "sincere commitment" and continued efforts of the government of India in that regard.

The two leaders underscored the need for early conclusion of Framework of Interim Agreement on sharing of waters of six joint rivers -- Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.

The Bangladesh side also requested the Indian side to inform its border authorities concerned to allow excavation work of the remaining portion of the Rahimpur Khal for utilization of Kushiyara River waters for irrigation purposes.

The Indian side was also requested to provide early concurrence on the proposed MoU to be signed between the two countries for monitoring the withdrawal of water from the Kushiyara River by both sides, pending signing of the Treaty/Agreement over sharing Kushiyara River water.

The two leaders recalled the positive contributions of the Joint Rivers Commission and looked forward to the next round of Secretarial level JRC meeting at the earliest.

Border Management

Responding to a question over border killing, the High Commissioner said human life is precious and they cannot and should not have anybody being hurt or killed but the problem is that it is happening on both sides of the border.

He said 90 percent of the incidents happen between 10pm to 4am and the intention of the border forces is not to hurt people.

"We agree that no life should be lost on both sides," the High Commissioner said adding that larger economic development must happen.

Doraiswami said they can do far more coordinated patrolling on the border, exchange of intelligence, and acting on both sides based on intelligence sharing between the border forces -- BSF and BGB.

"We need to involve civil administration, too and brief people on both sides daily, particularly during winter season saying that do not go across the border, do not cut the fences, it is risky and it could lead to fatal accidents," he said adding that this also can be done in a coordinated manner.

The High Commissioner laid emphasis on border haats which will encourage people to do things legally. "Let's recognize that there're common ecosystems that must be supported. It's a human problem. It's a law-and-order problem. That means both sides must work together."

During the December 17 Summit, both leaders also agreed that the loss of civilian lives at the border is a matter of concern and directed the border forces concerned to enhance coordinate measures to work towards bringing such border incidents to a zero level.

The leaders stressed full implementation of the ongoing Coordinated Border Management Plan. Both sides noted with satisfaction the recent stepped-up efforts of the two border guarding forces against smuggling of arms, narcotics and fake currency and to prevent trafficking, particularly of women and children.

Vaccine Cooperation

Under India's Neighbourhood First Policy, India assured that vaccines would be made available to Bangladesh as and when produced in India; and reiterated the highest priority India attaches to Bangladesh.

The two countries also noted the ongoing bilateral collaboration between the private sectors in this area.

India also offered collaboration in therapeutics and partnership in vaccine production while Bangladesh appreciated India's conducting capacity building courses for medical professionals in Bangla language.

"You've your own regulatory process for the vaccine, as soon as your regulator clears the vaccine, our regulator will do the same. I think the agreement has already specified how much vaccine will be delivered each month," said the Indian High Commissioner.

Doraiswami said they would be happy to do more, if possible, not just the supply of vaccine but they are ready to do a medical trial to go to the production phase and co-production.

Apart from India, he said, only Bangladesh has the capacity to produce vaccines in South Asia. "These're the things we can do together."

Rohingya Crisis

Responding to a question on a perception that India is not doing enough on Rohingya issue, the Indian High Commissioner said, "I don't know what's expected from us to do when we fully agree that these unfortunate people must be escorted back to their home."

He said the Rohingya crisis might also affect India the way it affects Bangladesh and Myanmar. So, why would we not want this problem solved? What more can we do?

"We speak to Myanmar at every level, the highest level of civilian government, the highest level of military establishment in the State of Rakhine. Our position is also clear there," said the High Commissioner.

He said they admire what Bangladesh has done and they support that Rohingyas must go back as quickly as possible and as sustainably as possible. Not just going back, they must stay there in their own country."

Doraiswami said the only thing that they are not doing is that they are not intervening in the direct negotiations. "We're friends of both Bangladesh and Myanmar."

During the recent virtual Summit, both the Prime Ministers reiterated the importance of their safe, speedy and sustainable return.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated the generosity of Bangladesh in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to the 1.1 million forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine State of Myanmar.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated India on its election as a member of the United Nations Security Council. She expressed Bangladesh's expectation to see India assist in the repatriation of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas back to Myanmar.

Celebration of Partnership

Bangladesh and India are in discussions to hold an in-person Summit in March 2021 if the Covid-19 situation allows.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for accepting her invitation to visit Bangladesh in person in March 2021 to join the celebrations on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's Independence and 50 years of Bangladesh-India diplomatic relations.

"What we can share with each other, no other country can. So, that is our effort," said the Indian High Commissioner.

The Indian High Commissioner laid emphasis on cooperation in the area of logistics noting that Bangladesh has much to gain from such cooperation.

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