The forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi will further strengthen the multifaceted relationship between the two countries based on strong historical and cultural ties and mutual trust and understanding.

The visit is very significant for both Bangladesh and India as the two countries seek peace and stability in the region and want to work together to overcome the challenges. It will open new windows of cooperation between the two friendly countries, says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

PM Hasina will pay a state visit to India on September 5-8 at the invitation of her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. She last visited New Delhi in October 2019. During her visit, PM Hasina will meet Indian President Droupadi Murmu and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar apart from holding bilateral consultations with her counterpart Modi. Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will call on PM Hasina, said the Ministry of External Affairs. She is also likely to visit Ajmer.

In recent years, both sides have sustained a high level of engagement, including at the highest level, MEA said. The Prime Minister will lead a high-level delegation which includes a number of Ministers, Advisers, Secretaries and senior officials of the government. Representatives from business bodies of Bangladesh will also accompany the Prime Minister during the visit.

She will be formally received by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while a ceremonial guard of honour will be accorded to her. She will pay homage at Rajghat in honour of Mahatma Gandhi. Prime Minister Hasina is also scheduled to attend a state lunch to be hosted by Prime Minister Modi in her honour.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is also scheduled to attend a business event being organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), India's apex trade body. She is expected to award Mujib Scholarship, an initiative of the government of Bangladesh, for the descendants of 200 Indian Armed Forces personnel who were martyred and critically injured during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.

A number of agreements and MoUs are expected to be signed during the state visit, MoFA said. Bangladesh and India have finalised the text of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on interim water sharing of Kushiyara River ahead of PM Hasina's visit.

The two countries also welcomed finalisation of the design and location of the water intake point on the Feni river to meet the drinking water needs of Sabroom town in Tripura as per the October 2019 Bangladesh-India MoU on this subject.

At the 38th ministerial level Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) meeting held in New Delhi on August 25, Bangladesh requested India in signing the MoU for withdrawal of water by Bangladesh and India from the common stretch of Kushiyara River at an early date. The Indian side assured that the issue is under their consideration.

Both sides agreed to conduct the feasibility study for optimum utilisation of water received by Bangladesh under the provision of the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, 1996. India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers, of which seven rivers have been identified earlier for developing the framework of water sharing agreements on priority.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to return to Dhaka on September 8.

Trade and defence

During her visit to India, Hasina is expected to push for both sides to launch talks for having an India-Bangladesh Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) - a wide-ranging trade pact in goods and services. Sources said both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hasina are likely to officially signal the launching of CEPA negotiations this year.

The proposed deal is expected to boost Bangladesh's export earnings in bilateral trade between the two countries by 190% and India's by 188%, and gross domestic product by 1.72% and 0.03%, respectively, as revealed by a Dhaka-Delhi joint feasibility study.

The CEPA will cover trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property rights and e-commerce. In the last fiscal year, Bangladesh's exports to India rose to nearly $2 billion for the first time. Imports from India to Bangladesh totalled $14 billion.

Officials from Dhaka said Bangladesh already enjoyed duty-free and quota-free benefits for the exports of all but 25 products, including tobacco and alcohol, to India, as a least developed country under the South Asian Free Trade Area.

During the visit of PM Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in March 2021, he and Hasina issued instructions on concluding the joint feasibility study relating to the signing of the CEPA.

Accordingly, Bangladesh's Foreign Trade Institute and India's Centre for Regional Trade conducted the detailed joint feasibility study. In May this year, they sent the study report to their respective commerce ministries. The report suggested launching negotiations for the signing of the CEPA.

Once the trade deal is signed, Bangladesh's export earnings will go up by $3-5 billion and India's by $4-10 billion in the next 7-10 years, according to a final draft report of the joint feasibility study.

It will also open new investment windows for both countries, the study claimed.

"It may be concluded that the estimates and analysis of this study indicate that the proposed CEPA between India and Bangladesh is not only feasible but also mutually beneficial in terms of possible gains in the realms of trade in goods and services, and investment," according to the study.

Meanwhile Indian sources have been reporting that a bilateral defence cooperation agreement is expected to be announced. The draft of the agreement is already ready. In 2017, when PM Hasina was in India, the two sides had inked a MoU on Framework Agreement for defence cooperation. And, this Framework Agreement is expected to be upgraded during her forthcoming visit. In the 2019 visit the two sides had discussed deepening cooperation in aerospace research, cyber security, blue economy, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Gautam Lahiri, a senior Indian journalist and Bangladesh commentator, has written in Indian outlet the Financial Express, that, "Initially New Delhi was trying to push its military hardware to Dhaka. However, sensing the sensitivity of it, India has now changed its strategy to rope in Bangladesh."

"Now it will be a good initiative if Dhaka and New Delhi agree for joint production of military hardware keeping the needs of that country. Ahead of the visit of PM Hasina to India, this proposal has been discussed at the recently held defence dialogue between the two countries," he adds.

According to Lahiri, "The $500 million Line of Credit was also offered but it is still lying unutilized. Earlier both sides agreed to install a coastal radar system to keep a watch in the Bay of Bengal. Hopefully the project may take off after the visit of the Bangladesh PM."

He elaborated that, "The visit of Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande to Dhaka sent a positive signal of deeper defence cooperation between the two sides. Since PM Hasina holds the Defence portfolio too, she met with the Indian Army Chief. Enlarged defence cooperation may be agreed upon for mutual benefit of two trusted neighbours."

The groundwork for the upgraded Bilateral Defence Cooperation agreement was completed at the fourth India-Bangladesh Annual Defence Dialogue on August 11 in New Delhi. This meeting was co- chaired by Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar for India and Lt General Wakar-Uz-Zaman, Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division, for Bangladesh.

Joint production of various equipment and hardware based on the requirements of Bangladesh is something India is interested in and this was the topic on the agenda of talks during the talks in New Delhi recently.

On August 10, the two sides had the second Tri Service Staff Talks in New Delhi, bringing together the three arms of defence co-chaired by Deputy Chief of Integrated staff Headquarters, Brigadier Vivek Narang and Brigadier Hussain Muhammad, Director General Operations and plans Directorate of the Bangladesh Armed forces. The two sides discussed the ongoing initiatives taken under the existing bilateral defence cooperation mechanism of all three services. Both sides agreed to further strengthen their bilateral defence engagements.

The two countries are said to have great potential for cooperation in defence trade, joint production and co-development which will help in deeper defence cooperation between India and Bangladesh.

Connectivity advances

The two countries' cooperation is highlighted by the recent completion of the Rupsha rail bridge. Part of the Khulna-Mongla port rail line project, it will have 100-year longevity and it was a challenging engineering feat as it required specialised base grouting technology for piling work, says its project manager.

"The bridge has been constructed over the Rupsha tidal river and this was a challenging engineering feat," Amritosh Kumar Jha told our sister newsagency UNB. He said everything has to be maintained properly to ensure longer longevity of the bridge and hoped that the bridge will bring multiple benefits.

Working in the navigation channel for safe movement of ships was a challenging job, said the project manager thanking all for extending support to them for successful implementation of the project.

The 5.13-km broad-gauge single-track railway bridge, taken up under India's concessional Line of Credit (LOC), was completed on June 25.

The Rupsha rail bridge has been constructed by Indian EPC Contractor M/s L and T and has connected Khulna with the Mongla port city via a rail line. A total of 856 pile foundations were constructed on viaduct sections and 72 pile foundations were constructed for the steel bridge section with an average pile length of 72 m.

The bridge also has additional features such as navigation fender piles upstream and downstream of the pier, for ensuring navigation safety in the river. The navigational clearance for the main bridge is more than 18 m from Standard High-Water Level (SHWL).

The construction materials for the steel bridge superstructure were imported from India using road, sea and inland rivers. The total project (Khulna-Mongla port rail line project) cost is US$ 388.92 million while the cost of constructing the Rupsha bridge is US$ 169.26 million.

The bridge also has additional features such as navigation fender piles upstream and downstream of the pier, for ensuring navigation safety in the river.

Once completed, the rail line would help increase the connectivity of Mongla Port, the 2nd largest port of Bangladesh, and provide an alternate route for rail and maritime trade. It would also allow other countries in the region to use the port and boost sub-regional trade.

The Rupsha railway bridge and the Khulna-Mongla port rail line will greatly facilitate the to and fro transportation of goods and the enhanced connectivity, officials said.

The accessibility to Mongla port will also improve market access for local businesses including for agricultural produce of farmers in the region, they said. It is also expected to positively impact tourism to prominent spots in the south-western part of Bangladesh, according to officials.

Upgradation of Mongla Port

The project for upgrading the Mongla port has been taken up under the third concessional LOC and includes construction of jetty no. 1 and 2 of the Mongla port at an estimated cost of US$ 530 million. Mongla port is the second largest port of Bangladesh and has good inland connections to the business hub of Khulna. Egis India Consulting Engineering Ltd has emerged as a "technically qualified" bidder for the PMC contract of the project, said an official. The value of the PMC contract is US$ 9.6 million.

With the development of the Khulna-Mongla Port rail project, the development of this port will add to the maritime links for movement of goods not only between India and Bangladesh but also to and fro from Bhutan and Nepal, officials engaged in the project said. The project would greatly improve sub-regional connectivity, trade and commerce and accelerate growth of the entire region, they said.

The government of India has extended four LOCs to the government of Bangladesh worth US$ 7.862 billion. A total of 42 projects have been taken up under these LOCs so far, of which 14 projects have been completed and the rest are at various stages of implementation, an official told UNB. Disbursements under these LOCs had reached US$ 1155 million as of the close of the Bangladeshi financial year on 30 June 2022.

Rampal Power Plant

The first unit of the Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant will go into commercial operation early October in a major stride in growing Bangladesh-India power sector cooperation, officials said. The unit-I of the 1320 (2x660) MW coal-fired power plant was successfully synchronised with the national grid on August 15. After completion and "successful synchronisation" of unit-I of the power plant, further synchronisation related activities are currently being undertaken following which Unit-I will be handed over to the government of Bangladesh, said the officials involved in the project.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi are expected to jointly announce the completion of the first unit's construction during her visit to India in the first week of next month. PM Hasina is scheduled to leave for New Delhi on September 5 at the invitation of her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

Once both units of the mega power plant are commissioned, the Maitree Super Thermal Power Project will be one of the largest power plants in Bangladesh, Subhash Chandra Pandey, project director of Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company (Pvt.) Limited, told UNB.

Unit-II of the power plant, also known as Rampal coal-fired power project, is expected to be commissioned early next year, he said. The 1320 (2x660) MW coal-fired power plant is being setup at a cost of approximately US$ 2 billion and is located in Rampal, in the Bagerhat district of Khulna division of Bangladesh, said an official describing the project features in detail.

The Maitree Super Thermal Power Project is being constructed under the government of India's concessional financing scheme. It is being built by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) for the Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Private Ltd. (BIFPCL), a 50:50 joint venture company between India's National Thermal Power Company (NTPC) Ltd and Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), said the officials.

The project director said the power plant is being set up with super critical technology to actively mitigate environmental impact. Some of the in-built measures to minimise air and water pollution, inter-alia, include a flue gas desulphurization system (FGD) with no bypass to control the emission of SOx, integrated effluent and waste management system to avoid contamination of Pasur River.

The power plant has the tallest chimney in Bangladesh (at 275 m) for wider dispersion of flue gas emissions, said Pandey. Construction of an advance ship unloader for coal as well as a fully covered coal stock yard, along with use of high grade imported coal with low Ash and Sulphur content, among other measures, are in place, he said.

On April 6, the 400 kV GIS switchyard and interconnecting transformer of the power plant was energised. Since then, it has been providing a wheeling facility of the 400 kV power from the Payra power project to the 230 kV grid system of Bangladesh to enable the power grid corporation of Bangladesh to transmit additional power towards Khulna region to address peak demand, said the project director.

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