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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary in Dhaka on Prime Minister's ongoing visit to Bangladesh (June 06, 2015)

June 07, 2015

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good evening and welcome to this press briefing. We have been fortunate that our events ended a little bit early, and that is why we could have this at this point in time.

I have with me the Foreign Secretary, Dr. S. Jaishankar; Mr. Pankaj Saran, our High Commissioner to Bangladesh; and Mrs. Sripriya Ranganathan, Joint Secretary (Bangladesh & Myanmar). I will first request the Foreign Secretary to give you a broad overview of what has happened today and then we will open it up for questions.

Foreign Secretary (Dr. S. Jaishankar):
Good evening everybody. Let me say what great pleasure it is to be back in Dhaka and what a pleasure it is to be part of really this much-awaited visit to Bangladesh of Prime Minister Modi.

Today the Prime Minister began his programme with a visit to the Martyrs Memorial and then to the Banga Bandhu Memorial Museum. Then he had very extensive talks with the Hon. Prime Minister of Bangladesh Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina.

Prior to the commencement of the official discussions, the two Prime Ministers were joined by the Chief Minister of West Bengal and flagged off two bus services that will literally draw the people of the two countries closer together - the Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati service and the Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala service. After that, these three leaders then witnessed the exchange of the instruments of ratification of the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 and its Protocol of 2011.

The Prime Ministers then began their official discussions, which was both in a restricted format and a delegation format. Roughly it was about a shade less than two hours. I would say the tone and tenor of the discussions was very warm, very cordial with the two leaders taking stock of the enormous progress that has been made in the last year and as setting the agenda for the future.

Both in terms of the number and variety of the agreements and MoUs that were signed, many of you were there for that event, today testify to the deep interest of the two countries in strengthening their ties. We obviously will have to work very hard in the coming months to take full advantage of the opportunities that these understandings offer.

Before I come to the agreements and its significance, I would just like to share with you a few points which were made in the talks between the two Prime Ministers. Prime Minister Modi referred to 2021 as the 50th year for Bangladesh and 2022 as the 75th year for India, and said that that particular year we should both work together closely for our shared development.

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh expressed her appreciation for our Neighbourhood First Policy. There was a fairly wide ranging discussion but among the topics that came up was how do SAARC countries work together in a cooperative way to respond to natural disasters.

In terms of the agreements and MoUs that were signed today, obviously the most important was the exchange of Instruments of Ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement and its Protocol. We also exchanged letters spelling out the shared understanding of the two Governments on how to go about implementing the provisions of the Agreement and Protocol. So this is a task that lies ahead of us which includes the job of re-aligning the boundary, exchanging the enclaves and enabling the movement of those enclave residents who choose to relocate with minimal inconvenience.

I would like to share with you that during the discussions on the Land Boundary Agreement the Prime Minister actually said that the atmosphere in the Indian Parliament was reminiscent of 1971, the strength of sentiments for Bangladesh and the warmth of sentiments that were expressed. He also said that how the Parliament passed the Constitution Amendment was as important as what was actually being done.

He specifically mentioned that perhaps no world leader was referred to as frequently and warmly in the Indian Parliament as the Banga Bandhu, and said that the trust that he had sown was reaped on that day when the Constitution Amendment was passed.

Beyond the Land Boundary Agreement and its Protocol, there was a very important agreement on coastal shipping that was concluded. We see this as really a very key understanding that would allow us to use our common bay and each other’s waterways for movement of cargo.

As of now, the bulk of our trade takes place across the land border, and to the extent that we have sea trade this is done through distant ports. The goods are taken to distant ports and then they are reloaded into feeder vessels which then bring them into Chittagong. What this Coastal Shipping Agreement would do is basically enable the direct regular movement of ships between India and Bangladesh, which would bring the shipping time down from 30 to 40 days on average to seven to 10 days.

The impact of it would be that (i) it would relieve the congestion on our Land Customs Stations which is an impediment to trade, as well as (ii) it would contribute to the growth of the shipping industry in Bangladesh, as well as the ancillary services sector.

Another important step that was taken today which we believe will boost the Bangladeshi shipping industry is the renewal of the Protocol on Inland Waterways and Transport. This has been done on terms that would provide more certainty and predictability to the industry and its investors.

A third key MoU in this sphere that we signed today was one relating to access to Chittagong and Mongla ports for the movement of goods to and from India. With the proposed bridge over Feni river on India-Bangladesh border, there will be road connectivity from Chittagong to Agartala which will allow the movement of goods from Indian ports to Chittagong and Mongla ports which would then obviously could move on to Tripura and other regions of the North East through road.

This coupled with the provisions that have been built into the Trade Agreement, which was also renewed, allows India on its part to improve access to the North East region and allows Bangladesh access through India to Nepal and Bhutan. So we believe that this is a big step in enhancing our connectivity, in facilitating our trade, and it will bring a new spurt of growth to the entire region and a new vigour to our trade ties.

We have taken some other key initiatives in the trade and investment side. As I mentioned, we have renewed our bilateral trade agreement on a basis that offers long-term confidence to investors. Bangladesh has also taken the decision to welcome the Life Insurance Corporation as a joint venture.

In our quest to address the trade imbalance through innovative means, we have entered into an MoU to establish Indian Special Economic Zones in Bangladesh, and I think the Hon. Prime Minister of Bangladesh mentioned it in her remarks at the conclusion of the talks.

We do believe that trade balance would be restored substantially if Indian investments were enabled to a greater degree as this would spark of greater export-led growth. It is for us reassuring to note that Indian companies have shown great interest in Bangladeshi growth sectors like textiles, leather goods, pharmaceuticals, auto components, ship building, marine food processing etc.

An agreement was also reached by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and the Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company (BSCCL) for lease of telecom bandwidth. This will facilitate telecom connectivity for internet traffic via Cox Bazaar and Akhaura, Dhaka. We see this as a win-win mechanism which would not just facilitate better telecom connectivity but actually allow Bangladesh to monetize its telecom infrastructure.

I also draw your attention to the Agreement on Standards that was signed today and we think that this would help Bangladeshi products access the Indian markets more quickly. We have been working with BSTI to set up testing laboratories with Indian support.

While we are on the subject of support and capacity building, I think a particular source of satisfaction today for both of us should be a second concessional Line of Credit that was agreed on. The quantum of this LoC is USD two billion. Our Prime Minister announced this in his press statement. I think I would state to you that we have really been greatly encouraged by the positive experience we have had of the first LoC that was offered in 2011, to the tune of USD one billion.

We have done I think 15 projects, roughly half have been done and half are underway. And we really think that our officials worked in an exemplary manner to develop worthwhile projects, and these projects do meet Bangladesh’s national infrastructure development goals.

Today the projects that we have included in the new proposed LoC is broader than the first LoC. It would, apart from Railways which was covered, include roads, ports, power, education and health.

As all of you know, India-Bangladesh security cooperation has really been a very good story. The cooperation that we have given each other on the security front has truly been exemplary. The steadfast support extended by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Government in tackling the problem of terrorism and insurgency has created enormous trust and confidence and has brought our relationship to its current position of strength. Today in the discussions we heard a very credible use of the word ‘zero tolerance’ and that is something that we greatly welcome.

We expect the MoUs we have signed today to deepen our cooperation and trust. These include agreements on checking circulation of fake currency notes, another important agreement on preventing woman-trafficking. We also believe that the settlement of the border will help us go about the task of border management more effectively.

The resolution of the enclaves problem and their incorporation into national territories will go a long way to check unlawful activities. The refuge that these enclaves offered till now will no longer be available once the Land Boundary Agreement and the Protocol are implemented on the ground.

Just as we have settled the land border last month, we have settled the maritime border last year. We have tried to make optimal use of the enlarged maritime space available to us after this by entering into two MoUs that should help us step up cooperation on maritime security as well as maritime economic cooperation.

The MoU for cooperation between our coastguards will allow more cooperation in search and rescue operations, disaster relief, support for fishermen, checking of piracy, smuggling and other illegal activities. The MoU on Blue Economy and maritime cooperation in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean will facilitate useful interaction and knowledge sharing in the realm of fisheries, marine pollution control, marine tourism, tsunami and cyclone warnings and maritime domain awareness.

Culture is at the heart of our relationship. We have tried to build on this further and encourage far greater people-to-people contacts through the renewal of the cultural exchange programme and the signing of agreements on the bus services that I mentioned earlier.

We intend to promote educational exchanges at all levels – students, faculty and administrators – through the India-Bangladesh Education Initiative as well as the MoU between Jamia Millia Islamiya and Rajshahi University.

We have similarly decided that our scientific communities would mutually benefit from greater interaction. So, we encouraged an MoU between the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India and Dhaka University for joint research in oceanography in the Bay of Bengal. We have also stepped up fellowships for Bangladesh scholars under the India Science and Research Fellowship Programme.

In addition to the agreements that were signed today there are some other understandings and you will see that in the Joint Statement which I believe is to be released tomorrow.

In short, what we have achieved today is to place our relationship on a completely new platform where our business community, our student fraternity, cultural personalities, scientists, educationists and others have full freedom to explore the relationship and capitalize on all the opportunities that it offers.

If I were to sum up the sentiment today, I truly believe that there are no limits to the India-Bangladesh relationship.

Thank you very much. I would be happy to take your questions.

Official Spokesperson: I see a number of new faces, so I will just reiterate the ground rules. Foreign Secretary’s time is limited, we all have to go the Banquet. So, please restrict yourself to one question only, identify yourself and your organisation. Now the floor is open.

Question: Your Prime Minister and West Bengal Chief Minister held a meeting. What was the discussion? Is there any discussion about Teesta River water sharing Bill? Is there any development or discussion?

Foreign Secretary: There was, after the flagging off of the buses before the Land Boundary Instruments of Ratification and exchange, the two Prime Ministers and the Chief Minister spent some time together. There was some discussions among them about the state of our relations. In terms of what was said about Teesta, I think the Prime Minister today articulated the position very clearly in his press statement and I would refer you to that.

Question (...): Mera savaal aap se yeh hai ki jo bus service shuru hui hai, yeh roz jayegi ya iska kya schedule hoga?

Foreign Secretary: Jaise mujhe bataaya gaya hai, yeh bus service jo hai hafte mein teen baar chalegi donon jagah se.

Question (Anchal Vohra): Foreign Secretary, just a follow up question on Teesta.. You said Prime Minister articulated the stand very well. will have a fair resolution to the Teesta issue. You are saying that it was discussed but there is no solution yet, it was discussed but the State does not agree. Could you elaborate?

Foreign Secretary: I did not say any of those things. What I said was, please listen very carefully to what the Prime Minister said. I would repeat to you what the Prime Minister said if I had the transcript in my hands. I think what he said captured our position very well. So, I would ask you to go back to that.

Question (DD News): We understand that several other agreements have been signed on the sidelines of this visit in the semi-private or private sectors like power and all. Is it possible to get some information on them?

Foreign Secretary: Our focus today understandably was in the G2G agreements that were signed, and there were so many of them you would appreciate that our focus was really stretched. I do know that some business agreements were signed. I must tell you I do not have the details with me, but we will make sure that that is made available to us.

Question (Bangladesh TV): I would just like to know the progress about Indian visa application. We hope that getting Indian visa can be more easier for Bangladeshi citizens.

Foreign Secretary: As the Foreign Secretary it is my endeavour to ensure that our visa processes are easier for all citizens all over the world, and obviously Bangladesh being a close neighbour it is a subject on which we give a lot of attention. So that is something that we always continue to work on.

Question (Vinod Lamba, India News): Main yeh jaanna chahunga jis tarah se ki suraksha ki baat ki aur khas taur se ISI ka bhi zikr tha ki pehle Bangladesh mein achha khasa set up raha, toh suraksha ko le kar jo bhi karar hain, ya phir jo bhi understandings abhi tak hui hain, usko dekhte hue lagte hain ki yeh jo padausi mulk ke saath is tarah ke rishte hone, ek influence tha kahin na kahin Pakistan ka ya interference rehta tha Bangladesh mein, vo kaafi had tak control hoga aur Bangladesh ek important dost bhi hai padausi bhi hai.

Foreign Secretary: Is mein prashn kya hai? Yeh toh aapka statement hai.

Question (Vinod Lamba, India News): Prashn yeh hai ki isse kitna fayda hoga? Pakistan ka jo influence hua karta tha, ab jo naye agreements aapne ki hain, us cheez se kitna fayda hoga Bangladesh se Pakistan ko bahar rakhne ke liye?

Foreign Secretary: Dekhiye, suraksha ki baat jo hui thi, yeh hamaare aapas mein bilateral baat thi. Aur hum log jo hain, hamaare yahan kaafi prashansa hai ki Bangladesh ne security cooperation mein hamaari kaafi madad ki hai aur hamaari security situation jo hai khas kar Estern and North Eastern India, mein bahut improve hui hai. Toh hamaari baat jo hoti hai vo bilateral baat hoti hai is par.

Question (Bangladesh): Sir, I would to have some details on the implementation process. Do you have any timeframe by which you want to complete the process?

Foreign Secretary: I think we have been discussing with the Bangladesh Government the modalities for implementing the Land Boundary Agreement and the Protocol. These modalities have been worked out, to some extent in some detail. We sort of closed that today. But there is a lot of work to be done. I think the overseeing body on this will also be meeting soon. But at this point of time I am not sure that I am in a position to say anything publicly on timelines.

Question (Sangbad Pratidin, Kolkutta and Bangladesh ): You said that the rail and bus service also running. Any programme to start passenger waterways?

Foreign Secretary: What was agreed to was use of waterways for shipment of cargo. But the idea of using it for passenger purposes is an idea that has been under discussion. But the agreement that was renewed and improved, I would say, was the one pertaining to cargo movement.

Question: LBA ke modalities ko le kar ke jo aaj aap jo documents sign kiye hain, uske baare mein thoda sa elaborate karenge? Vo actually kya tha, kya hua usmein?

Foreign Secretary: Yeh Land Boundary Agreement ke teen, chaar hisse hain. Ek toh demarcation ki problem hai; jo enclaves jo hain usmein jo log hote hain, unke ginti, unki choice ki problem hai. Toh is par log abhi kuchh aur kaam hai, kuchh aur baat-cheet hongi. Toh mainly jo exchange hua tha uske baare mein process aur broad framework jo hain uske baare mein jo documents exchange hue the usi ke baare mein thei.

Official Spokesperson: This concludes the press conference. Thank you very much.


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