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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary in Dhaka on Prime Minister’s ongoing Bangladesh Visit (June 7, 2015)

June 07, 2015

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good evening friends and welcome to this concluding press briefing by the Foreign Secretary on the Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh. Foreign Secretary will give you a broad overview of what all happened between yesterday and today as well as some highlights from the Joint Statement which, I believe, has just been shared with all of you. With that the floor is with the Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Secretary (Dr. S. Jaishankar): Good evening. I know that all of you are a little pressed for time and so am I because I think we all have to be at the next venue. So, allow me to go through this rather quickly.

Today the Prime Minister called on His Excellency the President of Bangladesh, who hosted a lunch in his honour. There was also a function to present the award of the Bangladesh Liberation War Honour to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which was accepted by the Prime Minister on his behalf.

The Prime Minister met a number of political leaders today. They included the Leader of Opposition Begum Raushan Ershad, Begum Khaleda Zia of the BNP, as well as Left leaders. So you can see he met the full spectrum of Bangladesh authorities. He received leaders of Chambers of Commerce from across Bangladesh and had a discussion with them on how to take our commercial and trade relations between the two countries forward.

Earlier in the day he visited the Sree Sree Dhakeshwari Temple, he went to the Ramakrishna Mission, he visited the new Chancery, and he inaugurated a number of Special Development Projects which are done under Indian Grant Assistance.

If I could very quickly move on to the Joint Statement, which I think many of you would have the text in front of you, I do not want to repeat what I have already said yesterday and there are a number of elements which are common between my briefing yesterday and the Joint Statement. Right now I will just highlight the points which were not made yesterday.

The first point I would draw your attention to is actually the title of the Joint Statement because Notun Projonma - Nayi Disha, New Generation - New Direction, itself is the message in a way of this visit and of the discussions that the two Prime Ministers had. The Prime Ministers agreed that Bangladesh-India relations have entered a new phase in the relations where we have a pragmatic, mature and practical approach based on sovereignty, equality, friendship, trust and understanding.

Our Prime Minister appreciated the impressive socioeconomic development of Bangladesh and in particular its economic growth, its poverty eradication, women’s empowerment and education. He also complimented Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on her support to innovative ideas for enhancing sub-regional cooperation.

I think overall the Joint Statement captures our view that today we have, thanks to Prime Minister’s commitment, Prime Minister Hasina’s commitment, to betterment of our bilateral relations and many path-breaking initiatives which have provided greater depth and substance to our relationship.

I mentioned to you the awards ceremony today. One of the very visible expressions of bonding between the two Prime Ministers was the commitment to preserve the memory and legacy of the Great Liberation War and the freedom fighters. And Prime Minister Hasina sought our assistance in bringing back the mortal remains of freedom fighters of Bangladesh who have been buried in Indian soil during the 1971 war.

Of course, Prime Minister was very deeply appreciative of the award that was conferred on former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, you would have seen that award ceremony, and he also appreciated Bangladesh’s initiative to honour the memory of Indian soldiers who laid down their lives during the Liberation War. Prime Minister did note that Bangladesh’s gesture in this regard would always be remembered in India.

I spoke at some length yesterday on the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement and the 2011 Protocol. The two Prime Ministers had directed that there should be expeditious implementation of the agreement and the protocol on the ground. And they have reaffirmed their commitment to extend all facilities to the residents of the enclaves and ensure that rights of all citizens are protected. The Instruments of Ratification which were exchanged in addition to that there were modalities for ensuring smooth implementation of the agreement and the protocol which have been done through an exchange of letters.

The energy situation, power sector was a particular subject of discussion and deliberation during this visit. On our side we expressed very strong support to the implementation of the Bangladesh Government’s 2021 goal of achieving an installed capacity of 24,000 MW of power. Our Prime Minister was very confident that India would be a major partner in this regard.

Among the specific issues which you might find interesting in this regard were the steps which we have taken through the Bheramara-Baharampur Grid Interconnection to augment the power supply to 1,000 MW, to operationalise the supply of 100 MW of power from India including from the Palatana Power Plant. Our Prime Minister agreed in principle to consider Bangladesh’s proposal to allow import from India to Bangladesh of additional power in a phased manner through construction of an additional grid interconnection on the western side of Bangladesh.

Staying on the subject of power, we welcomed the understanding, the consensus on evacuating power from North-East region of India to Muzaffarnagar through Bangladesh which will include suitable power tapping points in Bangladesh.

I had spoken yesterday as well of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) framework. I think there was very positive evaluation of various sub-regional initiatives there, both on power - again, I am staying on the subject of power - as well as on motorways. We also agreed to initiate an annual India-Bangladesh Energy Dialogue at the level of Secretaries.

Moving on to connectivity, one important issue which you would be interested in is the work that has been done on opening immigration facilities at Phulbari opposite Banglabandha. That has been completed and the Immigration Post will be operationalised soon. On the Special Economic Zones, we have identified Mongla and Bheramara as two possible locations and we expect that now work will start on this.

Prime Minister Modi also agreed to consider Bangladesh’s proposal to introduce the second Maitri Express between Khulna and Kolkata. On the Small Developed Projects, I have mentioned that today a number of them were inaugurated by the Prime Minister at our new Chancery Complex. They included the India-Bangladesh Matri Girls Hostel at Victoria College …(Inaudible)…; construction of the third floor of the Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organisation building in Mirpur; sewerage system treatment plant and waste water treatment plant Kumudini Hospital and Complex at Mirzapur, Tangail; establishment of the Hindi Department at the University of Dhaka; a recording studio at the Music Department of the University of Dhaka; and a dance studio at the Department of Dance at Dhaka.

On the training side, there was considerable appreciation shown for the cooperation under the ITEC programme of India which offers mid-career training programmes for Bangladesh civil servants.

On the consular side, Prime Minister Hasina expressed her satisfaction at the Indian Government agreeing to open a Deputy High Commission of Bangladesh in Guwahati as well as upgrading the Visa Office at Agartala. On our side, I think we had indicated yesterday that concurrence has been given to open Assistant High Commissions in Khulna and Sylhet.

Prime Minister Modi also conveyed our deep gratitude for the gesture which the Bangladesh Government had shown in allowing transshipment of food grains to Tripura from Bangladesh territory.

My final point on Joint Statement is in regard to global issues beyond bilateral issues. As all of you know, India and Bangladesh both work very closely in the UN; we are both big contributors to Peace Keeping Operations. I think for us it was important that we had an agreement that in the 70th anniversary year of the UN we both call for the reform of the UN Security Council, and we both agreed to support the Inter Governmental Negotiations to bring about a comprehensive reform there. The Bangladesh Prime Minister of course expressed support for India’s candidature for permanent membership of the Security Council.

That is really the sum and summary of the programme today, of the Joint Statement. In the little time that we have, I would be happy to take questions.

Official Spokesperson: Let us keep it short and sweet. We will have just about ten minutes of Q&A before you all will have to leave for the next venue.

Question (Indrani Bagchi, The Times of India): The Prime Minister said that we would not be able to take the Tipaimukh hydroelectric power project forward because of statutory requirements. What would those be?

Foreign Secretary: My understanding is that we are looking at environmental clearances in that regard.

Question (Shubhojit): Prime Minister had a meeting with Khaleda Zia, the BNP Chief. We have heard what the BNP had to say. What was Prime Minister’s assurance on the issues related to the lack of democratic system here in Bangladesh? Secondly, what is the kind of timeframe you are looking at when the Prime Ministers say that an expeditious implementation of LBA should take place?

Foreign Secretary: You have an advantage over me because I have not heard what the BNP had to say after the meeting. But I can tell you that a number of issues were discussed and the BNP leader actually complimented the Prime Minister for his leadership in ratifying the LBA. She expressed support for the free movement of goods in the region and beyond. She expressed her opposition to terrorism in all forms as well as to extremism.

I think on our side broadly speaking the Prime Minister, I am now responding to your pointed question, did make our position very clear that we were supportive of democracy and we were opposed to fundamentalism and terrorism.

On the expeditious implementation, I would emphasise the word expeditious. Please bear with us for a little while and you will see that we will be moving on it very very quickly.

Question (Anchal Vora, NDTV): Sir, when the Prime Minister met a range of political leaders including …(Inaudible)… was the fact that there are atrocities on minorities are …(Inaudible)… taken up? What was the position?

Foreign Secretary: I would really hesitate to characterise full details of this. I will have to check on this. Frankly at the top of my head this is not something which is coming readily to me. So, just bear with me, I will come back to you.

Question: What are the key achievements of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit for India’s part?

Foreign Secretary: For us obviously the dominant issue was this historic achievement of concluding the Land Boundary Agreement which has really been hanging over the relationship for so long. I would not regard that as a key achievement for the Indian part, I think it is a joint achievement of both countries. And what it has done is it has really created a climate of confidence, of goodwill, of trust where a lot of other initiatives which could have happened, should have happened, can now happen.

We are now close to the end of the visit. Of course all of you will hopefully be going to the next event and hearing the Prime Minister. But I think there is an enormous sense today of optimism and confidence about the entire relationship. It is entirely …(Inaudible)…

Question: How much time will it take for the Khulna-Kolkata train to start?

Foreign Secretary: Right now we would not be able to give you a very specific answer on that because the Railway Ministries are still working on the technical aspects of that. So, perhaps we have to wait for the next visit.

Question: The Prime Minister today shared a secret when he said that he also was a volunteer when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was leading that …(Inaudible)… Did any other leader who met Prime Minister during the course of the day raise any questions? Did they want some more details from him about this? Or you can share some details with us. Nobody knows about it. Could you elaborate a little bit more?

Foreign Secretary: My recollection is that the meeting of the Prime Minister with the President, a lot of it was spent in discussing 1971. Of course the President had a different role and he is an older person who is a more active participant in it. I am not privy to what happened at the lunch table. Clearly there was some discussion but I was not on that table, I was on a different table, and we have not had a chance to debrief on that. So, I will have to leave it at that.

Official Spokesperson: And I think we will have to leave the press conference at that. Thank you all for coming and see you at the next event.

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