Subscribe Now! Get features like
India and Bangladesh on Wednesday inaugurated three major connectivity and energy projects built with Indian assistance, including a railway line that will connect the northeastern states to the neighbouring country for the first time.
The projects – the Akhaura-Agartala cross-border rail link, the Khulna-Mongla port rail line, and unit II of the Maitree super thermal power plant – were jointly launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina at a virtual ceremony.
The development comes at a time when Hasina is facing increasing pressure from opposition parties in Bangladesh and some Western nations to ensure free and fair elections early next year. Under the Modi government, India has emerged as Bangladesh’s largest development partner, with a portfolio of almost $10 billion in the form of grants and concessional loans.
Addressing the ceremony, Modi emphasised the focus placed by the two countries on developing infrastructure and connectivity to meet the aspirations of their people, and said that over the past nine years, both sides had launched three new bus services and as many rail services. They had also opened four new immigration check posts and launched container and parcel trains in 2022, he said.
“Our collaboration in the power sector and connectivity stands out as a shining example of our win-win cooperation,” Hasina said, speaking in Bengali. She also highlighted her government’s vision of creating an advanced, prosperous and smart Bangladesh by 2041.
“India will continue providing complete cooperation to advance your smart Bangladesh,” Modi said, noting that 12 IT parks are being built with Indian aid while the two sides had also agreed to link their payment gateways.
Bangladesh has a central place in India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy and many development projects implemented with Indian aid are aimed at bolstering connectivity between the neighbouring country and India’s strategic and landlocked northeastern region.
The Akhaura-Agartala cross-border rail link will connect India’s northeast to Bangladesh by rail for the first time. It will also facilitate better connectivity between Bangladesh’s Chattogram port and the northeast and boost trade and tourism.
This is the sixth cross-border rail link, and it connects Bangladesh’s Gangasagar station on the Dhaka-Chattogram line to Nischintapur station in Tripura. The total length of the link is 12.24 km and the project was completed at a cost of $150 million. This includes 6.78 km of dual gauge line in Bangladesh built with an Indian grant of about $50 million.
The 64.7-km Khulna-Mongla port railway line connects Bangladesh’s second-largest port to the country’s rail network for the first time. It is also connected to India via the Petrapole cross-border rail link. The $380-million project was completed with an Indian line of credit.
The Maitree super thermal power project, built under an Indian concessional financing scheme loan of $1.6 billion, is a 1,320 MW plant located in the Khulna division of Bangladesh. Unit II was inaugurated on Wednesday, while Unit I was launched by the two prime ministers in September 2022. The project is meant to meet the growing energy needs of the people and businesses in southern Bangladesh and to contribute to energy security in the neighbourhood.
The project has been implemented by the Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Private Limited, a 50-50 joint venture between India’s NTPCL and the Bangladesh Power Development Board.
Modi, who spoke in Hindi, said the two countries had finalised a long-pending land boundary agreement and settled their maritime boundary to ensure peace, security and stability on the borders. They have also developed their inland waterways for the movement of passengers and goods.
He said Bangladesh’s Chattogram and Mongla ports have been linked to India’s northeastern states, and the connectivity initiatives served as a lifeline during the Covid-19 pandemic when more than 4,000 tonnes of liquid medical oxygen was transported to Bangladesh.
“The inauguration of the Akhaura-Agartala rail link is a historic moment as this is the first rail link between India’s northeastern states and Bangladesh…The Khulna-Mongla rail link will link Mongla port to trade centres in Dhaka and Kolkata,” he said.
Modi noted that the northeastern state of Tripura has been exporting 160 MW of power to Bangladesh since 2015, while the first cross-border high-speed diesel pipeline was inaugurated in March this year. This bilateral cooperation has strengthened Bangladesh’s energy security and helped it move towards self-reliance, he added.
He said India’s approach of “sabka saath, sakba vikas” has been extended to its closest neighbours such as Bangladesh, and the joint efforts of both countries will help realise the vision of “Shonar (golden) Bangladesh” of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of the country and the father of Hasina.
Hasina pointed to several steps taken by her government to boost connectivity and foster trade between Bangladesh and India’s northeastern states. She said Chattogram and Mongla sea ports and Chattogram airport have been opened for use by India. A rail service has been launched on the strategic Padma bridge and a new tunnel under the Kornophuli River will increase the capacity of Chattogram port, she said.
This collaboration has ensured peace and stability in India’s northeastern region, Hasina pointed out. “We will prove that good relations with a neighbour improve our bilateral relations and the progress of a country. This is an example for the world,” she said.
Rezaul H Laskar is the Foreign Affairs Editor at Hindustan Times. His interests include movies and music.
Subscribe Now! Get features like