New train, energy projects set to bolster Delhi-Dhaka relations

The inauguration of the first direct railway link connecting the Northeast to Kolkata through Bangladesh is poised to be a game-changer not just for trade and connectivity between India and Bangladesh, but also in bringing estranged Bengali communities on two sides much closer.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina on November 1 virtually inaugurated the 12.24-kilometre rail section overlapping the border from Agartala in Tripura to Akhaura junction on the Kolkata-Dhaka-Chittagong line already in service. The rail link’s 5.46 kilometre section falls in Tripura and 6.78 kilometre in Bangladesh. This train link cuts down distance from 1600 to 500 kilometres and travel time from 31 to just 10 hours.

The cross-border rail section connecting Agartala to Akhaura is set to enhance people-to-people contacts across the border. Tripura had become second home to over a million Bengalis who fled the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, leaving behind broken families and nostalgia of bygone days on both sides.

The two leaders also inaugurated two more projects to strengthen connectivity and energy security in the region – Khulna-Mongla rail line connecting Bangladesh’s biggest Mongla port and 1320MW power plant

The launch of new connectivity projects is set to boost Sheikh Hasina’s standing at a time the Bangladeshi leader is under intense pressure from opposition parties in Bangladesh and some Western nations, including the US, to ensure free and fair elections early next year. India-Bangladesh relations have scaled new frontiers under Sheikh Hasina’s rule in Dhaka. India has emerged as Bangladesh’s largest development partner, with a portfolio of almost $10 billion in the form of grants and concessional loans.

“Our partnership with Bangladesh is a key aspect of our Neighbourhood First policy and we are dedicated to further strengthen it. It is a matter of great pleasure that we have once again come together to celebrate the success of India-Bangladesh cooperation,” PM Modi said, speaking at inauguration through video conferencing.

“Our relation are continuously reaching new heights. In the last 9 years so much work has been completed which was not done in many decades in the past. We finalised pending land agreement to restore peace and security on the border. Wealso resolved maritime boundary issue,” PM Modi said, recounting several infrastructure and connectivity projects accomplished between the countries.

“Our internal trade has tripled. Today the inauguration of Akhaura-Agartala rail link is a historic moment. This is the first rail link between Bangladesh and the Northeast states of India. Tripura has had a strong bond with Bangladesh since the days of its liberation struggle I am happy that we have inaugurated the second unit of the Maitree Thermal Power Project,” PM Modi said.

The Akhaura-Agartala project has been executed under grant assistance of Rs. 393 crore to Bangladesh. The 65-kilometres Khulna-Mongla broad gauge rail route connecting Mongla Port has been implemented under concessional Line of Credit at cost of Rs 3164 crore.

The Maitree Super Thermal Power Project under Indian Concessional Financing Scheme loan of USD 1.6 billion, is a 1320 MW super thermal power plant located at Rampal in Khulna. It is being built by Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company – a joint venture of India’s NTPC and Bangladesh Power Development Board.

In a step towards enhancing energy security in Bangladesh, both prime ministers on March 18 2022 had inaugurated the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline (IBFP). Numaligarh Refinery Limited has been supplying petroleum to Bangladesh since2015. This is the second cross-border energy pipeline between India and its neighbour.

Cooperation in the infrastructure, power and energy sector has become the hallmark of India-Bangladesh relations. IBFP is the first cross-border energy pipeline between India and Bangladesh with a capacity to transport 1 Million Metric Ton Per Annum (MMTPA) of High-Speed Diesel (HSD) to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is India’s top development partner and largest trade partner in the region. The pipeline is expected to enhance energy cooperation between the two countries and boost growth in Bangladesh, particularly in the agriculture sector.

India already has ten high-tech, upgraded Integrated Check Posts on border with its neighbours, of which four are on Bangladesh border alone. These posts serve as facilitators of trade, tourism, and connectivity between the people of two countries.

(Pradeep Rana contributed inputs for this article)

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