India-Bangladesh Connectivity

This report is the part of a larger project being conducted to study India's connectivity with its eastern neighbours - Bangladesh, Myanmar and China. The report is a result of research done on the first phase of the project. It highlights the challenges and possibilities of connectivity between India and Bangladesh and provides policy recommendations.

From strengthening political and cultural ties to fostering economically beneficial associations, ‘connectivity’ has become a buzzword in recent years. In the wake of globalisation’s second wave, strengthening regional and sub-regional cooperation is widely appreciated and acknowledged at all levels. Keeping these facts under consideration the Observer Research Foundation decided to undertake a project on examining the issue of connectivity between India and its eastern and south-east Asian neighbours. As part of this broad study project, we propose to examine India’s linkages with Bangladesh, Myanmar and China.

Improving connectivity is key to a region’s security and development. Transformations taking place in the region, as elsewhere in the world, necessitate and facilitate greater connectivity between countries. Connectivity may provide the transmission channels through which development impulses can spread across the region and can add to the dynamism of economic and social progress of both India as well as its eastern and southeastern neighbours. For India, such developments promise to be harbingers of dramatic changes in its own eastern and northeastern states, including the city of Kolkata.

It has been argued that current infrastructure in the region reflects the domination of exports to the US and Europe in most economies in Asia. To adjust to the West’s shrinking consumption following the ongoing global financial crisis and European debt crisis, Asia now needs to promote intra-regional connectivity in infrastructure in order to deepen and expand regional economic cooperation. Investment in infrastructure connectivity could boost competitiveness and productivity, speed up economic recovery, and help in achieving balanced, sustainable, and inclusive growth in the medium- to long-term. In addition, connectivity could promote environmental sustainability through the development of cross-border green energy and transport networks. The coordinated financing by Asian countries of regional infrastructure networks and enhanced regional connectivity would maximise the efficient application and use of resources and lead to a sustainable, inclusive and high-growth path in the long run. This would require concentrated efforts to develop both “hard” and “soft” infrastructure: physical infrastructure such as transport, energy, and telecommunications networks, and facilitating infrastructure such as appropriate policies, regulations, systems and procedures, trade facilitation measures, and the institutions necessary to make hard infrastructure work properly.

At the same time, connecting low-income countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, to large countries like India and China, can narrow existing development gaps. In addition, India needs to connect to China and Southeast Asian economies through Myanmar (which is opening up rapidly) and Bangladesh by creating cross-border transport-cum economic, energy and telecommunications corridors. The ease of Indian national connectivity, particularly for its northeastern region depends on its connectivity with Bangladesh. Experts opine that infrastructure connectivity is essential in trade integration and enhancement through lowering trade and logistics costs. Involvement of Northeast India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar are crucial for enhancing connectivity between south and southeast Asian countries as well as India’s national connectivity.

For the present study, the primary means of connectivity signifies physical connectivity comprising land (through road and rail networks), water (through sea, port and inland water ways). Additionally, the study intends to explore collaboration in the field of energy (gas, electricity, hydropower); coordination in border management to facilitate movement of people across the border states (through tourism, local trade, operationalising border haats, etc.) and also the institutional and administrative mechanisms necessary for coordination among various agencies and stakeholders. The aspect of air connectivity we have deliberately left out as we felt it was relatively less significant in comparison with the other modes we have examined.

In this study, analytical, statistical and interpretative methods have been followed to analyse data collected by the researchers. The researchers have consulted government documents published by the Ministry of External Affairs, reports of the External Publicity Division and other reports published by the concerned countries. They also consulted Lok Sabha debates, newspapers clippings, books and journals, reports published by private consulting agencies, NGOs/ INGOs and multilateral organisations like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, as well as regional organisations like ASEAN and SAARC. The researchers interviewed the experts working in this area, leading journalists, politicians, bureaucrats (at the state, central and international levels), persons in the business sectors and the common people.

This study explores the existing modes of connectivity, including infrastructural projects, bilateral, sub-regional and regional initiatives and cultural ties. To understand the nature of the deadlock in initiatives which are yet to materialise, the study examines government policies on the concerned projects. The researchers have also examined the stalled projects and tried to identify the geographical, technical, political and social impediments. After evaluating the current situation, the project tries to provide a roadmap on how connectivity can be substantially improved in the region.

Over the years many connectivity projects have been envisaged by successive governments in India and also by the governments of South and Southeast Asian states. In India the concerns for connectivity projects has broadly come under the purview of India’s ‘Look East Policy’. The aim of establishing connectivity is to boost bilateral and multilateral ties among these nations so that they can understand each other better and also complement each other’s strengths.

Initiatives have also been taken by regional bodies (Asian Highway, Railway and Dry ports) and sub-regional groups (ASEAN, BIMSTEC, BCIM) and international organisations (World Bank, Asian Development Bank and UNESCAP). The existing trans-border projects on physical connectivity between India and its eastern and southeastern neighbours have been examined in this study, entailing a) evaluation of the current status; b) importance of the projects in bilateral, sub-regional and the regional milieu.

The structure of the ORF project on Indian’s connectivity with its eastern and southeastern neighbours has been divided into three primary segments: a) India-Bangladesh; b) India-Myanmar; and c) India-China. This report is based on the analyses of the possibilities and challenges in India-Bangladesh connectivity.

Editor(s) / Author(s)

Rakhahari Chatterji

Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury