Event ReportsPublished on Feb 06, 2015
At the release event of the report on India-Bangladesh Connectivity: Possibilities and Challenges, participants stressed the need for leveraging the positive political climate and emphasised pro-active role of state governments in cross-border connectivity.
India-Bangladesh Cross-border Connectivity

’Connectivity in the sense of cross-border linkage is essentially a question of hearts and minds’, said Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury while releasing the report on India-Bangladesh Connectivity: Possibilities and Challenges on 2 June 2015 at ORF Chapter in Kolkata. The Report is the outcome of year-long research representing the first phase of a major research project undertaken by the Kolkata Chapter of ORF on India’s Connectivity with her Eastern and South-Eastern Neighbours.

The report explores connectivity between India and Bangladesh focusing on four aspects - rail and road connectivity; connectivity through waterways; energy connectivity; and border management.

General Shankar Roychoudhury, the former Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army, observed that West Bengal should be the bridgehead of connectivity with Bangladesh. Commenting on the Report the General remarked that the report was a comprehensive one and adequately addressed the issues concerning bilateral links. The discussants on the Report included Dr. Sreeradha Datta, Director, MAKAIAS, Kolkata; Manas Ghosh, Senior Journalist and Editor, Dainik Statesman, Kolkata; Dr. Anindyo Jyoti Mazumdar, Professor, International Relations, Jadavpur University.

Introducing the report, Dr. Anasua Basu Raychaudhury said that improving connectivity was the key to a region’s security and development. Talking about connectivity between India and Bangladesh through roads and railways, she said that rail links between the two countries required substantial enhancement in order to link the region more productively. Road networks, which are more in use, are highly insufficient to reach the level of connectivity that is being envisioned. Steps towards increasing connectivity through railways, roads, inland waterways and ports were officially discussed in 2010 and 2011 when joint communiqués were signed by the respective heads of government. It was at this time that both countries expressed their interest in reviving former rail routes as well as establishing and upgrading existing ones.

The importance of land connectivity can be best realised when rail and road links are extended to the nearest ports. Inland waterways hold immense potential for achieving multi-modal connectivity. It is thus important to modernize ports and make improvements in connecting the ports by roads or railways. For this purpose, Chittagong, Kolkata, Haldia and Kulpi ports can be utilized for enabling the exchange of both trade and passenger movement. The utilisation of inland waterways for both transit and trade is beneficial not only for relieving the pressure off rail and road traffic but also because it is a much more cost-effective mode of transport once it is made operational.

The final two sections of the report cover the energy sector and border management. Energy has come to be known as a `strategic commodity’ and any uncertainty about its supply can threaten the functioning of an economy. Both India and Bangladesh can therefore concretize a plan for transmission of surplus power from India’s Northeastern region to Bangladesh and through Bangladesh to other parts of India. India can provide leadership to form a cross-border sub-regional power grid considering contiguous economic zones of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India’s northeast (BBNI).

The border between India and Bangladesh has always been contentious, and has defined the relationship between the two countries to a large extent. The fact that it is the longest India shares with any country is an important reason for the difficulties encountered. It is also the reason why there is a need to establish mutually acceptable structures in the border areas such as cooperative border governance, quantitative acceleration of border haats , short-term Work Permits and so on.

Dr. Sreeradha Dutta opined that it was very important to sustain the effort towards connectivity, given the politically optimistic climate that the two countries are enjoying at present. Manas Ghosh emphasised that the West Bengal government needed to be sensitised about the implications of connectivity to better understand the gains that might follow not only for Bangladesh and India, but for West Bengal in particular. Dr. Anindya Jyoti Majumdar said it was very important to focus on the existing political context to understand how connectivity might be best achieved. For India, the benefits of bilateral links can materialise only through concerted efforts by central and state governments, added Dr. Majumdar.

The report highlighted the fact that engaging with all the existing and probable stakeholders at different levels is important for enhancing and streamlining varieties of interactions across the long border between India and Bangladesh. The report has been authored by Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury and Pratnashree Basu with Prof. Rakhahari Chatterji as Project Advisor.

The full text of the report is available on the ORF website.

(This report is prepared by Pratnashree Basu and Mihir Bhonsale, ORF Kolkata)

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