MonitorsPublished on Oct 15, 2019
India-Bangladesh waterways connectivity got a major boost during Bangladesh Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina’s recent visit to India (3-6 October).
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 41

Bangladesh: Hasina’s Delhi visit boosts waterways connectivity

Joyeeta Bhattacharya

India-Bangladesh waterways connectivity got a major boost during Bangladesh Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina’s recent visit to India (3-6 October). During the visit, the two nations emphasised on the need for increased use of the waterways along with rail and road for enhancing connectivity for a win-win economic benefit for their peoples.

The two governments signed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports for the movement of goods to and from India. In addition, a two new-route protocol was added to the existing one. They comprised the Dhulian-Gadagari-Rajshahi-Daulatdia-Aricha route (back and forth) and the Daudkandi-Sonamura Route (back and forth). These gestures displayed the interest of the top leadership of the two countries in improving waterways connectivity and putting it as an area of priority for bilateral cooperation. This step will give a major impetus to the development of the waterways which was long neglected.

India and Bangladesh had signed an inland water trade and transit agreement that allowed Indian goods for transporting to India’s north-east in 1972. Four protocol routes were designated initially. Nevertheless, the routes were hardly utilised to their potential. The routes agreed by the two countries in the 72 protocol were as follows:

  1. Calcutta - Raimongal - Khulna - Barisal - Chandpur - Goalundo - Serajganj - Bahadurabad - Chilmari - Dhubri.
  2. Calcutta - Raimongal - Barisal - Chandpur - Narayanganj - Bhairab Bazar - Ajmirganj - Markulir - Sherpur - Fenchuganj - Zakiganj - Karimganj.
  3. Dhubri/Chilmari - Bahadurabad - Serajganj - Goalundo - Chandpur - Barisal - Khulna - Raimongal - Calcutta.
  4. Karimganj - ZakiganjFenchuganj - Sherpur - Markulir - Ajmirganj - Bhairab Bazar - Narayanganj - Chandpur - Barisal - Raimongal - Calcutta.

Immense potential

Waterways provide immense potential for India and Bangladesh, which is located at the two most important river systems of the world -- the Ganges and the Bramhaputra. The countries share 54 common rivers in total. Around 600 million people live in the catchment areas of these rivers and their lives and livelihood depend on those rivers. Before the Partition of India, Bangladesh was part of one country and traditionally rivers were used for trade and movement of people. The Partition disrupted not only the socio-economic condition of the region but also traditional connectivity routes and waterways neglected. Only three percent of the trade takes place through the waterways in Bangladesh and the figure is much less in India.

With increasing pressure on land and other natural resources, waterways offer a viable alternative to sustain the demand of growing trade and movement of the people. Waterways could help to decongest the roads, especially crucial for the two South Asian neighbours, since road expansion is a challenge for both because of the scarcity of the land resources compounded with an increasing population. Flawless mode of communication is a necessity for the promotion of trade internally, bilaterally and regionally. Trade often suffer due to transport-congestion.

Waterways provide a larger capacity for the movement of heavy cargoes, which is possible now only by land. Again, waterways are cost-effective since they are natural highways, so maintenance cost is less and the cost of operation is less. Besides, waterways are useful during the natural calamities like floods and rain and rail and roads disrupted, relief could be transported by waterway.

Of late, India and Bangladesh have shown an interest in developing waterways between them. In this respect, the two countries have undertaken some efforts jointly. India provided economic assistance to Bangladesh for buying dredgers for dredging of the rivers to enhance their navigability. Besides, India and Bangladesh have undertaken joint dredging projects in Sirajganj-Daikhawa (146 km) on river Yamuna and in the Ashuganj-Zakiganj stretch (309 km) on river Kushiyara in Bangladesh. Also, India helped to develop the Ashugonj river port for movement, increasing use of the riverways for trade via Bangladesh to its north-east region.

Third-nation cargo

The addendum to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade between India and Bangladesh of 2015, signed in 2018, suggests that eight protocol routes exist between the two countries. Further, to make waterways lucrative, they have signed a bilateral Coastal Shipping Agreement in 2015. Under this agreement, ships can transport cargo from one country to another instead of through a third country.

In October 2018, Bangladesh agreed to provide access to Chittagong and Mongla port for use of India’s northeast eastern region. The SOP signed during the trip will help in functionalising this facility. To promote movement of people India and Bangladesh started cruise services between Kolkata and Dhaka and Guwahati to Kolkata via Dhaka. This service inaugurated in March years.

The waterways not only help India to connect with its northeast region but also help Bangladesh by earning revenues through various tariffs, better business opportunity for its shipping sector as they are now having opportunity to exploit the Indian markets. Besides, increased cooperation with India is contributing to Bangladesh’s desire of becoming major connectivity for the region, via India it can connect to Bhutan and Nepal.

In July this year, around 1,000 tonnes of stone from Bhutan was transported to Narayanganj near Dhaka via Dhubri in Assam and Chilmari in Bangladesh. This was the first time Bangladesh and Bhutan traded via waterways. This move reduced the transportation cost by 30 percent and time by eight days. Many small businesses within India and Bangladesh could benefit from using these waterways.

The waterways are mutually beneficial for India and Bangladesh. It provides a model that contributes to strengthening bilateral and regional cooperation. Given the interests, the two countries should complete all the necessary formalities timely to enjoy the benefits optimally.

Bhutan: Scaling up multilateral development partnership

Mihir Bhonsale

In reposing its faith in multilateral organisations at the United Nations, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan hopes to muster support from overseas donors for the country’s successful graduation into a middle income country by 2023.  Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering, while speaking at the UN General Assembly on 28 September, said that at a time when multilateralism was questioned, the fact is there is no alternative to multilateralism.

The Prime Minister’s statement on multilateralism was a reflection of a small nations’ need for platforms like the UN in the pursuit of its political and economic objectives. From presenting a progress report of the country’s Sustainable Development Goals and Bhutan’s commitment towards the environment, Dr. Tshering called for the support of multilateral agencies in its socio-economic development.

Global partnership

Earlier, addressing the SDG Summit in New York on September 25, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that Bhutan aspired to be one of the early achievers of SDGs, i.e. complete the goals by 2030.  And for that to happen, he emphasised on the goal number 17 — global partnership. Global partnership, he said, was more relevant to Bhutan as the country was heading for graduation from the group of least developed countries.

A triennial review of Least Developed Countries (LDC) by the United Nations (UN) recommended Bhutan’s graduation from the LDC’s by 2023. Bhutan met the graduation threshold in two categories for a consecutive time excepting for the Economic Vulnerability Index where it failed to remain above the maximum threshold of 32.0. The country qualified in the other two categories of Gross National Income Per Capita and Human Assets Index.

In pursuit of SDGs, the country faces the twin challenges of financing gap and limitation of data in meeting some of the goals as stated in the voluntary national review report on the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development submitted last year.

Data are available for most SDG indicators related to health, poverty, education and employment but limited for other areas such as energy, infrastructure and governance. Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Amina J. Mohammed, during the UN summit in New York, said that initiatives like Data For Now (Data4Now) could help redress data gap for nations like Bhutan.  The Data4Now initiative will build capacity sustainably by putting governments and particularly the national statistical systems at the forefront. It is expected to maximise the use of new data sources and technology and create opportunities for collaboration and information sharing between statisticians, data scientists, and data users.

Bridging financial gap

For keeping up the momentum to complete SDG goals ahead of schedule would need continued Official Development Assistance (ODA). The ODA funds about 34 percent of Bhutan’s development programmes. The Nu 310 billion 12th Five Year Plan (2019-2023) aims at walking the last mile to LDC graduation through economic growth through the Gross National Happiness principles of safeguarding environment and culture and ensuring a good governance system. According to the Prime Minister, the 12th Plan is consistent with SDGs in achieving the target of meeting the goals by 2030.

According to the plan, Bhutan is gradually achieving self-sufficiency as a large portion of the plan amount is projected to come from internal revenue. The plan size of 310 billion has provisioned for current expenditure of Nu 194 billion, capital expenditure of Nu 116 billion, internal revenue of 218 billion and grants of 63 billion. The expected shortage for the plan is Nu 29 billion.

Meanwhile, the five year plan has also factored in the process of pulling out of donors, meaning fewer grants for the programs. India, E.U. and Japan are Bhutan’s largest donors. In the smaller 11th plan, the grants component was Nu 68 billion but in the much bigger 12th plan the grant component is Nu 54 billion only.

The development aid that Bhutan expects from the 12th plan is that it will try and diversify her sources of funding from multilateral agencies or funds for climate change, etc. However, without foreign direct investments, private sector development and sustained efforts from the civil society, Bhutan is unlikely to bridge the gap of Nu 29 billion.

The government has recently firmed up its Foreign Direct Investment Policy in expectation of attracting global investors as investment has remained a dismal 0.4 percent of GDP. Graduation from LDC needs strengthening cooperation in the areas of mutually beneficial projects. Regional cooperation in trade, transit and energy is expected to give rise to new technologies and opportunities.

Development of the private and non-hydropower sectors is extremely crucial for Bhutan in the near future. Also, Bhutan has not developed its capacity to date to pay off its debt which is already touching Nu 200 billion. While the hydropower sector that is part of the public sector has played a key role in increasing the country’s GDP, it has limited job creation capacity. On the trade front, the narrow range of export is a concern. Instability in agriculture remains to be yet another challenge.

Country Reports


Poll results held back

Officials from the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) have recently confirmed that the result sheets of the presidential elections from all 34 provinces have been analysed and they have found out which candidate has received the largest number of votes. The analysis also confirms the level of voter turnout on the days of the elections. However, the officials are not willing to disclose their findings due to some threats that they have received from certain electoral groups.

Taliban abducts 43

According to a statement released by the Governor’s Office of Ghazni, the Taliban militants had abducted around 43 civilians in the Khwaja Omari district two days ago. Those abducted had been the residents of the Deh Haji Village. However, after the intervention by some local tribal elders and the consequent negotiation with the militants, the hostages were released. The Taliban group are yet to comment in this matter.  This comes as the Afghan peace process still remains cancelled.


Seven pacts with India

As a mark of the special bond between India and Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited India from 3 to 6 October on the initiation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During her four-day visit, she participated as the chief guest in the India Economic Forum organised by the World Economic Forum in Delhi on 3-4 October. On 5 October, she called on her Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ramnath Kovind. Besides, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar paid a courtesy call on her. During the visit, India and Bangladesh signed 7 pacts.

Special SEZ in Tripura

To boost cross border trade between India and Bangladesh, Tripura State in north-east India decided to establish a special economic zone (SEZ) in the town of Sabroom, bordering Bangladesh. This SEZ will cater to be needs of investors from Bangladesh, informed Tripura’s Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb. Sabroom is  situated 70 km from the Chattogram Seaport in Bangladesh. A special bridge over the river Feni is being built to provide connect between the town and Chittagong. Tripura has a trade imbalance with Bangladesh.


‘Doklam deal’ with China?

China and Bhutan are close to striking a deal on the Doklam boundary dispute. The Chinese holding line in the contentious region is likely to become the working boundary between the two, Indian media portal The Print has reported. This means China will be successful in its “salami slicing” of Doklam, since it will hold on to the territory it has already captured. A top Indian official told the web portal that China and Bhutan are working out something with regard to their dispute in the Doklam plateau. The status quo is being maintained and both sides (India and China) are holding on to their positions as per the de-escalation move, the official added.

Jailed for INR fraud

Thimphu dzongkhag court’s criminal bench II sentenced a former Druk Punjab National Bank (PNB) employee to three years in prison for fraudulent repatriation of Indian Rupee (INR) from 2012 to 2014. The accused was found guilty on 68 counts of forging his wife’s signature, 33 counts of passive bribery by a public official and abuse of function.

OAG on child abuse case

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on October 4 charged a 57-year-old former English teacher of a school in Samtse for abusing a 10-year-old student. The teacher, who retired this year, was charged for statutory rape of a child below 12 years, child molestation and harassment. Police, after investigating the case, forwarded it as a child molestation case to the OAG who requested the court to give the highest sentencing to the accused, as he manifested exceptional deprave character.


Enhancing China CBM

Chinese President Xi Jinping reached Chennai on 11 October to take part in a two-day informal meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Mahabilipuram, Chennai. The two leaders discussed about the already initiated and potential confidence-building measures (CBM) between the two countries, along with border issues, trade among other things. The issue of terrorism came up in the meeting in the light of the upcoming Financial Action Task Force summit under Chinese presidency where the possibility of Pakistan’s blacklisting might be discussed. President Xi Jinping was accompanied by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi. Minister of External Affairs, S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, were present from the Indian side.

Sedition charges withdrawn

The FIR that was lodged against 49 noted personalities for writing a letter to the Prime Minister to protest against the growing incidents of mob lynching in the country was withdrawn after the charges being dismissed by Bihar police. The FIR was earlier lodged by a Mazaffarpur-based advocate at Sadar police station in Bihar against the personalities upon the orders of the Chief Judical Magistrate for allegedly trying to “tarnish the image of the Prime Minister and the country”.


‘Slandering’ Islam

The government has shut down human rights group Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) over “content slandering Islam and the Prophet Mohamed” in a 2016 report on radicalisation. Citing an ongoing police investigation prompted by public outrage, the registrar of associations at the community empowerment ministry ordered the NGO to suspend its operations. In a statement released shortly thereafter, the foreign ministry said the Maldives remains committed to upholding constitutional rights but noted that free speech in the country was “subject to refrainment from creating communal discord or blatantly contravening the fundamental tenets of Islam”. However, human rights organisations in the country have criticised the Government over the ban on MDN.


Poll may upset peace

The leader of the Peace Process Steering Team, comprising 10 ethnic armed groups that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), has warned that the 2020 elections will impact the ongoing peace process. During the three-day meeting to held soon, the ethnic groups will discuss issues related to the holding of the fourth session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in early 2020. They will also discuss the impact of the elections and the agreement to build a federal union. The Union Election Commission is expected to set the 2020 general election for November next year, according to sources.

Be independent, human rights panel told

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has called on the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to resist government interference in performing its duties to protect the rights of the people. According to Peter Batchelor, UNDP resident representative for Myanmar, the commission should implement its five-year plan independently. Under the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Law, enacted in 2014, the president was mandated to establish the body with not less than seven nor more than 15 members. During the project from 2020 to 2024, the body needs to implement six major programmes, including protection and promotion of human rights.


Xi for Kathmandu

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal has been observed by the world’s international relations analysts with much scrutiny. This is a two-day state visit and given the improved relations between China and Nepal, a lot can be expected from the exchange, much to the wary of India. This is all the more important because it is right after the Chinese visit to India. President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister Oli have been present to welcome Xi. The entire country seems to be ecstatic given how China has been assisting Nepal in its quest to reach economic growth.

ADB lends $ 600 m

Nepal is all set to receive a grant of USD 600 Million by the Asian Development Bank as a part of the 5 – year country partnership Strategy (CPS). This is primarily a loan that would cater to three important areas – infrastructure for the private sector led growth, access to devolved services and environmental sustainability. The primary idea is to have Nepal move towards further economic development. What Nepal makes out of this money only time can say.


Sharif held for ‘laundering’

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has recently been arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on the charge of being a direct beneficiary of Chaudhury Sugar Mills. This comes as other members of the Sharif family have also been accused of being involved in money laundering under the cover of selling or purchasing sugar mill shares. Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam along with her cousin Yousuf Abbas had also been arrested in August in this regard.

Khan call to global media

The Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed his utter bewilderment over how the international media continues to give “headline coverage” to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong while “ignoring the dire human rights crisis” that is happening in occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Khan is also now set to participate in the formation of a human chain to show his solidarity with the people of occupied Kashmir who have been facing a curfew for over two months now.

Sri Lanka

Longest ballot paper

With the highest number of 35 candidates left in the fray for the 16 November presidential polls, the Election Commission (EC) has indicated that the ballot paper could be two-foot long. The EC has also said that more space/rooms would be required for counting, implying that counting would also take more time than on earlier occasions. The final list of candidates include Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe-led UNP-UNF’s Sajith Premadasa, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brot6her and SLPP nominee, Gotabhaya Rajapksa, and JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Among the known candidates among the long list of Independents and/or nominees of smaller parties are TNA veteran M K Shivajilingam and former Army commander, Lt-Gen Mahesh Senanayake.



Opinion Pieces

Hujjatullah Zia, “Regional Stakeholders Urge for Inclusive Peace Talks”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 9 October 2019

Mujib Mashal, “Opium-Smuggling Taliban Leader’s Release From Prison Raises Questions”, The New York Times, 7 October 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Ethnicity and Electoral Behavior in Afghanistan”, 10 October 2019

Afghanistan Times, “Shooting the messenger”, 7 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, “A special kind of bond”, The Millennium Post, 7 October 2019

  1. Uday Bhaskar, “Delhi will have to accept China’s role in Bangladesh while shaping its ties with Dhaka”, The Indian Express, 9 October, 2019

Nazrul Islam, “Hasina-Modi agreements on shared rivers: What did Bangladesh get?”, The Daily Star, 9 October 2019



Kuensel, “Newspaper under survival threat”, 5 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

C Raja Mohan, “With China, India must recognise power imbalance, liberate itself from prolonged illusions, false hopes”, The Indian Express, 11 October 2019

Geetam Tiwari, “ It is still an amber light for road safety”, The Hindu, 11 October 2019

Sanjay Paswan, “A constructive approach, not polemic, is needed to address Dalit concerns”, The Indian Express, 11 October 2019

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “Serial authoritarianism picks out targets one by one, and tires out challenges”, The Indian Express, 10 October 2019

Ashwini Deshpande, “Affirmative Action at the crossroads”, The Hindu, 10 October 2019

Ajay Gudavarthy, “India needs a democratic upsurge to come out of the current majoritarian impasse”, The Telegraph, 10 October 2019

Prabhat Patnaik, “'Fiscal stimulus' to tackle the economic slowdown will actually make things worse”, The Telegraph, 9 October 2019

Chetan Pandit & Asit K. Biswas, “Rethinking water management issues”, The Hindu, 9 October 2019


The Hindu, “A China setting: On Modi-Xi second summit” 11 October 2019

The Telegraph, “Turning prejudice with a matter of pride”, 11 October 2019

The Telegraph, “Reminder: Urdu is an Indian language”, 10 October 2019

The Telegraph, “The RBI’s sobering reality check”, 10 October 2019

The Hindu, “War on words: On RSS’ language about lynching”, 10 October 2019

The Hindu, “Advantage BJP: On Maharastra Assembly polls”, 9 October 2019

The Indian Express, “Lessons from Aarey”, 9 October 2019

The Indian Express, “RSS Replay”, 9 October 2019

The Indian Express, “The withering”, 8 October 2019

The Indian Express, “Two Wrongs”, 8 October 2019

The Hindu, “Best friends for now: On New Delhi- Dhaka ties”, 7 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Ahmed Aiham, “A souvenir from the bread winner”, The Edition, 13 October 2019

Ibrahim Thayyib, “A crisis of social cohesion”, Maldives Independent, 10 October 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “In Male, Gen Rawat talks security, in Delhi Nasheed joins issue with China”,, 10 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Forecasting the Coming Century for Myanmar—Without a Crystal Ball”, The Irrawaddy, 11 October 2019

Melvyn Pun and Rosalyn Morauta, “Why we must eliminate malaria in Myanmar”, The Myanmar Times, 9 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Devendra Gautam, “Xi Jinping in Nepal”, Republica, 12 October 2019

Sandesh Paudyal, “Why democracy fails”, Republica, 5 October 2019

Amish Raj Mulmi, “When Deng Xiaoping came to Kathmandu”, The Kathmandu Post, 4 October 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “Walking the tightrope”, 11 October 2019

The Himalayan Times, “Costly Dashain”, 4 October 2019


Opinion Pieces

Noman Ahmad, “The master plan”, Dawn, 11 October 2019

Pervez Tahir, “Dar’s rupee melodrama”, The Express Tribune, 11 October 2019


Dawn, “PM’s China visit”, 11 October 2019

The Express Tribune, “Competitiveness index ranking”, 11 October 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “Making political sense of Presidential Elections from 1982 to 2019”, The Island, 12 October 2019

D B S Jeyaraj, “How Karu and Malik helped Ranil and Sajith make peace”, Daily Mirror Online, 12 October 2019

Kusal Perera, “Elections not meant to replace one failure with another”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 October 2019

Ameen Izzadeen, “Elections and media: Hi-tech hijacking of people’s sovereignty”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 October 2019

M S M Ayub, “SLFP’s desperate struggle for self-liquidation”, Daily Mirror Online, 11 October 2019

Kelum Bandara, “Gota, Sajith try to cash in on same issues”, Daily Mirror Online, 10 October 2019

Lynn Ockersz, “Mahathma Gandhi’s legacy and its relevance to South Asia”, The Island, 10 October 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Uniquely unconvincing or what”, Ceylon Today, 8 October 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Think for the nation, act for the person!” Colombo Gazette, 7 October 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.