Friday, July 22, 2011

Delhi is ready to pay transit fees, but Dhaka wants very low fees June last year Bangladesh government issued a circular requiring the Indian cargo vassals to pay transshipment fees on containers and loose cargo at certain specific rates and then hastily withdrew it on Indian refusal to pay any such fees.

Delhi is ready to pay
Now this time India is reportedly ready to pay the transit fees but Bangladesh is not willing to claim fees at standard rates saying it must be as low as possible to entice the Indians to use our facilities to their benefits. What makes this turn around is very interesting and critics say the matter deserves to be carefully investigated.
Throughout last week Bangladeshi media was galore with breaking news on the visit of the Indian external affairs minister S M Krishna and the significant breakthrough he has made in working out various deals with the government leaders.
The pro-establishment media were also equally euphoric on the positive outcome of the crucial discussions SM Krishna had held with his Bangladesh counterpart Dipu Moni and others.
There was no sign of any dissent; everything was on excellent drive, news reports suggested. This has however the political analysts wondering how come that there isn't any area of disagreement on any of the sensitive issues despite serious discussions.
Sylhet border points
People at several border points at Sylhet are holding almost daily human chain to protect their ancestral land from being handed over to India while the government is going to sign an agreement to this effect during the forthcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to Dhaka in September next.
People wonder whether the government is paying any heed to their protest or turning a deaf ear to them while moving to comply with the Indian desire to take hold of Bangladesh land dubbed as the so-called 'disputed land' along the border.
Keep people informed
It is a question as to why the government is not placing such an important issue before Parliament for vetting.
Why is the government maintaining total secrecy denying transparency in all sensitive issues?
The government should take the people across the board and keep them informed of the details of the proposed framework agreement on transfer of land.
News reports say agreements may also be signed on sharing waters of the Teesta and the Feni Rivers during the Indian Prime Minister's visit, while the people are kept unaware of any details. Will it be a repeat of the Ganges water agreement depriving Bangladesh of its legitimate share of water of the co-riparian rivers?
Transparency demanded
BNP Chairperson and leader of the opposition Begum Khaleda Zia laid stress on keeping the nation informed ensuring transparency of such agreements while talking to Indian foreign minister S M Krishna who made a courtesy call on her at her Gulshan office during his visit.
She told him that BNP is not opposed to allow India transit facilities but the important fact is that the people should be informed about what is taking place. She wondered why the ruling party is keeping the people in total darkness on the transit and such other issues.
People are not opposed to good relations with India or such other connectivity but they want to see a fair deal and total transparency.
Confidence building
But there is hardly any sign of taking the people across the board while the planned visit of the Indian Prime Minister is only drawing closer and the government is seemingly moving to sign several framework deals.
Critics say keeping the people informed about any prospective deal with India is just part of confidence building moves and in its absence things may take a critical dimension.
Likewise, the issue of buying Indian electricity remains a matter of illusion too. The sales of 250 MW power to Bangladesh may reportedly take place now in 2012 and may in fact go beyond 2013. critics question as to why Bangladesh is not making its own move to build its own power plant to remain self-reliant.
'Uncivilised' to claim fees
What appears even more surprising to observers here is way the government made a hasty retreat from claiming transit fees by rescinding a circular issued by NBR last year. It was a tariff schedule developed on reasonable rates. But India sharply reacted and the government hastily withdrew it following one of the prime minister's economic adviser's comment that it would be 'uncivilised' to claim transit fees from India.
However, now the government leaders have changed their stance and say that Bangladesh would levy some transit fees. But they are now saying that any higher rate of charge to recover the cost of the infrastructure may discourage India from using the transit routes, so it is in our interest to keep the rates low to attract India using more and more transit facilities.
Nobody now speaks that Bangladesh would fetch $2 to $3 billion annually from transit. Those initial transit advocates are now silent and are using different tone. What has caused this change in them needs to be carefully seen.
Quota free access
Indian foreign minister also remains evasive on Bangladesh's demand for duty-free and quota-free entry of 61 export items into Indian market outside the SAFTA agreement to help narrow the widening trade gap. S M Krishna said he would urge the Indian Prime Minister to do something, without giving any clear indication of the Indian mind. He however gave an impression that India may only make a small gesture on this matter.
Thus in a climate marred by lack of clarity, the Indian foreign minister ended his Dhaka visit last week asserting that transit would be used for peaceful purposes only. It will improve the lives of people, spur economic growth and development on both sides, he said. He said, it is not simply a flow of goods and services across the frontiers in the context of transit it would change the lives of the people.
S M Krishna said, India is always a peace-loving country and looks for prosperity and stability in the region. There is no way India would harm Bangladesh, he said adding that India and Bangladesh have a natural propensity to work together.
Boundary issue
Indian foreign minister hoped the unresolved land boundary issue between India and Bangladesh will be resolved in the near future and a framework agreement may be signed in this respect during Manmohan Singh's visit to find a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution.
Apart from this, the signing of an interim agreement on water sharing of the common rivers the Teesta and the Feni is expected to take place during Singh's visit on September 6-7, he said. Krishna said the two countries have a very good agreement on the sharing of the Ganges waters which is being implemented sincerely by both sides. "I am optimistic that we shall reach similar conclusions on the sharing of the Teesta and the Feni waters."
Interestingly Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna emerged with identical views on resolving long outstanding issues at a joint media conference.
Dipu Moni said river waters will be shared based on equity and fairness, while the issues of demarcation of 6.5 kilometres of border, transfer of enclaves, and adversely possessed lands will be solved under "a package" in the spirit of 1974 Mujib-Indira Land Boundary Agreement.
On the issue of transit, she said they discussed various initiatives that have been taken by the two sides for passage of goods through Bangladesh to various destinations.
Protocols under larger framework
Dipu Moni said on transit, there will be several smaller protocols under a larger framework, such as the proposed protocol for the use of Mongla and Chittagong ports.
"We're trying to come out with that framework under the whole transit issue and work is going on to sign a number of protocols," the Bangladesh foreign minister said adding that the framework agreement will also encompasses Nepal and Bhutan.
However, the Indian external affairs minister said there are some nitty-gritty issues, which are currently being worked out. "Talks on transit are at the final stage and we will be able to reach an agreement soon," he added.
Growing enthusiasm
The Indian minister said he sees a growing enthusiasm for trade and economic cooperation between the two sides. He said the trade volumes between the two countries are low and laid the importance on significantly increasing the volumes of trade and investments.
Krishna asked Bangladesh to welcome a number of Indian corporate entities who are looking forward to opportunities for investments in Bangladesh for mutual benefit.
He said connectivity will create access to goods and services across frontiers. "We cannot deprive our people of this opportunity, we should see connectivity as a dynamic concept to grow market rapidly on both sides of the borders. In north-eastern India, the growth could be even more rapid than the rest of India, he said pointing to new opportunities opening in this region.