It was always expected that the transit agreement will create a win-win situation for both Bangladesh and India. But in reality, due to lack of patriotism and commitment, Bangladesh side is set to become a great loser in the agreement.
by Tashnuva Hussain
August 15, 2011
Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh will be arriving in Bangladesh in less than 20 days from now. West Bengal‘s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is also included in the team of Dr. Singh. Indian foreign minister, home minister, information minister, cultural affairs minister and a large number of important figures in the government will be accompanying the prime minister during the upcoming trip to Bangladesh. It was always expected that the transit agreement will create a win-win situation for both Bangladesh and India. But in reality, due to lack of patriotism and commitment, Bangladesh side is set to become a great loser in the agreement.
Bangladesh will have to invest US$ 7.11 billion just to prepare the infrastructure for allowing Indian goods and military items to move within Bangladeshi area through transit facilities. Bangladesh will require US$ 0.50 billion each year just for maintenance of such facilities. But, in return the transit rate that Bangladeshi government is going to accept will not bring any profit for the country. By spending US$ 7.11 billion dollars, Bangladesh’s current government is paving the transit routes for Indian consignments, while it will not even earn the amount required for annual maintenance of these facilities.
India is giving loan to Bangladesh for improving the infrastructure for the transit, which is again at a higher interest rate than many of the international loan Bangladesh receives for such projects from other nations and bodies. Bangladesh will have to pay US$ 0.30 billion as interest only for the amount it would borrow for infrastructural development to allow Indian consignments to move.
What experts say is, India should have been asked by Bangladesh side to place minimum US$ 15 billion as upfront payment of fees with Bangladesh while signing the transit treaty instead of giving loan with annual interest. Actually it was a grand failure of diplomacy from Bangladesh side in playing the issue in right manner. Bangladesh seriously lacks in properly negotiating with India, with a humpty-dumpty type foreign minister like Dr. Dipu Moni, who in most of the cases, behaves as a domestic help of the Indian government instead of showing minimum dignity as the minister of an independent nation. To Bangladeshi foreign minister, all those Indian policymakers are ‘Big Brothers’ and she feel afraid as well as shy in placing the legitimate demand on behalf of her nation with the counterpart during any discussion. At the back of her mind, she might be thinking that, by keeping India happy, she can prolonge the tenure of Awami League government till 2021 at least.
The Indian government is bargaining with Bangladeshi side in paying extremely low fees for using road, railways or river routes in Bangladesh as transit. But, according to international rules and existing fees of transit in other nations – road, rail and river transit fees are equal. In most cases, it ranges between US$ 2.50-100 per ton. Logically though Bangladesh should be charging minimum US$ 0.50 per ton as flat transit rate from India, some unscrupulous anti-Bangladesh elements inside the ministry of foreign affairs and other ministries concerned are actively trying to put unimaginably low transit fees from India [which is just below US$ 0.08 per ton] in the agreement. And the agreement is now ready to be signed on September 6, 2011.
Earlier a report on transit / trans-shipment guidelines was submitted to the commerce ministry. Bangladesh Tariff Commission submitted the report to the commerce ministry, suggesting different methods of realizing transit fees and identified several routs.
The report said North-east Indian states [Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura] especially the eastern part of Meghalaya, southern part of Assam besides Nepal and Bhutan could save costs, ranging between US$ 4 and US$ 50 per ton of goods, by transiting products through Bangladesh territory.
Bangladesh should impose transit fees of a minimum 70 per cent of the savings the beneficiary countries would make by using direct routes through the country, the report suggested.
“India, Nepal and Bhutan will immensely benefit from using the facility while Bangladesh will not require similar facility from any of this countries/region, due to its direct access to sea, the report added.
It suggested that Bangladesh could charge transit fees to recover administrative expenses, uses of service, congestions and environmental pollution arising out of heavy transit traffic. The report recommended forming a Joint Working Group [JWG] among the participating member-states for initiating and finalizing an “Umbrella Agreement” for the proposed transit. It also suggested that the agreement must clearly outline a win-win situation for the participating member-states. The JWG needs to determine the mechanism of cost recovery and other institutional costs and charges/fees to be collected towards materialization.
There is a huge market for Bangladesh toiletries, ceramics, medicine and other items in a number of states within India. Especially the North-Eastern states in India could be a solid market for Bangladeshi products for a numerous reasons. Unless India gets transit facilities via Bangladesh, any product manufactured in India will be comparatively much expensive than those of Bangladeshi products due to heavy transportation cost. At the same time, if India does not get transit from Bangladesh, it put its own sovereignty and integrity into potential threat.
Bangladeshi TV channels remain blocked:
While there were speculations and expectations from owners of Bangladeshi television channels of seeing positive initiatives from the Indian side in allowing these channels within cable television network in that country, it has already been indicated by a number of sources that, there is no hope for Bangladeshi television channels to be shown in India in near future. It may be mentioned here that, Indian cable operators have been refraining from allowing Bangladeshi television channels from being included in the network, as there is an unseen ban on doing so. India allows most of the foreign TV channels, including Pakistan TV and Quran TV.
The initial steps of stopping Bangladeshi TV channels from entering the cable television network in India was initiated by West Bengal’s previous leftist government led by Jyoti Basu, who was vehemently opposing allowing Bangladeshi channels on West Bengal’s cable network, fearing, Bangladeshi TV channels will become quickly popular amongst the Bangla speaking audience in the West Bengal, because of its rich contents such as drama, telefilm, folk music etc, and at one stage, such Bangladeshi channels can stand as potential threat to communist leadership in West Bengal. The restriction game was played by Jyoti Basu government through the Kolkata City Administration. On the other hand, the Indian central government also was not willing to allow Bangladeshi TV channels in national network, fearing it will have tremendous influence on people in the disputed territories, such as Seven-Sisters or even may influence Indian buyers in switching to Bangladeshi products, especially toiletries, ceramics, electronics etc. Bangladesh annually imports goods worth above 3 billions dollars from India, while export from Bangladesh is very nominal. Indian policymakers are committed in not allowing Bangladeshi TV channels in their national network.
Results of the upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh will be actually ‘win-win’ for New Delhi and ‘doom-demise’ for Dhaka. Following signing of the Farakka Treaty with India during the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bangladeshi nation is suffering immensely due to India’s wrong behavior for decades. Now, a new era of extended sufferings will begin for the Bangladeshis right after Sheikh Hasina government puts signature on the Transit Treaty. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself is also aware of the losing points in Transit Treaty for Bangladesh, and that is why she is trying her best to suppress the contents of the agreements and treaties, simply with the intention of getting it signed. If Bangladeshis will suffer, it may not be a great problem for leaders like Sheikh Hasina, whose children are living abroad permanently and happily. Even after few years, she may also join her children to spend a peaceful life. Really it does not matter to her what happens with Bangladesh. This is fact and wish everyone understands this!