Keynote address by High Commissioner of India, H.E. Ms. Riva Ganguly Das at Webinar on Indo-Bangladesh Cooperation for Inland Waterways Development: An enabler of inclusive and climate smart economic growth
[15 July, 2020 ] Statements & Speeches

Keynote address by High Commissioner of India, H.E. Ms. Riva Ganguly Das at Webinar on Indo-Bangladesh Cooperation for Inland Waterways Development: An enabler of inclusive and climate smart economic growth [15 July, 2020 ]

Keynote address by High Commissioner of India, H.E. Ms. Riva Ganguly Das at Webinar on Indo-Bangladesh Cooperation for Inland Waterways Development: An enabler of inclusive and climate smart economic growth

[15 July, 2020 ]

His Excellency Mr. Md. Shahriar Alam, Hon’ble Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Government of Bangladesh

Ambassador Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa, Member, Governing Council, Asian Confluence

Dr. Atiur Rahman, Former Governor, Bangladesh Bank, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Dr. Ramgopal Agarwala, Distinguished Fellow NITI Aayog

Mr. Md. Abdus Samad, Former Secretary, Ministry of Shipping, Government of Bangladesh and many other distinguished speakers and guests

Good Afternoon,

          It is a great privilege to be introduced by Ambassador Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa, who is also my former colleague.  At the beginning, I would like to congratulate Asian Confluence for organizing this timely initiative focusing on Indo-Bangladesh Cooperation for Inland Waterways Development: An enabler of inclusive and climate smart economic growth.  Also, congratulate Asian Confluence on starting the ‘Nadi Conversation’, a very timely initiative. I thank Asian Confluence for giving me the opportunity to share my views on this subject. 

2. Under the visionary leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, our bilateral relationship has transformed very significantly. Our relationship is based on history, language, secularism and several other commonalities. Our unique friendship is forged in the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Our neighborhood policy follows our Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’, which implies that we prosper together. The Government of India accords top priority to its relations with Bangladesh. For us, it is neighborhood first, and in the neighborhood, it is Bangladesh first. As a close neighbour with innumerable ties that bind us together, it is natural that our partnership has been evolving for mutually beneficial cooperation.

3. Bangladesh today has become our largest development partner; our largest trade partner in the region; and our most extensive and integrated Government-to-Government relationship is also with Bangladesh. Over 75 separate dialogue mechanisms connect our Governments and people in an effort to build the strongest possible framework for a permanent partnership including mechanism to deal with water management. As Hon’ble Minister Shahriar Alam mentioned about it, work on them, has begun and there is a lot of promise in that.  At the level of people to people ties, our largest visa operation anywhere in the world is in Bangladesh, and our Bangladeshi friends constitute the largest number of tourist arrivals in India.  Of course, since March this year, the COVID pandemic has challenged us all in many ways and we are working very closely with all stakeholders to deal with these challenges and in fact are trying to find new opportunities.  As we celebrate the birth centenary year of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, there could not be a better time for having a dialogue on a subject which touches the life and livelihood of the people of our two countries.

4. The subject selected by Asian Confluence on India-Bangladesh Cooperation for Inland Waterways Development is extremely relevant especially now when we deal with COVID-19. My focus is going to be on the cooperation we have achieved in use of nadi i.e., inland waterways for trade, economy and people-to-people contact. River routes in this region have carried people and goods through ages. These age old linkages, however were disrupted during the British colonial rule. Immediately after liberation of Bangladesh, India and Bangladesh signed Protocol on Inland Waterways Trade and Transit (PIWTT) in 1972 to revive these historical trade and people to people links. The PIWTT was last renewed for a period of five years with provision for auto renewal during Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh in June 2015. PIWTT permits movement of goods over barges/vessels through the river systems of India-Bangladesh on ten specific routes between points in India and Bangladesh, and between points in India through Bangladesh.

5. As Hon’ble Minister already mentioned, according to the traffic statistics maintained by Inland Water Authority of India approx. 3.5 million tonne of cargo was transported using the Indo- Bangladesh Protocol route (IBP) in FY 19-20 and approx. 4 million tonne of cargo is expected to move in FY 20-21. It may be mentioned here that nearly 99% of the cargo is carried by Bangladesh vessels.

6. We have recently signed the 2nd Addendum to PIWTT to include 2 additional routes between Sonamura-Daudhkandi and Rajshahi-Godagir-Dhulian with extension upto Aricha and five new Ports of Call. This makes the total ports of call 11, 2 extended ports of call and a total of 10 PIWTT routes.  We have also agreed to introduce trade between Chilmari (Bangladesh) and Dhubri (India) through the use of shallow draft mechanized vessels.  The IBP route 3 & 4 reduces transportation distance from Kolkata to Agartala (Tripura) from approx. 1,600 km by road to approx. 1,100 km (via Ashuganj in Bangladesh) by IWT mode.

7. In order to strengthen the infrastructure and facilitate waterways connectivity, India in partnership with Bangladesh is investing in establishing an Inland Container Port (ICP) at Ashuganj, and in widening the existing road between Akhaura Land Port and Ashuganj to 4 lanes. These two projects are being implemented under the Indian Line of Credit. Government of India is also constructing a new rail link between Akhaura and Agartala under grant funding.

8. As you are aware, rivers in this sub region are seasonal rivers, that swells with the monsoons rains but recedes in dry winters. These changing levels pose a challenge for cargo vessels, that need a certain assured depth of water to sail in. To tackle this challenge both our countries have agreed to dredge the fairways of the Kushiyara and Jamuna rivers, between Ashuganj and Zakiganj, and between Sirajganj and Daikhowa respectively, on an 80:20 cost sharing formula. The dredging is ongoing and had started in 2019.

9. The transshipment of goods to Northeastern states under PIWTT through Ashuganj river port (and from there to Akhaura-Agartala by road) has also commenced in June 2016.

10. I am happy to share that recently 45 container consignment carrying 1,100 tonnes of sponge iron worth 55 trucks had sailed on PIWTT route 1-2 from Garden Reach Kolkata for its destination to Pangaon Container terminal and had reached successfully in a span of 7 days. Clearly COVID-19 which poses huge challenge has also opened new opportunities for us. Amb. Wadhwa mentioned for stone boulders exports from Bhutan to Bangladesh, Kolkata- Silghat protocol route via Dhubri in Asaam has already been established as a preferred route.

11. Our geographical proximity is our great advantage and should be leveraged for mutual benefit. An example of this partnership which stands out is the Agreement on the use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports for movement of India`s transit cargo through Bangladesh which was signed in 2018. The Standard Operating Procedure for this was agreed upon during the visit of Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in 2019. I am happy to share that following the direction of both the leaders, the first trial run under this agreement will begin tomorrow (16 July 2020). Bangladesh vessel “Shejyoti” carrying four (04) container cargoes of pulses and TMT Steel bars is going to be flagged off from Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port, Kolkata tomorrow and it is expected to arrive at Chattogram within next 2-3 days. The cargo will  be transported on Bangladesh trailers from Chattogram to its end destination in Agartala and Karimganj via ICP Agartala-Akhaura.

12. This mutually beneficial agreement will accelerate the integration of our supply chains and logistics sectors. Furthermore, Bangladesh will earn revenue as the cargo transit will be through the use of Bangladeshi trucks. Administrative & port-related charges will also accrue to Bangladesh. Operationalization of this agreement will reduce distance, time, logistic cost for transportation of goods for India and will lead to development of business services such as finance, transport and insurance services in Bangladesh. It is a win-win solution for the region.

13. Another significant development in connectivity has been the beginning of the direct sea movement of containerized/bulk/dry cargo between the two countries pursuant to the MoU on Coastal Shipping signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in 2015. It has reduced the shipping time between India and Bangladesh from 30-40 days to 7-10 days. Recently, foreign vessel operators such as Singapore based Xpress Feeder and Hong Kong based Gold Star Line have started regular services between Kolkata- Chattogram – Singapore from July 2020. These new developments are clear indicators of thriving trade in the region.

14. With the present 4 lane Chattogram to Dhaka highway and further upgradation of the Dhaka to Sylhet Highway into 6 lane highway in future, the connectivity between Meghalaya and Chattogram will improve significantly. We are certain that once all these projects are operational, it will greatly enhance economic cooperation between North eastern States of India and Bangladesh and further the development of the logistics and transport infrastructure in the region.

15. Revival of these historical arteries of trade will have a direct impact on lives and livelihood of the people in this sub region. Not only businesses, but also farmers in this rich agricultural belt will benefit as the waterways open up market afield. In addition, less energy consumption, low noise, and reduced carbon footprint turn waterway transport into a greener and more reliable way of moving freight. Once the full potential of these connectivity projects is realized cities like Narayanganj, Sirajganj, Khulna, Mongla, Chilmari etc. in  Bangladesh and Pandu, Sonamura, Karimganj, Dhubri, Silghat etc. in India will witness significant   economic transformation.

16. I am certain that the passenger cruise sailing through the majestic beauty of World Heritage Sites such as Sunderbans Manas National Park will establish the region on the global tourism map . As the river traffic picks up people living by the river will get direct benefit from the enhanced economic activities. The newly developed infrastructure can potentially evolve into thriving logistics hubs, improve regional integration, unlocking opportunities for more private investment in this sector. I am certain that all these efforts will have a positive impact on the lives and livelihood of the people in the sub region.

I would like to underscore that given the geographical proximity with the North Eastern States of India, Bangladesh is in the best position to tap into the abundant natural resources and the economic potential of the Northeast. Bangladesh companies can also consider investing in the Northeastern states.

18. Friends, South Asia is at a critical juncture of history. A world of opportunity is beckoning us.  There is no denying that COVID-19 is one of the most difficult challenges, the world has ever seen, but it is also an opportunity to look out for new ideas in terms of innovation. I am certain that our two countries with our young, risk loving and willing to take up challenge population will come out to a future which will be much brighter and where we emerge much stronger.  All stakeholders will have to work harder to make our region and sub-region more integrated.  Business community has to come forward to identify the synergies that exist and leverage the geographical proximity and the framework of connectivity already in place. 

19. I once again congratulate Asian Confluence for organizing this dialogue. I also pay my compliments to all the senior dignitaries, members of Chamber of Commerce and Industry for participating in this important dialogue. I sincerely hope that this dialogue will give valuable insights to take forward our mutually beneficial partnership to newer heights and opening of new vistas for co-operation between India and Bangladesh.