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Transcript of Special Virtual Briefing following India-Bangladesh Virtual Summit by JS (BM) (December 17, 2020)

December 18, 2020

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Friends! Namaskar and good evening. Welcome to the special briefing. Earlier today we concluded the India- Bangladesh virtual Summit between PM and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and to brief us on the summit, I have with me Ms. Smita Pant, Joint Secretary (Bangladesh and Myanmar) in this Ministry. Smita will make her opening remarks and thereafter we'll move on to your questions. Over to you, Smita.

Ms. Smita Pant, JS (BM): Thank you Anurag. Good Evening to all of you. Our Prime Minister and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held a summit today through virtual format. The fact that the summit took place a day after Vijay Diwas commemoration added a special significance to their interaction. Discussions were comprehensive and covered all areas, including connectivity and trade, development cooperation, border management, rivers including water sharing, conservation and fisheries, energy and new and emerging areas of cooperation including information technology and artificial intelligence. In all, seven agreements were signed in the areas of hydrocarbon, culture, agriculture, high impact community development projects, conservation of wildlife, water disposal in Barishal City in Bangladesh and terms of reference regarding constituting India Bangladesh CEO Forum. Two HICDP projects relating to the development of infrastructure at girls’ school in Khulna and development project in Rajshahi city were also inaugurated. Since this is the historic year of Sheikh Mujib, both Prime Minister's unveiled a commemorative postal stamp in his honor that was issued by India Post and also inaugurated the digital exhibition on Bangabandhu Bapu. This exhibition is an interactive one and highlights the struggle of the two great leaders and their fight against oppression and tyranny. Overall there was a broad appreciation that considerable progress has been made in the bilateral relationship despite the ongoing Covid pandemic and specially in the area of connectivity which has seen some significant developments this year including the movement of the Indian cargo from Kolkata through Chattogram port to Agartala connecting Tripura through to inland waters through Bangladesh and also increase in trade via the rail route, which basically ensured that the supply of essential commodities to Bangladesh during the Covid pandemic as the land trade came to a halt were not disrupted. Therefore, the joint inauguration of the Chilahati-Haldibari rail link today is particularly important and we expect the movement of goods to happen soon through this rail route. And as far as the movement of passenger traffic is concerned modalities are under discussion. Friends, Bangladesh is our largest trade partner in the region. In this context matters relating to trade facilitation were also discussed. Both sides have agreed to address issues like Port restrictions and other procedures to further facilitate trade. Container rail service has commenced between the two sides and we have offered access to our seaports to Bangladesh businessmen exporting to third countries using this container train services. Covid cooperation was also discussed at length. Bangladesh has been appreciative of the fact that India accords high priority to Bangladesh in the area of vaccines. Our recent capacity-building efforts relating to training the Bangladeshi health professionals in Bangla language were also appreciated by the Bangladesh government. Development cooperation was another area that got discussed. Bangladesh is the largest development partner of India with more than 26% of the LOC assistance being extended to them at uniquely concessional terms. We have sought their facilitation in expediting implementation of some of the ongoing projects. In the area of Border management there were discussions on further strengthening the implementation of the coordinated border management plan and how to bring down the casualties on both sides to zero. It was agreed that early fencing of the vulnerable patches will be important as we endeavor to make our border areas crime-free. There were also discussions on how expansion of the Border Haats and economic activities in the border area will help us in addressing this issue in a comprehensive manner. Cooperation in water resources, including river water sharing and fisheries was also discussed. It has been agreed to convene a secretary level meeting under the Joint Rivers Commission Framework to take these discussions forward. As it can be seen it was a very fruitful summit that included inauguration of some of the significant projects, detailed discussions in practically all areas of cooperation and also very forward-looking joint statement. So this helped in further reinforcing our multifaceted and irreversible partnership at the highest level. The two Prime Ministers have remained in regular touch. In the last five years, they've met 10 times including in the margins of the multilateral meetings. This clearly demonstrates the political will on both sides to take this relationship to even higher trajectory. Next year will be equally important, will be very significant. Our Prime Minister has accepted the invitation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to visit Bangladesh on March 26, which is also their Independence Day and to commemorate 50 years of liberation of Bangladesh and the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries. A number of joint activities are being planned including holding events in select third countries, mounting Bangabandhu - Bapu digital exhibition in various cities in India, in Bangladesh and also at the UN organizing seminars etc. These details will be shared in due course. I look forward to interacting with you. Thank you.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you, Smita. I'll move on to the questions. I'll start with a question on vaccines from Gautam Lahiri "Any decision on Covid vaccine distribution to Bangladesh?"

Ms. Smita Pant, JS (BM): As I've just mentioned Bangladesh will be accorded high priority in the area of Covid vaccine distribution.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I have two questions on connectivity. I'll take them together. Siddhant from WION "Any plans for Bangladesh to use Sittwe Port built by India in Myanmar?" and Gautam Lahiri asks "When will passenger service start on Chilahati-Haldibari route?". "Will it also connect Kolkata and Dhaka?'

Ms.Smita Pant, JS (BM): As I've just mentioned the goods will start moving very soon on this route. As far as the passenger movement is concerned, the modalities are under active discussion. And as far as the use of Sittwe port is concerned, we have not till now discussed this proposal with Bangladesh side.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:
I have a question asking for details of MOU. Gautam Lahiri wants to know can you share details of the MOU specially on textiles?

Ms.Smita Pant, JS (BM):
MOU on textile is yet to be signed. Perhaps he was referring to the MOU that was signed between the National Museum and the Bangabandhu museum today. So one of the elements of cooperation envisaged in that MOU is a cooperation in preservation of textiles through exchange of experts.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Then a few questions on defense cooperation. Ranjeet Kumar from Rakshak News "Any fresh agreement on expanding defense relations and bilateral engagement between the armed forces of Bangladesh and India?" similar question from Gautam Lahiri.

Ms.Smita Pant, JS (BM): There is a robust defense cooperation between India and Bangladesh and it includes frequent exchanges between the service Chiefs. There is an Institutional dialogue between the Defense Secretary and his counterpart. There are regular exchanges between the defence personnel and there's a significant training component attached and yesterday India handed over 18 "120 mm mortars” for the use of Bangladesh Armed Forces on the occasion of Vijay Diwas. So there's an ongoing very strong cooperation in the area of defence between the two sides.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Then I have a set of questions on the Teesta project. Siddhant from WION, Smriti Datta from Vartman and Nainima from Print. Their question essentially is "Was the Teesta river Project, the water sharing arrangement, was it raised? was it discussed?

Ms. Smita Pant, JS (BM):
Teesta water sharing and sharing of water on other rivers and issues relating to fisheries and conservation were discussed at this meeting.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Siddhant from WION. His question is "Any plans of India Bangladesh to jointly work to declare 1971 Pakistan atrocities as genocide at the UN?". Similar question from Subhajit Ghosh from BBC. PM Hasina has recently said that Bangladesh can never forget and forgive Pakistan for what they did in 1971. What is India’s stand on the demand for Pakistan rendering an apology for 1971 war crimes?

Ms. Smita Pant, JS (BM): Well, there is no denying that state-sponsored oppression against Bangladesh’s just war of Liberation, led to death of more than 3 million people, more than 200,000 women were raped and tortured. We deeply respect and understand the sentiments expressed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Parul Chandra from Strategic News global. Her question is "Did Bangladesh raise the issue of the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar? And what is India's response to the relocation of around 1,600 of them to Bhashan Char recently by Bangladesh.

Ms. Smita Pant, JS (BM):
At this bilateral summit both sides agreed and highlighted the need for safe, early and sustainable repatriation of displaced persons from the Rakhine State back to Myanmar. And we also appreciate and understand the humanitarian burden being faced by Bangladesh while hosting more than 1 million displaced persons.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Two questions on Mujib Borsho. Aminul Islam from BSS says "Bangladesh and India have chalked out joint program to celebrate hundred birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman throughout the year, please elaborate which types of programs are being taken to celebrate the occasion?" Essentially a similar question from Gautam Lahiri. Maybe you can take them together.

Ms. Smita Pant, JS (BM):
As I mentioned that we will be sharing these details and plan of activities in due course. For the moment, I can say that, joint activities will be held in India, Bangladesh and in select third countries.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: A question from Aminul Islam. "Bangladesh Prime Minister in her address today said that a good number of Indians are employed in manufacturing and service sector in Bangladesh. Do you have a specific figure on how many Indians are working there and on the remittances, which they are earning?

Ms. Smita Pant, JS (BM): At the moment. I have no information on this. I can come back to you later.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: And I've come to the last question from those we've received. Manish Jha from business world. "It was proposed that Bangladesh and India will collaborate on joint ship building projects. Any update on this?"

Ms. Smita Pant, JS (BM): Both sides are in discussion and this issue was discussed at the last annual defense dialogue that was held between Principal Staff Officer, Armed Forces Division from Bangladesh side and our Defence Secretary and we will take this area of cooperation forward. There is an interest in further strengthening this area of cooperation.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you. Since there are no further questions. Let me thank you Smita for joining us and this concludes the special briefing. I'll resume very shortly with our weekly briefing. Thank you.

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