Sheikh Hasina may take up Teesta issue with Modi during forthcoming visit to India

Bangladesh is also worried over issues like the National Register of Citizen (NRC) exercise in Assam, border killings, the Rohingya refugee repatriation imbroglio etc, says this report from Dhaka

Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Prakash Bhandari

“Your onions have brought tears in our eyes. After your country banned the export of onion, its price has shot up in the local market to Rs 120 Taka (about Rs 100 INR). The decision has totally dried up the supply line from India. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina — who is paying a visit to India — should first ask your Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lift the ban to ease the lives of the common man here,” Munir Ahmad, a vegetable whole-seller at Mahakali in Dhaka told this correspondent during a casual interaction.

Indeed, as per a report in The Daily Star, onion prices at the retail markets in Bangladesh went up by around 71 per cent per kg within a day — the highest level in last several years — as the wholesalers reportedly jacked up the price following India’s ban on the ingredient export.

India is a time-tested friend of Bangladesh — it helped create Bangladesh as a nation in the first place and shares similar socio-economic, political and cultural characteristics with it in many ways.

Sheikh Hasina’s forthcoming visit to India from October 3-6, of course, has far more significance than just the issue of onion prices. Modi paid a visit to Bangladesh in June last year and Hasina will be visiting India for the first time after retaining power in the national elections in 2018.

The Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh will discuss a variety of bilateral issues like river water sharing treaty, especially the Teesta water-sharing issue which has not been resolved despite several meetings between the two countries because of the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s adamant stand not to give ‘a drop of Teesta water’ to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is also worried over issues like the National Register of Citizen (NRC) exercise in Assam, border killings, the Rohingyas refugee repatriation imbroglio etc.

“It’s a very important and significant visit for both the countries for deepening and expanding economic and political development as Bangladesh wants to formulate and align a pragmatic policy with India which will benefit both the nations,” observed Md Muzibur Rahman, a noted economist in Bangladesh.

Dr Nizamuddin Ahamad, a practising architect and a Commonwealth scholar, says, “The Bengalis craved for greater economy in view of years of exploitation by the non-Bengali West Pakistanis and this led to a snowball effect for the Bengali nation and thanks in large part to the Bengali language, a nation was born thanks to Bangabandhu Muzibur Rahman who spearheaded the independence campaign. Today, Bangladesh is trying to stand on its own feet. It is growing at a record 8% in 2019 and 2020, making it the fastest-growing economy in Asia-Pacific,” he added.

This is happening at a time when the global economic outlook remains challenging, and growth is expected to moderate across most of developing Asia at 5.7% in 2019 and 5.6% in 2020.

However, South Asia will buck this trend, growing at 6.8% in 2019 and 6.9% in 2020.

“Today Bangladesh is seen as a model for growth even in this difficult global economic outlook. And in this growth story, agriculture is an important sector for Bangladesh. Bangladesh has gained significant success in agriculture, achieving the third position in vegetable production, fourth position in rice production, and seventh position in mango production in the world. The country is now rice sufficient. Yet for the 17 crore population, the per capita land availability is not adequate,” says Reaz Ahmad, the executive editor of prestigious Dhaka English daily Dhaka Tribune.

The Asian Development Bank came up with farm statistics to show how Bangladesh’s rice production has increased by around 37% to 36 million metric tons during the 2009-2018 period.

“India will be surprised to know that Bangladesh’s wheat production rose by 57% to 12 million metric tons. Maize production grew by 646% to 39 million metric tons. Potato production increased by 148% to 103 million metric tons. Pulses production grew by 275% to 10 million metric tons. And vegetable production rose by 645% to 159 million metric tons. What is more remarkable is that Bangladesh achieved this despite natural disasters and calamities. Yet over 40% of the labour force or 62 million people are employed in agriculture, but it accounts for 14% of GDP,” says Manmohan Prakash, the Country Director of Asian Development Bank in Bangladesh.

“Land available for agriculture is shrinking due to rapid urbanization. As personal incomes rise, per capita food consumption increases, food demand goes up, and so does the wastage. Then there is the mother of all challenges: the impact of climate change. Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to climate change,” he added.

When the two Prime Ministers meet in Delhi, they should discuss the issues relating to better cooperation on the agriculture sector and help Bangladesh grow its farm productivities. India could help Bangladesh by supplying smart tractors, agriculture implements, Internet of Things (IoT), fertilisers and irrigation infrastructure.

Bangladesh is looking for India’s cooperation for investments in mega infrastructure projects like the Padma Bridge, power sectors. deep seaports, railways, roads, highways, communications, health, pharmaceuticals, aviation, IT etc.

Bangladesh claims that it has the most liberal investment policy in South Asia and India can help make Bangladesh an economic hub on the west, China on North, and Southeast Asia on the east and with a population of 165 million on its own, Bangladesh is in the middle of a combined market of four billion people.

“Bangladesh is now the 30th largest economy in the world based on purchasing power parity (PPP) and has a growing global recognition,” said Ejajul Haque, a businessman.

The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) in its report of 2018 predicted that Bangladesh would be the 26th largest economy of the world by 2030.

Like India, Bangladesh has a corruption problem at all levels, yet it has received good FDIs. Indian business community can benefit from the present economic scenario in Bangladesh by focusing on manufacturing particularly in the farm sector and also automobile.

Though Prime Minister Modi during a meeting with Sheikh Hasina in New York assured her that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise will have no impact on Bangladesh, Bangladesh is very concerned about it.

Bangladesh confronting the influx of the Rohingyas from Myanmar feels that India will ask the over 16 lakh persons whose names were not included in the NRC to return to Bangladesh, thus creating a chaotic situation.

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