Both countries moving forward on outstanding boundary issues, say sources

India and Bangladesh are trying to resolve several outstanding issues before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Dhaka. “I think 2011 is the year for such visits. We are trying to work out mutual dates,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said when asked whether he and the Prime Minister planned to visit Bangladesh.

Government sources said both countries were moving forward in a “determined way” to resolve the boundary issue and attempting to cement tie-ups between their power companies. Bangladesh is seeking relief from India on garment exports to beat the impact of the global downturn. Movement on all these fronts would set the ideal stage for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Dhaka during this year, said highly placed sources.

“It is relatively important to settle borders for life after 38 years of living with the disputes. Both sides have set internal deadlines to get facts correct on adversely held enclaves,” sources said. India has about 90 exclaves of Bangladesh and about 105 enclaves in Bangladesh.

The 2001 conflagration between the two border forces over an Indian exclave even led to deaths on both sides.

“We have tried to broaden the understanding on issues. We don't even have an approved list of adverse possession of areas. For the first time we are moving towards a concurred list of adverse possession,” added the sources. Once both sides agree upon areas that the other side possesses, the “question remains to exchange them,'' said the sources.

The absence of a commonly agreed list of enclaves and exclaves sometimes leads to firings. For instance, there was exchange of fire some years back over a strip of land along the Surma river in Assam. Bangladesh maintains it is disputed while India asserts that it is squarely behind the boundary pillars. “The point is controversial adverse possession,'' said the sources.

“Mutual give and take”

“There should also be mutual give and take of what has been left behind by history,'' said the sources while referring to the dispute over Berubari. Both sides now agree that the line was historically drawn arbitrarily. “We are looking at it actively. We are on the same page. What to do is a matter of policy,'' said the sources while reiterating that India and Bangladesh were “moving forward in a determined way on outstanding boundary issues.”

In the power sector, the Power Grid Corporation's interconnection with the Bangladeshi grid is on schedule. India had agreed to supply 250 MW of electricity during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to Delhi in 2009. It would be stepped up to 1,000 MW. The National Thermal Power Corporation has also started a feasibility study on a power plant in Bangladesh in joint venture with its Power Development Board.

Bangladesh Commerce Minister Faruk Khan recently sought duty-free access to some readymade garment items. India had given similar treatment earlier to eight million pieces of readymade garments. After Ms. Hasina's visit, India also gave transit access to goods from Nepal and Bhutan heading for Bangladeshi ports. India extended $1 billion credit line keeping in mind its bilateral trade surplus with Bangladesh. In turn, Dhaka has routed India-inimical extremist groups based on its soil and extradited leaders of some of these organisations.

However, there are apprehensions in Bangladesh over dams built by India on shared rivers. Sources said both sides are trying to settle the issue but its resolution would take time.

While both sides seek to actively address the border dispute, they are reconciled to disputes flaring up occasionally. This is due to population pressure and active illicit cross-border trade.

Dr. Singh's visit would be facilitated if decisive progress is made on the border dispute and economic issues.

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