Duty-free access to boost export to India

Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran yesterday said the border killings by Indian Border Security Force (BSF) had significantly dropped and it would gradually go down to zero soon.

He said border killing in 2006 was 107 and that had come down to just six until August this year.

However, according to a report of a human rights organisation, BSF had killed four persons in August this year alone.

“We don’t condone a single killing. Any killing is bad,” Saran told journalists of The Daily Star at its office yesterday, adding, “In all such cases, there is an investigation.”

He noted that such an investigation was going on in the case of the killing of teenage girl Felani and strict punishment would be given to the BSF staff responsible.

Editor and Publisher of The Daily Star Mahfuz Anam moderated the discussion, in which the Indian envoy spoke on a host of issues like increase of Bangladeshi export to India with zero duty on all goods, water sharing, land boundary agreement, Teesta agreement and other issues. He also answered questions on India‘s relationship with the US and China.

The Indian envoy emphasised development of infrastructure like ports, roads and railways between the two countries considering increase of trade. He said export from Bangladesh had increased in manifolds since the Indian government had allowed duty free access of Bangladeshi products.

Talking about a positive change in the mindset of India and Bangladesh to address all outstanding bilateral issues, the High Commissioner pointed out that his government was trying its best to bring to the next parliament session a bill to amend the constitution so that it could ratify the Protocol on 1974 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) that it had signed with Bangladesh last year on September 6.

Pankaj Saran noted that the root cause of border killings was illegal cattle trade.

He described the measures the BSF took to bring down border killings to zero. “The BSF has introduced non-lethal weapons in many outposts and it imposes curfew at night. Forces of the two countries jointly patrol many areas in a coordinated way,” he said.

“But there are illegal activities on both sides that need to be traced,” he added.

He pointed out that words had spread that the BSF was using non-lethal weapons. Criminals in groups were now ambushing the BSF, sometimes in a life threatening manner. However, India would carry on its policy to go for zero killing at the border, he added.

On the issue of the Teesta river agreement, the High Commissioner said “Of course we should have an agreement, but unfortunately it could not be signed during the PM’s [Manmohan Singh‘s] visit due to lack of political consensus in India.”

However, he pointed out that the Teesta river water was flowing unhindered and uninterrupted and there were no structure excepting two in Dalia and Gajaldoba points in India. “We are committed to signing the Teesta River Water Sharing deal and to do so we are building consensus in India.”

He noted India would not take any action on the Himalayan rivers (which flow into Bangladesh) that would adversely affect Bangladesh.

Referring to LBA, the Indian envoy said India and Bangladesh concluded the deal after massive survey. “Now the fact is that India needs to ratify it. Bangladesh has done its part. It is being delayed because of some complexities on the Indian side. I can assure you that India is fully committed to the early ratification of the agreement and efforts are going on to place the issue in parliament.”

On a question about smuggling of phensidyl to Bangladesh, Pankaj said the Indian government was extending all-out cooperation on intelligence sharing and seizure of phensidyl had increased greatly in India. “We are seriously cooperating with Bangladesh in curbing phensidyl considering it as a humanitarian issue.”

Pankaj Saran said India was happy as Bangladesh had seriously addressed its security concern and the two countries had developed confidence in each other, which led to greater cooperation.

Asked about India‘s stance on Bangladesh‘s move to construct a deep seaport, he said India had not taken any position since it had not received any proposal from Bangladesh regarding the deep seaport.

“In general, I can say India will help Bangladesh in the development of its infrastructure.”

He said India was conducting a feasibility study on the development of Ashuganj river port. A company would be selected in the next couple of months to conduct a detail survey and prepare a plan for the project for consideration by Bangladesh.

About congestion in the Benapole-Petrapole border that handled majority of trade, worth $5.4 billion, in fiscal 2011-12, he said infrastructure needed to be developed significantly.

But the High Commissioner said both countries should reduce dependence on this land border and look for alternative routes. “Let us use alternative routes including waterways,” said Pankaj.

Via Daily Star