As an attempt to further improve bilateral trade, economy and people-to-people contact, Bangladesh has upgraded its diplomatic mission in Agartala, Tripura by the end of December 2015 to an Assistant High Commission and posted Sakhawat Hussain as the first Diplomat to the post to further boost bilateral relations.
Dhaka will soon also set up a deputy high commission in Guwahati in Assam. Bangladesh has diplomatic missions in New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. New Delhi has opened assistant high commissions in Khulna and Sylhet in Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh earlier decided to upgrade the existing 27 custom stations in Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
External Affairs Minister (EAM), Sushma Swaraj during her visit to Bangladesh had set the tone between both the countries, under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime. This forms part of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on the neighbourhood. Her visit not only provided firsthand knowledge of where the bilateral relations stood, but was also to ‘renew acquaintance’.
While the visit was proposed as a goodwill visit, some of the issues that have been bedevilling bilateral relations came up for discussion particularly, from the Bangladesh side, the conclusion of Teesta and the ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA). The EAM assured Dhaka that New Delhi would conclude the LBA and is already in the process of building a consensus on Teesta.
Both sides have agreed to new measures to further consolidate bilateral relations. Beginning by increasing the frequency of Moitree Express, selling additional 100 MW electricity from Tripura, reducing incidents at the border. Both the countries have agreed to start a new bus service from Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati and provide five year multi-entry visa to children under the age of 18 and people above the age of 65, open four more border haats in Meghalaya, extradite Bangladeshi criminals who use the porous border to take refuge in India after committing crime in Bangladesh. Continuing with its earlier policy, Hasina’s government has assured that it would not allow its territory to be used against India. Clearly, the government in New Delhi wants to try and tackle some of the nagging issues like trade and transit and river water sharing.
Once again Tripura has moved a step ahead from the rest of the states in the region. Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Wajed had jointly agreed to open the fourth ‘border haat’ (market) along the India-Bangladesh border, authorities have also decided that the haat would be allowed to sell 15 to 16 local agricultural and horticultural products, spices, minor forest produce (excluding timber), fresh and dry fish, dairy and poultry products, cottage industry items, wooden furniture, handloom and handicraft items.
The proposed ‘border haat’ is situated at Kasba in Western Tripura and will be the second in the state and the fourth along the India-Bangladesh border. The first ‘border haat’ was opened in Srinagar, about 140 km south of state capital Agartala, on January 13. Another two border haats were set up in 2012 on the Meghalaya-Bangladesh border at Kalaichar (India) - Baliamari (Bangladesh) and at Dalora (Bangladesh) - Balat (India).
It may be mentioned that India and Bangladesh share a 4,096-km border along West Bengal (2,216 km), Tripura (856 km), Assam (263 km), Meghalaya (443 km) and Mizoram (318 km). The two neighbours have 2,979 km of land border and 1,116 km of riverine boundaries.
Four other north-eastern state governments Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram have also proposed the setting up of 15 ‘border haats’ along the India-Myanmar border to develop trans-border trade and business.
As Tripura, to be followed by Assam upgrades Bangladesh diplomatic missions to Assistant High Commission, this meaning empowering the state to speed up the visa application from office in Tripura capital Agartala itself. It is also expected that the action will have better impact on greater economic integration between Bangladesh and India’s north-east for mutual benefit. It will particularly facilitate north-east’s socio-economic development and better connectivity with the rest of India.
This is not the only attempt to mend the differences across the international border. One of the Delhi based entrepreneurs had launched a boundary-less market by offering fashion, food and artifacts from Northeast India via online platform, now products from all the eight states - Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura which are just a click away.
A majority of the products are handmade and eco-friendly items related to fashion, home décor and office accessories. The online marketplace also includes a range of ethnic food and beverage items from the region including pickles, dry vegetables, herbs and spices.
Back home in Meghalaya, the farmers from the rural sector find it difficult to transport their produces to the market due to absence of road connectivity. The absence of manufacturing and production industries, coupled with an introvert attitude of the indigenous tribals and lack of a risk taking spirit to venture into marketing has left the state with nothing to offer. As such, the terms export and sale are foreign terms to the local farmers and artisans. The paperwork involved is another nightmare for those who dare to make an attempt.
The central schemes of Make in India have very little impact in this sleepy hill station due to lack of mass participation and apathy of the state government and legislators to frame an Industrial Policy and promote the products and produces of the state.
The 43-year old Meghalaya is still importing most essential commodities from other states while the rural sectors are being insulated for fear of influx. As the policies are not at all investor friendly, the selective trade and commerce is limited to local consumption resulting in the state being forced to keep begging for central and even international funding in the absence of virtual markets for the limited products and produces from the state.
It is time to think globally as we practice the local culture and customs, otherwise Meghalaya will be left way behind as the rest of the region progresses.