Meghalaya Chief Minister, Conrad Kongkal Sangma will meet the Bangladesh President, Abdul Hamid during his visit to Meghalaya on March 9, 2018 and hold discussions on business and trade relations between Meghalaya and Bangladesh. Hamid will visit Balat, a border town near the India-Bangladesh border, where he set up a camp for Bangladeshi youths taking part in the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.
Two Indian Air Force helicopters will take President Hamid and his entourage to Balat, about 74 km by road from state capital Shillong. After his arrival in Shillong, Hamid is scheduled to visit the Bungalow of Bidhan Chandra Roy (Bengal Chief Minister between 1948 and 1962) and Sidli House, where Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore stayed during his third visit in 1927.
Hamid will spend the night at Meghalaya Raj Bhavan, wherein Governor Ganga Prasad will host a dinner for the visiting guest. Hamid is on a five-day visit to India. He will later visit New Delhi to attend the International Solar Alliance (ISA) Summit to be held on March 11.
Being Conrad’s first official engagement with a foreign premier, he should once again stress on opening more border haat, which most of his predecessors attempted as a move to have better relations with the neighbouring countries.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Wajed had jointly opened the fourth ‘border haat’ (market) along the India-Bangladesh border by the first week of June last year. The 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’ 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).
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.
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.
In September 2011, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had embarrassed the then Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh by pulling out of his delegation to Bangladesh over the water-sharing agreement, forcing India to drop it from the agenda.
Banerjee also held talks with Modi during his visit to the state besides several reported rounds of telephonic communication with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on the Teesta issue.
The Indian parliament has passed a key constitutional amendment bill to give effect to the swapping of border land enclaves between India and Bangladesh under a 1974 agreement.
Now, the situation seems to be better set to overcome an earlier discomfiture. It is well known that the porous Indo-Bangla border is a conduit of open smuggling of various items including cattle, boulders and stolen motor parts. At the same time there is human trafficking including easy access by the militant outfits. Worst of all is the issue illegal migrants who cross the same border seeking better livelihood and very few for permanent settlement. Once the haat is in full operation, such infiltration will surely stop.
A few years back, the tribal chiefs in Meghalaya had sought the intervention of government for the early re-opening of the 38 border haats along the Indo – Bangladesh border, that were the economic lifeline of livelihood for the people living along the international border.
Meanwhile, Former Bangladesh Minister and joint secretary general and spokesman of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Salahuddin Ahmed, is still in Judicial custody here in Meghalaya (India) after he was allegedly been kidnapped by unidentified people from Uttara area in Dhaka on the night of March 10 and was also declared missing after which he mysteriously surfaced in Meghalaya at the heart of the state capital in the Golf Link area after local people alerted police about some ‘suspicious movement’ by a man in and around that area on May 11.
The point to ponder is how come none of the authorities spotted him being brought till Golf Link, whereas the patrolling in Greater Shillong has been beefed up since last week. Even as women police have also been given night patrolling duties, no one could notice something un-natural or someone being ferried around under threat.
The biggest question here is how can a group of suspected kidnappers from Bangladesh easily bring an ex-minister to Shillong without any hindrances? Strangely, the Press Communiqué of the Border Security Force (BSF) keeps claiming of arrests of many people who attempt to cross over to India from Bangladesh. In spite of these communiqués, even the BSF has failed to spot this particular movement.
Earlier last year, the Central Government has called upon all Chief Ministers of the eight northeastern states to discuss the security threat by Jihadi groups as informed by Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijju during his visit to Shillong. The proposed meeting had delved on Law and Order issues, security aspects after the recent arrests by National Investigating Agency (NIA) wherein they had nabbed members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) operatives, including Sahanur Alam who was wanted in the October 2 Burdwan blast case.
The meeting between Conrad and Hamid should also review such lapses of the security forces of both the countries. Meghalaya was put on high alert after Alam’s arrest keeping in mind that he is the number three in the hierarchy of the Assam module of the JMB and had even spent sometime in the plain belts of Garo hills of Meghalaya before his arrest.
Rijju added that the decision to convene the meeting was held recently during the joint intelligence committee meeting which he chaired where various intelligence agencies shared strategic information key to security.
The Inter-state council - a recommendatory body to investigate and discuss subjects of common interest between the centre and states or among the states for better coordination of policy and action, should also thrash out differences relating to inter- state border disputes, which is the main stumbling block for coordination.
Since many rounds of talks between the two countries have failed to bear fruit in terms of international borders disputes, at the same time to prevent infiltration, the only solution is to enable better border trade which will enable the border habitants to have a better living standard. This will in turn deter them from crossing the border to seek a better living, at the same time both the countries will blossom under a friendly and productive relationship.