Dhaka: Sharing the grief of cyclone-hit Bangladesh, India on Saturday decided to lift a ban on export of rice up to 5.5 lakh tonnes to the neighbouring country and proposed to adopt its 10 worst affected villages as part of overall assistance package.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee made these announcements here as he handed over a fresh consignment of Indian relief material to Bangladesh’s Foreign Adviser Iftekhar Chowdhury at the Zia International Airport soon after his arrival for a day-long visit.
He noted India has already supplied relief material, including medicines, blankets, ready-to-eat meals, tents and portable water purifiers worth about Rs6 crore since the cyclone ‘Sidr´ struck Bangladesh on 15 November, killing around 3,500 people besides causing widespread devastation.
“India has always attached high importance to its relations with Bangladesh... It is, therefore, but natural that, like always, we stand by Bangladesh in its efforts to rebuild the lives of those affected by the cyclone,” Mukherjee told reporters.
“I have come in a situation which is painful for the people of Bangladesh and all of us,” he said as he expressed “deep sadness” on behalf of Indian government and people over the tragedy that struck the friendly neighbour.
Given the magnitude of the natural calamity, he said, India has decided to waive the ban on export of rice to Bangladesh for additional five lakh tonnes.
India has already announced waiver of ban on export of rice to Bangladesh for 50,000 tonnes, Mukherjee said.
Besides, 20,000 tonnes of rice is being sent by sea to Chittagong.
India also proposes to adopt 10 severely-affected coastal villages for rehabilitation, Mukherjee said.
He pointed out that as a “shared sense of loss that we, as a nation, feel for your (Bangladeshi) people,” Indian Parliament expressed its sorrow in a resolution adopted on November 19 and observed silence for a brief.
Chowdhury expressed gratitude on behalf of Bangladesh government for India’s “generous gesture”.
“India has shown solidarity in this hour. We are grateful,” the Bangladesh Foreign Adviser said, adding more than the relief material, “it is the gesture we deeply appreciate”.
Mukherjee formally handed over 36.4 tonnes of relief material supplied under ‘Operation Sahayata´ (Op Help).
The fourth sortie by huge IL-76 Aircraft of Indian Air Force contained milk powder, water filters, blankets, ready-to-eat meals and medicines. Earlier sorties were conducted on November 22, 23 and 24.
Mukherjee said total relief assistance to Bangladesh this year so far amounts to more than Rs152 crore.
Citing his old association with Dhaka, Mukherjee said “I bring the solidarity of my country in your hour of need and an assurance that as a friendly neighbour, India would always be interested in a stable, prosperous and democratic Bangladesh.”
Mukherjee later met Bangladesh’s Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed and told him about India’s decisions.
The minister also conveyed India’s thanks for Bangladesh’s support to the candidature of Kamalesh Sharma for the post of the Commonwealth Secretary General.
Sharma, the Indian High Commissioner to Britain, was chosen as the Secretary General of the 53-nation grouping at its summit in Kamapala, Uganda, recently.