India clears the decks for passenger ferry services with Bangladesh
New Delhi: India is pulling out all the stops to operationalize a proposed passenger ferry service to Bangladesh in preparation for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visit to the country next month.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a passenger ferry service between the two countries was signed in November 2015 but the project hit a road block due to the home ministry’s reservations over allowing Bangladeshi crew into India without valid passports.
The decks are now being cleared for an announcement. Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India next month comes seven years after her last. The final terms and conditions for the passenger ferry service are to be discussed and an announcement is likely to be made, an Indian government official said requesting anonymity.
“The passenger ferry services to Bangladesh will be started shortly,” said another government official who also did not wish to be identified.
The move to launch the ferry service comes in the backdrop of India’s interest in accessing transnational multi-modal connectivity and playing an important role in the proposed transportation architecture in the region and beyond.
Indian Railways is working on a plan to operationalize the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) route of Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi-Amritsar-Lahore-Islamabad-Zahedaan-Tehran-Istanbul.
Sheikh Hasina’s visit on 7-10 April is aimed at strengthening Bangladesh’s ties with India, Asia’s third largest economy.
“A draft MoU on passenger and cruise services on coastal and protocol route was initialed by the respective Secretaries of the two countries as a token of agreement which will be formalized after approval of the respective Governments,” the Indian government had said in a November 2015 statement.
India has also been instrumental in the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway project, as well as the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement.
India-Bangladesh ties have seen an upswing since the two countries completed procedures for the ratification of a 1974 border pact during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dhaka trip in 2015.
However, there is no consensus yet on another issue—the sharing of the waters of the Teesta and Feni rivers. The Teesta river, which has its source in Sikkim, flows through the northern part of West Bengal in India before entering Bangladesh and joining the Brahmaputra.
India is building a bridge over the Feni river in an attempt to connect Tripura with the Chittagong port in Bangladesh.
The road transport ministry is taking up a new bridge over Feni river in Tripura to facilitate connectivity with Bangladesh at an estimated cost of Rs130 crore. This project is at tendering stage, said road transport and highways secretary Sanjay Mitra.
Queries emailed to spokespersons in the Indian ministries of external affairs and shipping and the Bangladesh embassy in New Delhi remained unanswered at the time of going to press.