Teesta accord with Bangladesh during President's visit?

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 31, 2013 12:21 hrs

New Delhi, Jan 31 (IANS) With an extradition treaty and a liberalised visa agreement inked this week, India and Bangladesh are set to give a huge impetus to their ties with a long-awaited agreement on sharing of Teesta river waters, most probably during the visit of President Pranab Mukherjee to Dhaka, well informed sources said.

"The Teesta accord is set to be signed during a high-level visit this year," an official source told IANS, declining to be named.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is "pushing" for inking of the Teesta water sharing accord and "it is ready", the source added.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde was in Dhaka Jan 28-29 for signing the extradition pact that will help India in getting back many top militant leaders of the northeast who have been arrested or remain in hiding in Bangladesh. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is expected to visit Bangladesh around mid-February and this would be followed by that of Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.

The upcoming visits were confirmed by a Bangladeshi diplomatic official to IANS as well as by the Indian official source.

They would be a precursor to that by President Mukherjee, likely to take place early this year. "The dates of the president's visit have not been fixed yet," the source said.

Mukherjee has been invited by Bangladesh President Mohammad Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to visit the country and he has agreed, officials confirmed.

Shinde, during his meeting with his Bangladeshi counterpart M.K. Alamgir, had also inked a new visa agreement that proposes to remove restrictions on visits of businesspersons, students, patients, senior citizens above 65 years and children below 12 years.

With the extradition treaty signed, India is likely to ask Bangladesh to hand over Anup Chetia, alias Golap Barua, a founding member of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), who is in a Dhaka jail. Other northeast militant leaders likely to be deported include Tripura militant leader Vishwa Mohan Deb Barman and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) leader Thulunga, alias Tensu Narzar.

The liberalised visa agreement is also something that Bangladesh had been seeking for a long time.

According to the proposals, businessmen would be given five-year multiple entry visa and those travelling for medical purposes would be given two-year multiple entry visa along with visa to three attendants of a patient.

A 60-day cooling off period for a second visit by Bangladeshi nationals to India is also proposed to be waived off.

The Teesta accord was supposed to have been inked during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka in September 2011 but had to be aborted following objections by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, then a crucial ally of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Banerjee had backed out of the prime minister's delegation to Bangladesh at the last minute, causing embarrassment to the Indian delegation. The chief minister had maintained the draft water sharing accord was not in her state's interests.

Banerjee's Trinamool Congress is no longer a part of the ruling coalition after it quit in September last year on the issue of allowing foreign direct investment in retail.

The Teesta - which has its source in Sikkim - flows through the northern part of West Bengal in India before entering Bangladesh.

The draft water sharing deal of 2011 had envisaged an equal split (50:50) of the water between the two countries. However, Banerjee had reportedly opposed any deal that provided for less than a 75:25 split in India's favour.

India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers between them.

The non-signing of the Teesta accord had caused huge disappointment in Bangladesh, and many ministers and parliamentarians visiting India had voiced their hope that it would be inked soon.

Bangladesh is also pressing India to ratify the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 and the protocol related to it inked in 2011.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at ranjana.n@ians.in)

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