India handed over 10 railway locomotives to Bangladesh today (Monday, 27th July 2020) reflecting a renewed focus on the “neighbourhood first” policy to bolster economic ties and connectivity within the region amid the border standoff with China.
Watch the Ceremony here:
The handover of the broad gauge diesel locomotives, part of grant assistance from the Indian side, is in line with a commitment by New Delhi during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit last October, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
The locomotives were handed over during a virtual event joined by external affairs minister S Jaishankar and railways minister Piyush Goyal and their Bangladeshi counterparts AK Abdul Momen and Mohammed Nurul Islam Sujon, as well as envoys of the two countries and senior officials.
The handover comes close on the heels of the first cross-border container train reaching Bangladesh on Sunday with 50 containers of FMCG goods and fabrics.
The people said India-Bangladesh railway cooperation is a vital element of efforts to promote trade and connectivity. Both sides are working to enhance rail connectivity by developing new projects and restoring old links. Currently, the four operational rail links between the two sides, all of which originate in West Bengal, are Petrapole-Benapole, Gede-Darshana, Singhabad-Rohanpur, and Radhikapur–Birol.
The first container train that reached Bangladesh on Sunday left the Container Corporation of India Ltd’s (CONCOR) terminal at Majerhat near Kolkata on Friday and crossed over using the Benapole-Petrapole link.
This container train will now be a regular service connecting CONCOR terminals in India to stations in Bangladesh such as Benapole, Jessore, Singia, Noapara and Bangabandhu Setu West, Indian officials said. The two sides signed an MoU for the service in April 2017 and a trial run was conducted in April 2018.
There are also two passenger trains – Bandhan Express from Kolkata to Khulna and Maitree Express from Kolkata to Dhaka – though services are temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
Seventeen railway projects with a commitment of $2.44 billion were included in assistance extended by India to Bangladesh. India has offered lines of credit for these projects at a rate of interest of 1% a year, with repayment over 20 years with a moratorium for five years.
Nine projects have been completed, including supply of wagons and equipment. The Kulaura-Shahbazpur line, being built at a cost of $78 million, is set to be completed by the end of this year, and the Khulna-Mongla line worth $389 million is set for completion by June 2021. A cross-border link of 12 km between Agartala and Akhaura is set to be completed by March 2021 and will enhance freight and passenger connectivity between the rest of India and the northeastern states.
Maya Mirchandani, senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation and professor of media studies at Ashoka University, said: “We’ve neglected the neighbourhood for some time. Bangladesh has been upset since CAA was passed, and the perception it has created about ethnic Bengali Muslims in particular.”
She added: “In the current context, with Chinese adventurism on India’s borders, it is imperative for Delhi to be less dismissive of neighbours falling into China’s ‘debt trap’ and be more pro-active about repairing ties that have been starved for attention.”