Sub Regional Economic Cooperation – North East India and Bangladesh

By- Swadesh Roy | Date- February 22, 2012

It was for the first time in history that four Chief Ministers of North East India were delegate members of the Indian Prime Minister, in his Bangladesh visit in 2011. Anyone can easily understand that, it was a message of Indian Prime Minister of his visit. The meaning of the message was clear that, India wants a special relationship with Bangladesh and North East India.

A special relationship with north east India and Bangladesh is very much needed for India in the context of Indian perspective. Last month, the Chief Minister of Assam said to me at his office that their visit was obviously a message from their part. He also told that, India wants a special relationship with Bangladesh and north east India, and that his government is doing in good turn of it.

When I was talking to hief Minister of Assam about the special relation of North East India and Bangladesh, he said that Assam government wants to restore all kinds of connectivity with Bangladesh, such as rail, road and water connectivity which were existing before 1947. Besides that, they want to use our Chittagong and Mongla port. Without the transit through Bangladesh and the port facility of Bangladesh, land locked north east cannot utilize their resource and potentiality.

As an example, electricity minister of Tripura government Mr. Manik Dey told me last month that, it was impossible to bring turbine in their Palatona electricity plant. Indian oil and natural gas Company (OGNC) set up this Platona power plant in Tripura in 2005 but they could not set up the turbine of the plant. They had no way to bring the two big turbines for this plant form Haldia port of West Bengal. They tried in many ways but they failed to bring it in Tripura. In 2011, the government of Bangladesh gave them Asuganj port facilities and road facilities from Asuganj to Tripura, and then they could bring the two big turbines in their plant. Now, this plant is going to produce electricity. This plant will produce 726 mw electricity from September 2012.

At the time of Prime Minister Sheik Hasina’s visit in Tripura, Chief Minister of Tripura declared in a public meeting, that they have no objection to sell 100 MW electricity to Bangladesh. Manik Dey, electricity minister of Tripura told me that now the government of Bangladesh and the central government of India have to reach an agreement about the selling and purchasing of electricity. Their state government is ready to sell this one hundred mw electricity to Bangladesh. One of the editors and a minister of Tripura told me that; chief minister of Tripura has played a card of diplomacy with central government. He declared in a public meeting that, they agreed to sell 100 MW electricity to Bangladesh. After this declaration, it will be tough for the central to disagree about selling agreement of electricity with Bangladesh.

Besides that, I talked with their Electricity Minister Mr. Manik Dey about the joint venture in electricity in Tripura. He told that, Indian oil and Natural Gas Company(ONGC ) is going to explore more gas in Tripura. They have huge gas. He thinks that, ONGC will not sell the gas, because selling gas is not much profitable. So they will convert the gas in electricity. In that case, just like other foreign country Bangladesh can invest here in electricity sector. Tripura government will prefer Bangladesh always.

Their industry minister Mr. Jitendra Choudhury also said that, not only in gas sector Bangladeshi business men can do business in any sector in their state. He also gave the information that, last year total trade between Bangladesh and Tripura was three hundred cores. But its 98.5 percent was in favor of Bangladesh. Tripura exports to Bangladesh only one and a half percent.

On the other hand, when I was talking to the chief minister of Assam, he also told me, Bangladesh and the businessmen of Bangladesh can do business any sector in the Assam. I asked him, Assam has failed to maintain jute mill in large scale; is it possible to start jute business in a large scale in joint venture with Bangladesh and Assam? He answered, – if any one comes forward we will welcome him.

We can clearly see that North East Indian provinces like Assam, Tripura are ready to do business with Bangladesh jointly. That means they are finding a way how they will work together in economic sector with Bangladesh. But in reality a major portion of this work is depending on the transit facilities through Bangladesh. Our finance minister has said that, we are transit country so we have to give transit. It is true, but we also have to consider the fact that we are transit country and so transit facilities are our main resource. We have to earn more from transit facilities.

Transit is not a new idea. It has existed all over the world. Now it is increasing or extending because of globalization of economy. Therefore, earning from giving transit is nothing new, it has many examples. That is why; it cannot take more time to fix up the rate of transit fees. If two countries become rational they can easily fix up according to international standard.

We know that, our present government is in favor of transit. Main opposition tells many things in public but, in the meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, leader of the opposition Khaleda Zia has said that transit is reality. So, two main political parties are in favor of transit. In spite of that, it is a mystery why two countries are still waiting for this. Two countries have to understand that time is going fast. The economical train is running fast. If Bangladesh and the North East India want to catch this train they have to run fast.

Bangladesh has to realize that in 2020, electricity consumption of this country will be at least 30,000 MW. Our gas, coal and solar is not sufficient for this. North East India has 60,000 MW hydroelectricity potentialities. Giving transit facilities, Bangladesh has to take share of it. If Bangladesh can get more than 10,000 to 15000 MW from the 60,000 MW, the economy of Bangladesh will be changed as we except in 2020. On the other hand after getting the transit facilities North East Indian economy will be changed. If Bangladesh and North East India is able to change their economy jointly, this area will be a new economical zone and then big economy China will be their close neighbor. Besides, World Bank is investing money in hydroelectric projects in north east. So it is time to look forward. It is time to make an economical sub regional cooperation with North East India and Bangladesh.

Swadesh Roy is the Executive editor of Daily Janakantha, Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at

BangladeshChittagongeconomy of BangladeshIndiaIndian oil and Natural Gas CompanyManik DeyNorth East IndiaONGCTripuraWorld bank