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Bangla keen to improve connectivity with Meghalaya

Bangladesh high commissioner to India Tariq A. Karim (left) and Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma (centre) at the news conference on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos

Shillong, Jan. 29: Bangladesh today spelt out its eagerness to improve connectivity with India via the land-locked northeastern region and announced a slew of new initiatives, including the operation of flights between Dhaka and Guwahati from July this year.

The Bangladesh high commissioner to India, Tariq A. Karim, who met Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma here, discussed a range of issues to strengthen mutual relationship between Bangladesh and India, particularly with neighbouring Meghalaya.

Karim told reporters that the Bangladesh government had approved a proposal by national air carrier — Bangladesh Biman — to operate flights twice a week from Dhaka to Guwahati. He said officers of Bangladesh Biman had met him last week and explained this development. “The flights from Dhaka to Guwahati will start operating from July 1 this year,” Karim said.

Initally, Karim said the Bangladesh Biman would operate their ATR aircrafts for the proposed route (Dhaka and Guwahati).

“Hopefully the route will be economically viable and the national air career would also introduce improved aircraft like Boeing-737 in future and has sought more aircraft,” the high commissioner said.

According to Karim, Jet Airways had also expressed interest to resume flying on the same route, though they had put off their scheduled flights between Dhaka and Guwahati in October 2012.

Besides the air link, the need to improve road and inland waterways connectivity was also discussed by Sangma and Karim.

Earlier, Sangma had said the Meghalaya government was keen to promote three rivers in the state — Ranikor, Simsang and Jingiram — into water routes to boost tourism as well trade and commerce with Bangladesh. The Meghalaya government had also sought support of the Inland Waterways Authority of India to revive the water routes.

Stating that India and Bangladesh are headed towards “a new and exciting beginning in bilateral relations”, Karim said both the countries were putting in efforts to rediscover and reconnect historical ties to bring the two countries closer.

There is a proposal to construct the National Highway 127B connecting India and Bangladesh from north Bengal to Chittagong port.

Karim said both the countries wanted to revive river connectivity since waterways are beneficial and environment-friendly, compared to rail and roadways.

Sangma said the meeting suggested that both the countries should take up the proposed bus service to connect Shillong with Sylhet and Dhaka and upgrade existing land custom stations.

The ministry of external affairs of both the governments will take up the matter in their meeting to be held in the next few weeks.

The Bangladesh high commissioner said the proposal of the Meghalaya government to establish another 22 border haats was being examined.

“I am taking a personal interest in this and my government is overseeing that such proposal is practically feasible in order to create the space and situation so that other states also follow,” Karim stated. He described the move as a “mission of rediscovering and reconnecting with each other.”

Two border haats in Meghalaya — Balat in East Khasi Hills district, Lauwaghar (Dalora) in Bangladesh’s Sunamganj district, Kalaichar in West Garo Hills district and Baliamari in Kurigram district of Bangladesh — are being operated on the Meghalaya-Bangladesh border.

The traditional system of marketing of local produce, once a thriving business for people residing along the border, was shut down after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Other states in the Northeast have also requested opening up of some more haats. Tripura alone had earlier proposed opening of seven haats along the border with Bangladesh but four such markets were agreed upon by the two countries in the first phase.

Martyrs’ mortal remains:The Bangladesh government wanted to trace the mortal remains of martyrs buried in India, who died during the War of Liberation War against Pakistan in 1971.

Karim said his government was working on a project related to transportation of the mortal remains of the fighters buried in India.

The project will work on the possibility of erecting monuments in memory of the heroes. The project can also become a tourist attraction and pilgrimage for friends and family members of the martyrs,” Karim said.

Such an initiative, he felt, would be an everlasting tribute to the bonds that “tie us together which borders cannot separate.”