New Delhi, Jan. 13: India, Myanmar and Bangladesh today signed a historic pact paving the way for a transnational natural gas pipeline from Myanmar to Bengal and Bihar through Bangladeshi territory.
'I think it is a triumph and major breakthrough because, for the first time in 30 years, Bangladesh has agreed to its territory being used for transport of any commodity, let alone something as valuable as natural gas,' petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said over the phone from Yangon.
Aiyar said gas in commercial quantities would start flowing from the giant Arakan (A-1) offshore block 'in a matter of months rather than years and then it is a question of how much time the laying of the pipeline would take for the gas to flow into Bengal'.
The tripartite agreement was signed by Myanmar energy minister Brigadier General Lun Thi, Bangladesh energy minister A.K.M. Musharraf Hossain and Aiyar.
The agreement says: 'The government of Myanmar agrees to export natural gas to India by pipeline, through the territory of Bangladesh, to be operated by an international consortium as may be agreed upon by the parties concerned, based upon technical and commercial feasibility.'
The gas will flow from the A-1 field in which ONGC-Videsh and Gail own a 30 per cent stake. The Indian companies have also been given a 30 per cent stake in the adjoining A-3 exploration block, which, too, is expected to yield large quantities of gas.
Dhaka is extracting concessions from India for allowing the gas pipeline to run through its territory. Bangladesh expects to get the right to access hydroelectricity from Nepal and Bhutan through Indian territory and a trade corridor to supply commodities to them.
Bangladesh will earn about $125 million as an annual transit fee for allowing the pipeline on its territory.
Under the agreement, India and Bangladesh reserve the right to access the pipeline when they want to. They can also inject and siphon off their own natural gas. The nuts and bolts of this arrangement will be put in place on the basis of commercial agreements.
Aiyar said India could explore the possibility of pumping its untapped natural gas in Tripura into the pipeline for consumption in Bengal and Bihar.
'The route of the pipeline may be determined by mutual agreement of the three governments with a view to ensuring adequate access, maximum security and optimal economic utilisation.'
A joint techno-commercial working committee will be set up to advise the three governments on 'pipeline routing, access-related issues as well as technical and commercial matters'.
The first meeting of the committee will be held in Yangon in a month to prepare a draft memorandum of understanding. Aiyar told reporters that he expected the signing to take place by early April.
Indian companies spearheaded by Gail could end up investing around $1 billion in the project.
An upbeat Aiyar said there were huge quantities of natural gas in Myanmar and the pipeline would open up the opportunity for importing this gas to meet the needs of energy-starved eastern states.