New Delhi, Aug 20 (PTI) Cooperation in combating COVID-19, security issues like fencing and efforts to prevent trans-border crimes, as well as a proposal to set up a high-level mechanism to regularly review the progress of developmental projects were discussed during the foreign secretary's visit to Bangladesh this week, the External Affairs Ministry said on Thursday.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Bangladesh from August 18 to 19 and held talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart Masud Bin Momen on Wednesday, a day after meeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
At an online media briefing, MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the visit was useful in discussing specific initiatives in several key areas of mutual interest.
Asked whether contentious issues like the Teesta river water sharing, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens were discussed during the talks Shringla held with the Bangladesh PM, Srivastava replied in the negative. On the issue of the Tabligh members of Bangladesh stuck in India, he said Momen acknowledged that most of the Tablighis from Bangladesh have returned home.
'We will continue to work with the relevant authorities to ensure that others who remain return as well,' he said.
On the issue of Tablighi Jamaat members of other countries stuck in India for violating visa rules of pandemic restrictions, Srivastava said they had put in a request for plea bargaining and that request was accepted by courts.
'They have been fined and have been asked to leave the country. As per the information that I have, there are 1,030 Tablighi foreigners who have been discharged as on date and their respective foreign embassies have been informed. Of these 1,030, 550 have already left the country,' he said.
On Shringla's Bangladesh visit, Srivastava said both sides discussed the COVID-19 situation and agreed to continue their discussions in the area of vaccines and therapeutics.
'India has provided COVID-related assistance to Bangladesh and has also been organising capacity building courses for Bangladesh medical personnel following the video conference of the leaders of SAARC countries and the creation of the SAARC Emergency Response Fund for COVID-19,' Srivastava said.
Bangladesh has committed USD 1.5 million to the fund and Shringla informed PM Hasina about India's efforts towards COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution, he said.
India’s developmental assistance in Bangladesh as also projects in the area of connectivity and power were discussed, Srivastava said.
'Several of these projects, including the Rampal Maitree Power Plant, India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline, and rail links between Akhaura-Agartala and Chilahati-Haldibari and Khulna-Mongla rail line are expected to get completed next year,' he said.
It was proposed that the next meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission at the level of the foreign ministers should be convened shortly to review the entire gamut of bilateral relationship including the projects, he said.
It was also proposed that a high-level monitoring mechanism be set up to regularly review the progress of ongoing projects, Srivastava said.
During the foreign secretary's visit, there were discussions relating to the cooperation in areas of security, including fencing and joint efforts to prevent trans-border crimes, he said.
The issue of safe repatriation of internally displaced persons from the Rakhine state also came up for discussion, Srivastava said.
He said India’s proposal to launch a travel air bubble between the two countries opening limited flights for official, business and medical travelers was appreciated by the Bangladeshi side.
Discussions also centered on the importance of the 100th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 2020 and the 50 years of the liberation of Bangladesh and the establishment of diplomatic ties between India and Bangladesh in 2021, he said.
'India plans to issue a commemorative stamp on Bangabandhu during Mujib Barsho. The two countries also propose to hold joint events on the occasion,' Srivastava said.
In the last few years, India and Bangladesh have amicably resolved complex issues including the land and maritime borders, he noted.
The two sides have taken several initiatives to boost connectivity and trade, including commencement of movement of Indian cargo from Agartala to Kolkata via Chattogram, expansion of the scope of the protocol that governs trade and transit on inland waterways, India’s gifting of 10 locomotives to Bangladesh, and introduction of parcel and container train services between the two countries, he said.
'This visit of foreign secretary was useful in discussing specific initiatives in several key areas of mutual interest. It also reflects the priority that India accords to Bangladesh as part of its Neighbourhood First policy,' Srivastava asserted.
The leadership of the two countries remain in regular touch, which has helped sustain the momentum in 'excellent bilateral ties', he said.
To a separate question on the India-Nepal boundary issue, Srivastava asserted that he has made India's stance clear several times and had nothing more to add.
In June, Nepal's Parliament approved the new political map of the country featuring areas which India maintains belong to it.
In its reaction, after Nepal's lower house of Parliament approved the bill, India termed as untenable the 'artificial enlargement' of territorial claims by the neighbouring country. On the India-Nepal oversight mechanism meeting held earlier this week, Srivastava said this meeting is part of 'our regular consultations' and as part of mandate of this mechanism there was a comprehensive review of all India-aided developmental projects in Nepal. PTI ASK ANB ANB