New Delhi: India and Bangladesh have stepped up their rail cooperation in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as trade via land border faced disruptions. Rail as a cost effective and environmental friendly solution, has helped in transporting essential commodities across the border. Both sides saw the highest ever exchange of freight trains in the month of June. A total of 103 freight trains were utilized for carrying essential commodities and raw materials.

Parcel train and container train services have also been introduced between India and Bangladesh via Benapole. Both these services have already started in the month of July. This is expected to significantly enhance the scope of bilateral trade. These have enabled India to move a wide range of products from both sides. Railways have ensured that the two countries can continue the bilateral trade without any disruption and health risk. Both Railways are ensuring a better future for the people.

India and Bangladesh have come a long way in the last few years. Bilateral relationship today is at its very best. India’s neighbourhood policy follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas.’’ The leadership of both the countries is committed to reviving the pre-1965 railway connection between the two countries. Out of the 7 rail links that existed then, 4 are functional now. To further strengthen rail connectivity in the region, one new rail link, between Agartala in India and Akhaura in Bangladesh is being constructed. During COVID-19, both Railways have shown exemplary foresight in managing the crisis and maintained the supply chain by stepping up transportation of essential commodities.

It may be recalled that India has recently handed over 10 Broad Gauge Locomotives to Bangladesh to help handle the increasing volume of passenger and freight train operations in neighbourhood. India has categorically said that it is committed to provide unstinted and unlimited support in the development of Bangladesh rail network. The handing over of these locomotives fulfils an important commitment made during the visit of Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina to India, in October, 2019.

‘‘Our relations with Bangladesh are time-tested and historic based on mutual trust and respect. This year is the celebration of Mujib Borsho and both countries are taking a lot of steps to strengthen this partnership in this year. We have also stood with Bangladesh as our ties have been forged by history, by our common sacrifices. We have been huge strides forward in our respective efforts at achieving development and growth,’’ said Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson, ministry of external affairs. He also underscored the significance of railway cooperation in enhancing bilateral trade and connectivity and in further boosting the economic partnership between the two countries.

The successful completion of the trial run of the container cargo from Kolkata to Agartala through Chattogram, is indeed a landmark development as it not only reinvigorates our traditional waterway connections but also brings mutual economic benefits. India has marked another historic achievement towards strengthening India Bangladesh maritime and economic partnership.

With this, the distance and time taken in transportation of goods for India particularly the north eastern states will get reduced. It will enhance business services and revenue generation in Bangladesh. Logistical sector will also get a big boost. This movement was undertaken under the Agreement on use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports for movement of India’s transit cargo through Bangladesh. This development is in line with the vision that the two countries have towards further strengthening bilateral connectivity and a mutually beneficial partnership aimed at benefitting people on both sides.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar has said that ministry of external affairs and ministry of railways have been very effective partners in implementing the Neighbourhood First Policy and this has been most evident in the case of Bangladesh. Our two countries continue to script a relationship of ‘Shonali Adhyaya’, guided by the progressive vision of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina.

Very few countries in the world share such close fraternal ties as those of India and Bangladesh. This partnership today stands out as a role model in the region for good neighbourly relations. The cost-effective, time-efficient and environment-friendly modes of connectivity, be they rail, inland waterways or coastal, will strengthen supply chains and open up new opportunities for business. With exports from Bangladesh to India having crossed the US$ 1 billion mark in 2019 – which is a remarkable growth of 43% from the previous year, India has invited the business community of Bangladesh to further enhance their engagement with it.

India remains a committed development partner of Bangladesh. India’s uniquely concessional lines of credit of close to US$ 10 billion is the largest, it has extended to any country. These projects will help in the infrastructure development of Bangladesh, a pre-requisite for its economy to leapfrog to the next level. With Bangladesh commemorating 50 years of its liberation this year and the establishment of Indo-Bangla diplomatic ties next year, we must hope that this partnership and time-tested bonds of friendship remain truly exemplary and even stronger.