INDIA’S proposal to expand its Agartala airport in Tripura into the Bangladesh territory in Brahmanbaria, as New Age reported on Thursday, is improper and, therefore, something that Bangladesh should not agree. New Delhi seeks to upgrade the airport, set up in 1942 and renamed as Maharaja Bir Bikram Airport in August 2018 that is said to sprawl about a kilometre off the Bangladesh-India border at Akhaura, to international standards and to stick out the expansion into Bangladesh. Bangladesh officials reportedly having not made any decision as yet on the proposal of New Delhi — placed at several meetings with Dhaka in the past one year since July 2018 when India’s home minister visited Bangladesh — all Bangladesh officials who attended a meeting on the issue in October 2018 is reported to have received it positively. India has already obtained transit and transshipment facilities, sending overdimensional Indian cargoes for the Palatana power plant at Tripura via Ashuganj–Akhaura in ‘a goodwill gesture’ on part of Bangladesh in 2011, sending 10,000 tonnes of rice from Kolkata to Agartala without any transshipment fee on ‘humanitarian grounds’ in 2014, and, finally, having transshipment facilities formally set in motion in 2014 that began with the ferrying of 1,000 tonnes of iron and steel sheets.
But such a proposal of India is concerning, especially in view of the sovereignty and national security issues of Bangladesh. After India has obtained the transit and transshipment facilities formally in 2016, New Delhi, as it was reported in April 2017, sought to use dedicated spaces in Chattogram and Mongla ports for carrying goods from one part of India to another apparently in efforts to wrest out more under the transit deal. Dhaka did not agree with the proposition that time as the port operators expressed resentment about the Indian demand that could harm Bangladesh’s national interest. After transit and transshipment facilities which have ultimately brought no significant financial benefits for Bangladesh and a proposal to use dedicated port spaces, India has now come up with the proposal for the use of the land of another sovereign country, Bangladesh that is. Part of the Bangladesh land coming to be well connected could not be a reason for allowing India to extend the airport into Bangladesh. Some cross-border airports in Europe have come up as examples of such instances but what remains to be seen is that border protocol between Bangladesh and India is nowhere near the border management in Europe. A Bangladesh defence ministry official is also reported to have said that aircraft from Kolkata and Guwahati use the Bangladesh airspace during takeoff and landing at Agartala airport. It is rather time Bangladesh citizens knew whether Indian aircraft use the Bangladesh airspace under any agreement. Besides, the officials viewing India’s proposal positively need to realise what India’s reaction could be if Bangladesh proposed the expansion of any project into the Indian territory given that India does not provide the lower riparian Bangladesh with its due share of the water of international rivers.
The foreign secretary is reported to have said that a number of ministries related to the issue are having coordination among themselves on New Delhi’s proposal. Dhaka must immediately call off such exercise as the proposal is more than unjust and let Delhi know of its disagreement and let it expand and extend its airport in an inward direction, without having to meddle with the Bangladesh border.
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