THE delimitation of the land and maritime boundary with India has almost been settled with the implementation of the 1974 land boundary agreement having begun by the turn of July 2015 and completed by November 2015 and with the verdict of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea having demarcated the boundary of territorial waters in July 2014. Yet, more than a couple of issues of both maritime and land boundaries with India have remained unresolved till date. The dispute of the land boundary that has yet to be settled is the issue of the Muhurir Char, an islet on the River Muhuri, a two-kilometre land stretch that falls in the transborder river running along the international border. The dispute of the maritime boundary that has yet be settled is the issue of Bangladesh’s claim to ‘grey areas’ in the northern Bay of Bengal, born out of the maritime boundary delimitation with Myanmar in 2012 and with India in 2014, which involves intersecting and overlapping rights in terms of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. Besides, India earlier set a coordinate inside the Bangladesh territory. All the issues together, if unsettled, could cost Bangladesh its right to ‘grey areas’ spanning 720 square kilometres in the deep sea and its claim to the continental shelf.
The issues of the setting of coordinate and Bangladesh’s claim to, in all, 10,000 square kilometres in the deep sea both date back to 2009 much before the maritime boundary settlement. All the issues all together could cut off Bangladesh’s access to the continental shelf in the bay. After Bangladesh had published an official notification in 2015 on its territorial waters, India in 2017 took up its objections to it with the United Nations. Myanmar also lodged a submission with the United Nations in 2008 to establish its claim to the deep sea, which Bangladesh disputed. Cases related to the objections, recorded by Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, are all still pending with the United Nations. In what has so far followed, the Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina during her visit to India, for four days which began on October 3, rightly declined to entertain India’s request for the withdrawal of Bangladesh’s objection to the continental shelf claim as India appeared unwilling to resolve the ‘grey area’ dispute. The matter has, therefore, remained unresolved, with India seeking an expeditious Bangladesh withdrawal of its continental shelf claim filed with the United Nations, which could, in effect keep Bangladesh claim to ‘grey areas’ pending for an unspecified period. The withdrawal of Bangladesh’s objection to maritime matters with India would harm Bangladesh’s interest as it would also have negative consequence on disputes contained in the objection with Myanmar. Such an attitude of ‘friendly’ India, which has since April 2017 claimed its bilateral relations with Bangladesh ‘far beyond a strategic partnership’, appears to be quite unfriendly.
While it is time New Delhi understood that delays on its part to resolve issues pending with Dhaka could add to a growing public sentiment in Bangladesh against India, especially after it has so far benefited more out of its relations with Bangladesh, it is also time Dhaka stopped giving in to pressure for arrangements that could hurt the national interest of Bangladesh.
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