Bangladesh can be a tiger economy, says ex-diplomat

With the spanking new 6.15 km long bridge over the mighty Padma river built with its own resources, Bangladesh has come of age and, with broad-basing of its manufacturing sector, it can well be the tiger economy to watch in Asia, Ambassador Sarvajit Chakravarti (Retd.) said.

Chakravarti, who served twice in Bangladesh and retired as a secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, suggested that India should try to make Rupee a legal tender in the country as it is in other such neighbouring nations – Nepal and Bhutan so that the entire region can be treated, to an extent, as an integrated economic entity.

The dispute over the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement can be possibly be bypassed by linking the river with Jamuna (lower stream of the Brahmaputra) in Bangladesh by a canal so that Teesta gets more water, the former career diplomat said while interacting exclusively with PTI journalists here.

“From when (US Secretary of State Henry) Kissinger called it a basket case’ in 1971 to a country that has exceeded India in per capita income (last year), Bangladesh has come a long way. It is justified that the Padma bridge takes pride of place. The international agencies that had refused to fund it are now congratulating Bangladesh on its completion, he said.

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Linking the southwest of the country to the northern and eastern regions, the road-rail bridge built at a cost of USD 3.6 billion was inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on June 25.

The bridge will reduce our travel time to Dhaka considerably and will boost tourism traffic and improve delivery services from both sides . It shows the positive effect increasing exports can have on a country’s economy (by generating development resources), Chakravarti said.

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Bangladesh has given itself a roadmap – Vision for 2041 aimed at ending absolute poverty and graduating into higher middle-income status by 2031, and becoming a developed nation by 2041, he said adding that the country is making progress in several social and economic sectors.

From agriculture to pharmaceuticals and from shipbuilding to garments, the country’s industrial base is diversifying and its exports increasing. They have made excellent progress in education, healthcare and basic social services, said the retired diplomat, who is a member of the Kolkata-based think-tank CENERS-K.

I see Bangladesh as a future tiger economy, Chakravarti added.

However, it is dependent on India for some food items such as wheat and lentils, he said and pointed out that shortages in India often result in stalling of these exports to the detriment of people in both countries.

If Rupee is made a legal tender in Bangladesh as it is in Bhutan and Nepal, we have a Rupee trade area. We can treat the entire region as an integrated economic entity in terms of supply of essential services like food, he said.

As the connectivity between the two neighbours is increasing via rail, road and river routes, container trucks from Bangladesh can be allowed to move to Mumbai, Ahmedabad and other ports in western India to make its shipments to Europe easier, he said.

Now, Bangladeshi ships go to Europe via Colombo. The use of western Indian ports will cut that distance considerably, he said.

On the Teesta water-sharing issue, Chakravarti said Bangladesh has been “very kind” in not making it the central part of its relationship dialogue with India.

Sharing of water from the Teesta river which flows through Sikkim, northern West Bengal and Bangladesh is a key point in the relationship between the two countries. An agreement on this was signed but Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee objected to it saying it would affect the state’s interest as there is not enough water to share on a guaranteed basis.

Teesta River, a photo from West Bengal, East | TrekEarth

Ambassador Chakravarti said the issue could be solved by linking Teesta and Jamuna via a canal.

Many rivers in Assam fall into the Brahmaputra and then the entire volume of water flows into Bangladesh and thence into the ocean, often causing floods during the Monsoon. So my suggestion is build a canal from there to the Teesta and re-circulate the water, he said.

In the process, the water volume is increased, and there is potential for irrigating the inter-riverine area and generating electricity, he said adding that the entire canal will be in Bangladesh.

To a question, he said Bangladesh has several advantages over India.

It is mono-lingual even as a multi-ethnic society. So, there are fewer social conflicts (compared to India). It also traditionally has a culture of mutual support and toleration. The Baul-Fakiri tradition grew up there, he said.

The Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina has been far stronger and more proactive in dealing with religious conflicts there, Chakravarti said.

Every time we hear of any atrocity on minorities, it is quickly followed by government action to prevent its spread and by civil society protests, he said.

Another problem of Bangladesh is it does not have enough dry land as more than 50 rivers flow through it apart from their smaller channels and distributaries. Climate change and rise of the sea level are also major issues, the former diplomat said.

Bangladesh has provided skill training and is exporting its manpower to the extent possible as they do not have enough land to live on, he said adding that West Bengal and many Indian states can take a cue from that.

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