15 years of Hasina: An exemplary story of regional cooperation and growth
Dhaka, December 7: On November 2nd, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi jointly inaugurated a little over 12 km rail link between Akhaura in Bangladesh and Agartala in the Indian state of Tripura. The small link ensured rail movement between Northeast India and Bangladesh. More importantly, with time, it will create the opportunity for rail movement from Agartala to Kolkata via Bangladesh, thereby cutting down the distance from nearly 2000 km (through Indian territories) to a little over 600 km.
Two weeks later, Sheikh Hasina inaugurated a part of a goods-cum-passenger terminal at Ramgarh, bordering Tripura’s Sabroom. India is building a state-of-the-art integrated check-post, connected by both rail and road at Sabroom. The Indian facility will be ready for inauguration in the next six months.
From Sabroom, the seaport of Chittagong in Bangladesh is less than 90 km. Bangladesh has already granted approval to India for in-country transport of goods with landlocked-Northeast using Chittagong port. An initiative is on, to connect Ramgarh with the Chittagong port by rail.
These are just two examples of how the Hasina government is promoting regional cooperation, for improved connectivity and mutual growth. A well-connected Northeast India means more consumption and more trade of both goods and services.
India is creating a sprawling road and rail infrastructure in the Northeast. Dhaka, by ensuring Bangladesh-Northeast India connectivity, is creating wider access to a market of 45 million people. Therefore, Bangladesh is benefitting from Hasina’s visionary leadership.
According to ITC Trade Map, from barely $330 million in 2008, Bangladesh’s exports to India have crossed $1 billion in 2019 and $2 billion in 2022. Bilateral trade has improved from $2.5 billion to nearly $16 billion.
The ground-level impact of these numbers is huge: Bangladesh’s famed readymade garments industry exported in record quantities during the Covid years, riding on an assured supply of raw materials – namely raw cotton, cotton yarn and fabric – from India. It was impossible to secure those materials at just a price from any other destination due to a supply chain bottleneck.
Packaged food products of the Dhaka-based Pran-RFL Group are now widely available in provision stores in the Northeast and eastern India. The pipeline supply of diesel from India, helps Bangladesh cut foreign exchange requirements. The sea freight from the Middle East takes a minimum of 30 days to reach the consumption point in Bangladesh as against instant supply via pipeline.
Every year India receives over 1 million foreign tourists. Roughly one-fifth of them are from Bangladesh. A substantial portion of them avail India’s high-quality specialty healthcare, often at costs lower than in Dhaka.
Bangladeshis have started taking full advantage of India’s superior education system. Bangladeshi students are everywhere, from convents in the Darjeeling Hills to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Once back in Bangladesh, they will add to the stalk of high-quality manpower, required for business and commerce.
The flow is not one-sided. Indian tourists have been the top visitors in Bangladesh for the last five years or so. On an average day, Bangladeshi mission in India issues roughly 1000 visas to Indians. The number jumps by 30-40 percent during the festive season.
Considering, Indian leisure tourists are highly sought after worldwide for their purchasing power, improved connectivity can help Dhaka tap a goldmine next door. Bangladesh is working in that direction. Improved infrastructure is primary to tourism, and Bangladesh is adding them in great numbers.
Gone are the days of two-lane highways and dilapidated railway infrastructure. From under river tunnels to modern expressways and revamped railways – the entire logistics sector of Bangladesh has changed during the 15-year rule of Hasina. The biggest of these changes is visible in the Padma Bridge that united a country which was previously divided by a mighty river.
Road movement has already started on the Padma Bridge, bringing great relief to passengers. Very soon, train movement will start, thereby changing the logistics landscape in Bangladesh forever. Export cargo from Dhaka can reach Delhi by container trains in 24 hours as against a minimum of 15 days now.
This is obviously not the end of the vision. The government has recently announced a grand plan to build a dozen expressways over the next one-and-a-half decade. The whole environment is forward-looking and aspiring. Referred to as a ‘basket case' in the 1970s, the country has already surpassed its previous ruler, Pakistan, in terms of both GDP and per-capita GDP. It is all set to remove the tag of a less developed economy in Hasina’s next term, assuming she returns to power in January 2024.
The dramatic change that Bangladesh has undergone over the last 15 years, is unbelievable. No country in South Asia, India included, has reported so much growth and prosperity in such a short time.