Dhaka's pound of flesh

Published: Thursday 31 March 2005

-- (Credit: Emkay)In a drastic reversal of posture, Bangladesh has set conditions for signing a memorandum of understanding (mou) on the construction of the Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline. In the first meeting of the techno-economic working committee (tewc) on the gas pipeline, held in Yangon on February 24-25, 2005, Dhaka said it will sign the mou only if its bilateral issues with New Delhi are resolved. The three bilateral issues it raised at the meeting were the ones raised at the January 2005 ministerial level meeting too: provision of transit facility through India to import hydroelectricity from Nepal and Bhutan, transit facility for trade with these two nations and reduction of trade imbalance between India and Bangladesh. But its stance at the earlier meeting was quite restrained; it hadn't laid down these as conditions for cooperation on the issue (see Down To Earth, 'Tricky bargain', February 15, 2005, p 20).

Bangladesh also put forth some new conditions in connection with its right to draw the gas at designated intakes and out-takes within its territory without any carriage fee. "Signing of m o u will be contingent on effective resolution of the bilateral issues between India and Bangladesh pursuant to the discussions in Yangon on January 12 and 13," its delegation, comprising S R Osmani, chairperson of Bangladesh's oil company Petrobangla, and Gas Transmission Company Limited director (operation) Abdus Saleque reportedly told the tewc.

Media reports indicated India's positive stance towards Bangladesh's demands. The same was also evident in that the Yangon meeting was successful in drafting the mou. This, when a few days after the January ministerial-level meeting, Bangladesh's minister of state for energy and mineral resources A K M Mosharraf Hossain had said: "If India does not allow these [the demands], we shall not sign any tripartite agreement...Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar has asked us to submit a formal proposal on the conditions. We shall do that soon." After the tewc meet, Aiyar, India's Union minister for petroleum and natural gas, declared: "The three sides have agreed on the draft mou... and we will sign the tripartite agreement in Dhaka by the end of next month." The three nations have to ratify the mou before they sign it. Aiyar also said a team of officials of the three nations will be constituted to study the project's feasibility. It will also look into issues such as finance, operation, maintenance, volumes, quantity and price of gas and the pipeline's size.

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