India, Bangladesh agree to initiate 5 joint development projects for border population

New Delhi: The border guarding forces of India and Bangladesh have taken a “momentous” decision to initiate joint civil works on five development projects along the 4,096 kms of shared boundary which will help the local population on both sides, a senior officer said Wednesday.

At the end of their four-day biannual border talks conference that began on July¬†11 in Delhi, the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) also said they are working independently and jointly to “reduce” the instances of killing of Bangladeshi nationals in the boundary area.

The issue of these killings, which the BSF has linked to miscreants and smugglers either attacking its personnel or indulge in other cross-border crimes, has been a major irritant between the two neighbours.

The 53rd edition of the conference was led by the chiefs or directors general (DsG) of the BSF and the BGB and ended with the signing of a ‘joint record of discussions’ at a BSF camp located in Chhawla area of the national capital.

“During this conference, in a momentous decision, that will have a profound positive impact on the lives of the population along the India-Bangladesh border, a total of five developmental projects were agreed upon, enhancing the joint efforts towards progress and prosperity in the region.”

“This decision is a significant step towards improving the overall quality of life and will serve to foster stronger bilateral trade and relations between the two countries,” the BSF said in a statement.

These five development projects are related to the construction of a bailey bridge, road repair and the strengthening of the retaining walls along the border that runs on India’s eastern flank in five states of Assam, West Bengal, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura.

The two chiefs told a joint press conference they were taking a number of steps to ensure that incidents of killings on the border at the hands of the security forces are reduced.

Acting BSF DG Sujoy Lal Thaosen said his troops had to fire on miscreants “only as a last resort”. BGB DG Maj Gen AKM Nazmul Hasan said the issue was a “matter of great concern” for them and if the two sides worked together the killings will be reduced.

“The BSF does not discriminate among criminals…when such an incident happens it is done as a last resort when the life of a BSF personnel who is on duty, is threatened,” Thaosen said.

“BSF believes in the use of non-lethal weapons and this has been our policy, this has been made mandatory and it is followed rigorously. However, when we find that force was used by BSF personnel which was more than necessary then legal action is taken against them,” he said.

Thaosen said his force has decided to bring these numbers to the “minimum” and all efforts are being made to sensitise and train the officers on the ground, he said.

Maj Gen Hasan said, “We have discussed various measures to reduce these killing incidents and sometimes it was seen that there was misunderstanding or miscommunication between lower-level or ground-level troops and we (BGB and BSF) are working together on this issue,” the BGB DG said.

The visiting Bangladeshi commander said illegal migration from both sides has been an issue as the two countries share common culture and heritage and locals have friends and relatives residing on either side of the border.

“We are working together to seal the border, undertake joint patrolling so that incidents of illegal trespass do not take place,” the BGB DG said.

The BSF statement added to reduce the number of violent incidents along the border, both sides agreed to work jointly and engage professionally, enhance joint patrolling and vigilance especially during late hours of the night to early morning.

They also agreed to intensify public awareness programmes, sharing of real-time information and making all out efforts to bring criminals to justice. the statement said.

The two sides also agreed to pursue and share real-time information and interrogation reports of traffickers and assured to remain extra vigilant to curb trans-border crimes like smuggling of drugs, contraband items, gold and fake Indian currency notes in order to make the India-Bangladesh border crime-free, the statement said.

These talks were held annually between 1975 and 1992 but they were made bi-annual in 1993 with the either side alternatively travelling to the national capitals of New Delhi and Dhaka.

A BSF delegation is expected to travel to Dhaka for the next round of these talks later this year.