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In the recent past, Ramgarh and Feni River based number of mega projects have become a point of discussion considering its far reaching prospect and significances. There are warm hearted acceptances and at the same time criticisms on those two projects. A ‘Friendship Bridge’ (Maitree Setu) has been constructed over the Feni River at Ramgarh- Sabroom border which will facilitate easy communication between Bangladesh and the Northeastern states of India. This project is also going to connect the Tripura state of India with Bangladesh’s Chittagong port. The port is located only 75 km south-west of Sabroom. Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das visited the under-construction Bangladesh-India Moitree Bridge-1 and Ramgarh land port in Khagrachhari on 16 June 2019. While visiting the sites Riva Ganguli said, “Moitree Bridge and land port will increase scopes of business besides developing inter-communication.”
There are upcoming projects of constructing the railway lines in that area very soon. That means Sabroom is going to be an important economic and business hub of Northeast India. There are significant progress of four lane roads and railway line up to Sabroom. These roads and railway lines are further connected with all the Northeast states. An integrated check post has also been proposed along the Friendship Bridge. The bridge across the Feni River is being built between India and Bangladesh, where the river forms the border between the two countries is expected to be completed by March 2020.
The Bridge is being constructed by National Highways Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL) of Union Ministry of Road and Transport highways (MoRTH), at a cost of more than Rs.82 crores.
Besides the mega connectivity of Ramgarh-Sabroom, Bangladesh and India have signed an agreement to share the water of Feni River. This trans-boundary river is located at the southeastern part of Bangladesh. The Feni River originates in South Tripura district and flows through Sabroom town and then enters Bangladesh. Muhuri River, also called Little Feni, from Noakhali District joins it near its mouth. The river is navigable by small boats as far as Ramgarh, about 80 kilometres (50 mi) upstream.
In August 2019, a secretary level meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) India and Bangladesh was held in Dhaka. It was agreed to collect data and prepare water-sharing agreements for seven rivers Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla, Dudhkumar, and Feni. India and Bangladesh share as many as 54 rivers and there’s only one agreement between these two countries to share the water of the Ganga River that was signed in December 1996. There was no agreement on water-sharing between the two countries on Feni River earlier.
On 06 November 2019, the Union Cabinet of India has approved the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Bangladesh on the withdrawal of 1.82 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Feni River by India as a drinking water supply scheme for Sabroom town in Tripura. The approval was an ex-post facto, or having reviewing effect on the MoU which was signed on 05 October 2019 between the two countries during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India.
This MoU deal is definitely going to benefit Tripura enormously. However, there are advantages at the Bangladesh side also. The present supply of drinking water to Sabroom town is inadequate. The groundwater in this region has high iron content. Implementation of this scheme would directly benefit over 7000 population of Sabroom town.
The bridge across the Feni would connect Tripura with Chittagong port in Bangladesh, which is only 70 km away from the Indo-Bangla border. It would play an important role in the proposed economic corridor through India, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar. At the same time, India is planning to build a special economic zone (SEZ) in Sabroom that would operate as an export hub. The SEZ will host rubber-based industries like tyres, textile and apparel industries, bamboo industries, and farm-based processing industries. It is well known that concentrated industrial clusters like an SEZ can have a significant ecological impact, particularly on the patterns of the use of water. Though the present water deal is related to drinking water only, if the water of Feni River is used in various factories, it might create a negative ecological impact in that area. Moreover, Feni River is not that large that it can accommodate so many industrial projects.
At present, the road development works are not only being progressed in the Northeast India side, the road improvement is also going on with all fastest means in the Bangladesh side also. Hathazari- Fatikchari- Jaliapara road is being widened and the other infrastructures are being constructed as well.
Maitree Setu (Feni Bridge) is being developed as a corridor for trade and commerce between India’s North-East and Bangladesh. This bridge will also provide direct road connectivity between South Tripura and Chittagong which will allow India to use Chittagong port to promote trade. Besides those there will be a rise on tourism sector and people-to-people ties. The upcoming connectivity will facilitate carrying of heavy machines and goods to and from northeastern states (and rest) of India through Bangladesh via Chittagong. It will also serve as a link between India and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, thus will ease export-import procedure of businessmen and reduce unemployment. The land port users will be able to save time and money by using Chittagong International Seaport and airport facilities also.
The Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM) is a sub-regional organization of Asian nations aimed at greater integration of trade and investment between the four countries. At the same time, Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM EC) is an initiative conceptualized for significant gains through sub-regional economic cooperation within the BCIM. The Sabroom- Ramgarh corridor will be the first expressway between India and China and will pass through Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Possible Effect on CHT Affairs Besides all enormous advantages of upcoming Sabroom- Ramgarh connectivity, there are some challenges considering the CHT security situations.
- The ongoing road development work at Hathazari – Jaliapara road passes through Fatikchari, Manikchari and finally ends at Ramgarh. There are domination of Proshit Bikash Khisha led UPDF (M) in those areas. If the armed movements of UPDF (M) are not well addressed, the ongoing road construction works and afterwards various business potentialities are likely to get upset by UPDF (M).
- Some of the miscreants might take advantage of the easy passage and take hide in different places of Northeast India to avoid arrests of the security forces.
- Normally, various unsocial and undisciplined activities like drug and sex trafficking comes up in line with this type of various development projects. As there is already domination of the tribal armed miscreants, this advantageous situation might generate trans-border organized crimes in the surrounding areas.
- ‘Shilong Teer’ online betting game which was originated in Northeast India has already created negative impact among the young generations of the bordering areas like Ramgarh, Jaminipara, Guimara, Matiranga etc. The upcoming connectivity will create more opportunity to expand these types of illegal businesses like ‘Shilong Teer’.
- The members of different secessionist groups of Northeast India will get opportunity to assist the existing tribal armed miscreant groups of CHT.
There are challenges in every new project. The upcoming Sabroom-Ramgarh connectivity will definitely create benefits and advantages for both the countries. The above mentioned challenges need to be addressed with a proactive note to achieve full benefits of these mega projects.
Researcher, Regional Politics and CHT