Script: PAULAMI SANYAL, Foreign Affairs Analyst
Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina virtually inaugurated the India-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge (Maitri Setu) on Tuesday, over the Feni River which flows between Tripura (India) and Bangladesh. It is a 1.9 km-long bridge joining Sabroom in Tripura with Ramgarh in Bangladesh. The project was worth Rs. 1.33 billion and built by India’s National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited. The name of the bridge “Maitri” symbolises the growing and friendly bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh. The construction of the bridge was proposed in 2010 by the then Chief Minister of Tripura, Manik Sarkar.
Maitri Setu would connect Tripura with Chattagram (Chittagong) seaport of Bangladesh which is just 80 km from Sabroom and 100 km from Agartala. By creating a shorter and easier route, the bridge enables Tripura to become the ‘gateway of the North-East’ Indian market. It also eases India’s transportation of products to and from North-East India. Moreover, with the building of this bridge, the North-Eastern region of India will have easier access to a seaport. Earlier, the nearest seaport for Agartala was Kolkata, West Bengal which is over 1600 kilometres away.
During the ceremony, Prime Minister Modi thanked the Bangladesh government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina via video conferencing for the cooperation extended in the completion of this project. He mentioned that due to this bridge, Agartala, the capital of Tripura will become the city nearest to an international seaport in India. He further noted that the opening of the bridge would benefit south Assam, Manipur, Tripura, and Mizoram to flourish in trade and tourism. Prime Minister Modi also said that increasing connectivity is not only strengthening the bilateral friendship but also becoming a strong business link so much so that the entire region is being developed as a trade corridor between Northeast India and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during the inaugural ceremony had said that Maitri Setu would help Bangladesh to increase its trade with India, Nepal, and Bhutan. She further said that the Setu will play an important role in the business, trade, and economic development between India and Bangladesh.
The opening of the Feni Bridge, according to her, is a testimony of the Bangladesh Government’s commitment to support India in strengthening its connectivity in the region, especially in the North-East of India. South Asia is a conservative region in opening up thereby making inter-regional trade far below its potential. Prime Minister Hasina hoped that political boundaries shouldn’t become physical trade barriers. She further pointed out that the Maitri Bridge is expected to significantly improve the socio-economic condition of the inhabitants of Tripura and the surrounding North-Eastern states of India. Sheikh Hasina then went on to mention that Bangladesh had already allowed India to use Chattagram and Mongla ports for the movement of goods and with the opening of the bridge over the Feni River, movement of goods will be even more facilitated between West Bengal and the land-locked countries of North-Eastern India. In the future, she hoped this bridge will be a trading lifeline for the North-East of India.
The growth of the cross-border transport system between Bangladesh and India is an important step in developing both parties’ role in regional trade and commerce. Further strengthening of bilateral cooperation in this regard can only ensure an increase in foreign investment and economic rewards in the future.