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Daily-current-affairs / 19 Nov 2023

Akhaura-Agartala Rail Link: Transforming Ties in India-Bangladesh Relations : Daily News Analysis


Date : 20/11/2023

Relevance: GS Paper 2 - International Relations

Keywords: Akhaura-Agartala rail link, Siliguri Corridor, SAARC, BIMSTEC


The recently inaugurated Akhaura-Agartala rail link stands as a testament to the deepening ties between India and Bangladesh. Beyond its role in strengthening connectivity, this railway promises to reshape trade dynamics and historical linkages between the two nations. The project faced numerous challenges, both geopolitical and financial, but has ultimately emerged as a significant milestone in bilateral cooperation

Historical Context:

Before the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, the Akhaura junction served as a vital route for travelers from India's Northeast to Kolkata and East Pakistan. The Liberation War disrupted this connection, leading to the reliance on the challenging Siliguri Corridor. India's request for the Akhaura-Agartala rail link dates back to 1974, gaining momentum during the Trade Review Talks in 1998 and formalized in a Joint Communique in 2010.

Overcoming Challenges:

Despite commencing in 2016, the project faced obstacles, with some in Bangladesh viewing it as a potential threat to sovereignty. Financial issues and the geopolitical condition of allowing transit to Nepal and Bhutan further complicated matters. The onset of COVID-19 added another layer of challenges, but both countries, recognizing the strategic importance, pushed for the project's completion.

Geopolitical Significance:

As contiguous neighbors, India and Bangladesh share a natural partnership in connectivity initiatives. The Akhaura-Agartala rail link is a crucial component of India's Act East Policy, connecting its Northeast with Southeast Asia. The geopolitical significance extends beyond trade, positioning the rail link as a foreign policy tool strengthening regional ties.

Connectivity Initiatives:

In recent years, India and Bangladesh have undertaken various projects, such as the Maitri Setu, to enhance connectivity. The Maitri Setu, connecting Sabroom in Tripura with the Chattogram Port, complements the Akhaura-Agartala rail link, offering multi-modal connectivity and facilitating trade between India's Northeast and Southeast Asia.

Milestone in Cooperation:

The Akhaura-Agartala rail link represents a major milestone in India-Bangladesh cooperation. Inaugurated alongside other collaborative ventures, including the Khulna-Mongla port rail line and Unit II of the Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant, the rail link enhances connectivity, trade, and people-to-people contact. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as she seeks a third term, relies on the rail link's developmental impact for electoral credibility.

Political Implications:

With elections approaching in both India and Bangladesh, the rail link holds political significance. For Prime Minister Hasina, it becomes a symbol of development, potentially influencing her bid for re-election. In India, especially with elections looming in 2024, the rail link aligns with the Modi government's promise of prosperity in the Northeast, strengthening regional relations and international standing.

A Glimpse of India-Bangladesh Relations

Areas of Cooperation

  • Historical Ties and Strategic Significance:
    India, recognizing Bangladesh as an independent state in 1971, established immediate diplomatic relations. The civilisational, cultural, and economic links, combined with Bangladesh's strategic location as India's eastern neighbor, underscore the profound ties between the two nations. Bangladesh serves as a crucial gateway for India, providing access to the Bay of Bengal and facilitating trade and connectivity with Southeast Asia.
  • Economic Collaboration:
    Bangladesh holds a pivotal position as India's largest trading partner in the subcontinent. Bilateral trade, reaching USD 8 billion in April-November 2022, reflects the depth of economic cooperation. Streamlining cargo movement through inland waterways and transshipment of containerized export cargo strengthens trade routes. Since 2011, India has granted duty-free quota-free access to Bangladesh on most tariff lines, fostering economic ties. The launch of a rupee-based trade transaction in July 2023 aims to reduce dependence on the US dollar, promoting regional currency and trade. Additionally, Bangladesh emerges as a significant tourist-generating market for India.
  • Defence Collaboration:
    With a shared border of 4096.7 km, India and Bangladesh maintain the longest land boundary among neighboring countries. States like Assam, West Bengal, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Tripura share these borders. Joint military exercises, including Army (Exercise Sampriti) and Navy (Exercise Bongosagar), enhance defense cooperation. The India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline, linking Siliguri and Parbatipur, reinforces energy ties by transporting one million Metric Tonnes Per Annum (MMTPA) of High-Speed Diesel to Bangladesh.
  • Energy and Connectivity Initiatives:
    The collaboration extends to cross-border infrastructure projects such as the Akhaura-Agartala rail link and Maitri Setu, fostering connectivity. The India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline exemplifies joint efforts to meet energy demands. Both nations actively engage in multilateral forums like SAARC, BIMSTEC, and IORA, furthering regional cooperation.

Challenges in the Bilateral Relationship:

  1. Transboundary River Waters:
    While India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers, only two treaties, the Ganga Waters Treaty and The Kushiyara River Treaty, have been signed. Ongoing negotiations, particularly concerning rivers like Teesta and Feni, remain a challenge.
  2. Illegal Migration:
    Illegal migration from Bangladesh to India, involving refugees and economic migrants, remains a persistent concern. This influx strains Indian border states, impacting resources and security. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) has raised apprehensions in Bangladesh.
  3. Drug Smuggling & Trafficking:
    Cross-border drug smuggling and trafficking, affecting humans, especially women and children, as well as various animal and bird species, pose serious challenges. Stringent measures are essential to curb these illicit activities.
  4. Chinese Influence:
    Bangladesh's active participation in China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) raises concerns about growing Chinese influence. India, not part of the BRI, faces potential challenges to its regional standing and strategic aspirations due to increased Chinese involvement in Bangladesh.


While India and Bangladesh share a robust history of cooperation in various sectors, challenges persist in transboundary river management, migration issues, and countering illicit activities. Navigating these challenges requires diplomatic finesse and a commitment to strengthening the bilateral relationship, ensuring that the mutual benefits of collaboration continue to outweigh the complexities.

The Akhaura-Agartala rail link stands as a testament to the evolving partnership between India and Bangladesh. Beyond its physical impact on connectivity and trade, the project reflects the intertwined political and economic interests of both nations. As the rail link ushers in a new era of cooperation, it not only addresses historical disruptions but also opens avenues for shared prosperity. In the larger context of regional geopolitics, this infrastructure project underscores the strategic importance of fostering connectivity to achieve mutual goals.

Probable Questions for UPSC mains Exam-

  1. Analyse the geopolitical significance of the Akhaura-Agartala rail link in the context of India's Act East Policy and its impact on regional connectivity. Discuss the challenges faced during the project's implementation and the strategic importance it holds for both India and Bangladesh. (10 marks, 150 words)
  2. Examine the multifaceted dimensions of India-Bangladesh relations, considering economic collaboration, defense cooperation, and challenges like transboundary river management and illegal migration. How does the Akhaura-Agartala rail link contribute to the broader narrative of bilateral ties, and what role can it play in addressing shared challenges? (15 marks, 250 words)

Source- The Hindu