New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday called West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and assured her that nothing will be done on the Teesta river water sharing issue with Bangladesh that will harm the interests of the state.
       
The interests of West Bengal will be kept in mind and consultations with her will continue on the issue, Singh told Banerjee, a close aide of the Trinamool chief said.
       
Banerjee has opted out of the Prime Minister's two-day visit to Bangladesh starting tomorrow upset over the final draft of the Teesta river water sharing pact which is believed to have earmarked more water for Bangladesh than stipulated in the earlier draft.

While Banerjee has pulled out, chief ministers from Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram-states bordering Bangladesh-will be part of the PM's delegation.

There are enough indications that the pact would not be inked during the upcoming visit. Top officials said anything agreed between India and Bangladesh would have to be acceptable to West Bengal and consultations in this regard would continue.

The deal on Teesta, which originates in Sikkim and flows to Northern part of West Bengal before entering Bangladesh, was a big-ticket item on the agenda of Prime Minister's visit but has now run into uncertainty following Banerjee's reservations on inking it.

60 acres of land in Assam to be handed over to Bangladesh
   
India will hand over to Bangladesh 60 acres of Adverse Possession Land (APL) in the state's Barak Valley after both the countries sign an agreement on exchange of enclaves during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka.

Official sources said apart from the 60 acres of land in Pallathal, currently under the adverse possession of Bangladesh, India is not going to hand over any land or enclave anywhere in Assam.
This comes in the wake of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad observing a bandh in Assam claiming that India will hand over to Bangladesh 600 acres of land in Dhubri district after the pact is signed.

"We are not going to hand over any land in Assam except 60 acres in Pallathal which is already under the possession of Bangladesh. The information of handing over land in Dhubri is wrong," a source said.

Bangladesh has sought a total 360 acre APL in Pallathal and 145 acres APL in Nayagaon. However, India agreed to only 60 acres in Pallathal.

Interestingly due to difference of opinion between India and Bangladesh, no settlement has been achieved along around 3 km long international boundary at Lalitilla/ Dumabari sector in Assam.

Sources said the Directorate of Land Records and Survey of Assam has been insisting on acceptance of cadastral map of Dumabari village of 1915-16 whereas Bangladesh's Director General of Land Record and Survey has been insisting for acceptance of the odolite traverse data of Dumabari village on the basis of demarcation.

"No decision has been taken on this area and therefore no question of exchange of any land there," the source said.

Under the proposed agreement, India and Bangladesh will exchange each other's adverse possession enclaves. India has 111 Bangladeshi enclaves in its territory while 50 Indian enclaves are located in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh can spike growth in Northeast:PM

With five Indian states sharing borders with Bangladesh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sees in that country a potential to become a ‘springboard for development of India's landlocked northeast, as he embarks on his maiden visit to Dhaka with agreements on border issues and transit on his mind.

Singh, who had recently ruffled feathers in the neighbouring country by alluding to widespread anti-India sentiments there, also intends to carry a message that there was "great affection" and "respect" in India for the people of Bangladesh.

In an interview to Bangladesh's national news agency on the eve of his visit, the Prime Minister also said that counter-terror cooperation was also crucial between the two countries to confront the challenge of terrorism head on.

"Bangladesh can become the springboard for the development of India's northeast region as economic integration has become the trend in all parts of the world," he said.

India has been keen on better transit links -- both land and sea -- across Bangladesh to its land-locked north-eastern states, and Singh's visit will see him discuss the issue in detail with his counterpart Sheikh Hasina.

He said India has already opened up rail and road routes for transit to link Nepal and Bhutan with Bangladesh, but his country would "move only at a pace with which Bangladesh is comfortable" in regard to the transit through its territories to the north eastern region.

Singh also said he was "extremely pleased" that the Chief Ministers of the states neighbouring Bangladesh -- Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Assam -- will be accompanying him.

The five states share an over 4,000 km border with Bangladesh, including nearly 3,000 km of land border. The two sides are expected to finalise a comprehensive border agreement to settle the protracted boundary issues.

However, in a last minute disappointment, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banejree dropped out of the visit, apparently unhappy over the draft agreement over sharing of Teesta river waters.

Asked how he would dispel the fears among some quarters in Bangladesh over the offering of the transit facilities to India, he said this was entirely a sovereign decision for Bangladesh to take and "we respect whatever decision Bangladesh takes".

"However, I see no reason for Bangladesh to be fearful of improving transport and infrastructure connectivity with India. There is a lot that can be done for the benefit of both countries in this regard, including through inland waterways," he said.

Singh said India and Bangladesh have got a historic opportunity to open a "new chapter" in ties and his visit to Dhaka demonstrates New Delhi's "readiness to do so".

"The Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has shown the political will and desire to not only resolve longstanding issues, but to broaden the horizons of our cooperation... both our countries have a historic opportunity before them to open a new chapter in the relationship," he said.

Asked how India and Bangladesh could fight the menace of terrorism more effectively, Singh said security remained a common concern for both our countries as "terrorists and criminals do not respect any national borders".

"It is therefore (of) paramount importance that we work together to confront this challenge head on... I am happy that India and Bangladesh recognise this imperative and have been cooperating well in the recent past," Singh said.

The Prime Minister said India would leave no stone unturned to promote balanced, sustainable and inclusive development of the South Asian region.

"The joint communique issued jointly by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and me at the end of her State Visit to India in January 2010 was comprehensive and forward-looking. The focus on both sides has been to work together to expeditiously implement various initiatives outlined in the Joint Communique," Singh said.

Singh said he was satisfied with the implementation of those initiatives, "but there is always scope to do much better".

"I am encouraged by the fact that we have put in place a broad-based agenda of action covering every sector, whether it is political exchanges, trade and economic cooperation, power exchange, water resources, border management, education, cultural contacts, people-to-people exchanges, better border and transport infrastructure or connectivity," he said.

He said some of the initiatives would "have immediate impact, while others, by their nature, will take more time to make a difference (but) what is clear is that we have a blueprint and a roadmap and we are well on the way to its implementation".

Replying to a question on the ups and downs in India's ties with Bangladesh since 1971, Singh said India has always valued its relations with the neighbouring country based on sovereign equality and mutual respect.

"Besides several common features, our relationship is anchored in shared history and similar developmental aspirations. Our destines are interlinked. Hence it is natural for both sides to follow the path of close cooperation and partnership," he said.

Asked what message he would carry to Dhaka during his visit, Singh said: "the message that I have for the people of Bangladesh is that there is great affection, respect and regard for the people of Bangladesh in our country".

"And that it will be my effort to work with Her Excellency the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to strengthen our links in trade, in economy, in investment, in culture, in security matters, in every possible way that we have outlined in the joint communique which was issued in January, 2010," he said.

(Agencies)