After independence, Northeast India has had to access the rest of India largely via the “Chicken’s Neck” near Siliguri.
To reach a port, traders need to travel 1,600 km from Agartala in Tripura to Kolkata in West Bengal, via Siliguri.
This could have been less than 600 kms to reach the same destination via Bangladesh, or even better, travel only 200 km to access the nearby port of Chittagong in Bangladesh.
This is possible through ongoing initiatives such as the trans-shipment of Indian goods through Bangladesh’s Ashuganj port to Northeast India, expanding of rail links within Northeast India and between the two countries, the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement).
Energy cooperation is delivering results. India already exports 600 MW of power (including 100 MW from Tripura) to Bangladesh.
In the future, this energy trade could well link up with potential hydropower exports from Bhutan and Nepal to form a BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) power market.
Deeper cooperation would also facilitate access to energy supplies through projects such as the natural gas pipeline linking Myanmar to India via Bangladesh.
Trade relations have been gathering strength, going up from $1 billion in 2002, to over $6 billion now.
Investment is another untapped area. At a national level, India is a growing investor in Bangladesh, and now has land earmarked for development of special “Indian economic zones” in Bangladesh.
At the sub-national level, however, it is Bangladeshi companies which could become some of the key investors in Northeast India.