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PM Modi, Sheikh Hasina inaugurate Maitri Setu bridge in big step for Asian integration

Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Narendra Modi

By Atul Aneja and Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha

India on Tuesday took a giant step to connect the northeast with the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong, adding fresh cement to New Delhi’s Act East policy for Asian regional integration.

In the joint inauguration with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Maitri Setu-a bridge over the Feni river that separates the state of Tripura from Bangladesh– Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was emphatic in declaring that Tripura’s capital Agartala will become the closest city in India to an international sea port.

From Agartala, the port of Chittagong in Bangladesh is only 208 kilometres.

Also read: PM opening new bridge to cement India Bangladesh ties

Maitri Setu’, which spans 1.9 kilometres will link Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh.

"The bridge is poised to herald a new chapter for trade and people to people movement between India and Bangladesh. With this inauguration, Tripura is set to become the ‘Gateway of North East’ with access to Chittagong Port of Bangladesh, which is just 80 km from Sabroom," the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in the statement.

With the inauguration of the Maitri Setu, a solid pillar has  been added to  bolster India’s ambitious Act East Policy to integrate India with Southeast Asia via Bangladesh.

Tuesday’s inauguration will majorly supplement the 19 Kilometre Dhubri-Phulbari bridge which will connect Bhutan with Danang in Vietnam via Bangladesh.

That gigantic effort will merge two parallel initiatives – the New Delhi-led India-Myanmar- Thailand trilateral highway and the East-West, threaded through Bangladesh and the East West Economic Corridor (EWEC) marshalled by Japan in partnership with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

PM Modi pointed out that in order to fully utilise the trade corridor, hinterland roads of NH-08 and NH-208 are being widened to strengthen the connectivity of North East to the port.

“During my visit to Bangladesh, I and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ji together laid the foundation stone of the bridge connecting Tripura directly with Bangladesh and it has been launched today,” PM Modi said.

Modi also laid the foundation stone for setting up an integrated check post at Sabroom which will help in easing the movement of goods and passengers between India and Bangladesh.

Modi’s counterpart, Sheikh Hasina was equally effusive in highlighting the importance of the bridge, fully recognising its geo-economic significance for fostering the rise of South Asia.

"This is a historic moment as we are creating a new era in South Asia by providing connectivity to India. Political boundaries should not become physical barriers to trade," Hasina said.

The inauguration of the bridge has kicked off the countdown to PM Modi’s pathbreaking visit to Bangladesh on March 26.

The visit will ride on the “tremendous goodwill” for India both at a governmental and people-to-people level following India’s largess to supply Bangladesh with ample stock of coronavirus vaccines.

India has energetically pushed  9 million doses of Covid vaccine to Dhaka including 2 million doses as a gift from the people of India. The remaining 7 million doses were sent on commercial terms after Bangladesh decided to rely on the Indian vaccines rather than banking on shots that were being pumped in by Beijing.

To add a ceremonial touch to PM Modi’s visit, Indian naval ships are already in Bangladesh to join in the celebrations marking 50 years of the country’s liberation.

Two Indian Navy warships – INS Kulish and INS Sumedha, arrived on Monday at Bangladesh's Mongla Port to celebrate the birth centenary of 'Father of the Nation' Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the country's 50th year of Independence.

Also read: Indian warships arrive in Bangladesh to mark country's 50th year of Independence

During the visit, Commodore Mahadeva Gobardhan Raju, and the captains of the two ships, will pay homage at the tomb of Bangabandhu at his birthplace in Tungipara, and lay a wreath at the tomb of Bangladeshi Navy official Ruhul Amin, who was posthumously awarded 'Bir Sreshtho' — Bangladesh's highest bravery award for his service during the 1971 Liberation War.