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Tri-nation gas pipeline nearing go-ahead Dhaka to tag condition of land transit to Nepal

Shahnaj Begum
From The Independent, Bangladesh
5 January, 2005
link to this article.

Bangladesh's land transit to Nepal is expected to dominate the talks when India, Bangladesh and Myanmar meet in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, on January 12-13 to finalise a three- nation gas pipeline project.

The Bangladesh government has decided upon the country's points of deliberation for the three- nation gas pipeline project meet and set certain conditions like import of gas from conditions like import of gas form Myanmar when required, for allowing the gas pipeline from Myanmar to West Bengal over Bangladesh territory.

AKM Mosharrof Hossain, Atate Minister for Energy and Mineral resources, will lead a two- member Bangladesh team to the talks. They will leave Dhaka for Myanmar on January 11. SR Osmani, Chairman of Petrobangla, will accompany the State Minister.

Earlier, the government made a committee to weigh the pros and cons of the proposal and identified the way through which Bangladesh could get more benefit. Dr Kamal Uddin Siddiqui, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister led the committee and set the deliberation points for Bangladesh. However, Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia yesterday gave her final nod to the much-awaited meeting.

It may be mentioned that Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Dr Kamal Siddiqui was assigned to prepare the module paper for discussing the draft of the position paper to be placed at the three- country ministerial meeting.

Bangladesh's 30-year efforts to get transit to Nepal through only a 13km road in India have yet to become fruitful, a top official at the Prime Minister's a top office told the Independent yesterday preferring anonymity.

After postponing the date of the SAARC summit, Bangladesh government did not send any fresh invitation to India's Oil Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer to visit Bangladesh, a top government official told the Independent yesterday.

It means that the previous idea to hold a bilateral meeting between Bangladesh and India for finalizing some issues relating to the project has been cancelled, a top official at the Energy Ministry yesterday told this correspondent preferring anonymity.

During Finance Minister Saifur Rahman's visit to India last month, he made it clear that Bangladesh Nepal corridor issue could be tagged to the Yangon talks.

Following the visit, the Finance Minister said that at his meetings with the top Indian ministers he got the impression that India was very much eager to improve relations with Bangladesh.

And it is necessary for both of us. We should forget the minor incidents that sometimes have created bitterness. The world is changing and to cope with globalization we must strengthen our relations with all our neighbors, he said.

Before finalizing the gas pipeline deal, the issue of royalty and nature of business, whether it would be triparty joint venture or not, had to be taken into consideration, experts feel.

It was observed that Dhaka would have no objection if the pipeline were built on mutually beneficial terms.

It was learnt, one of the conditions placed earlier said that Bangladesh would be the sole operator of the pipeline and would be entitled to use it as and when deemed necessary in its own interests, including export and import of gas whenever needed. Other terms and conditions include provisions requiring the company concerned to construct the pipeline with 30 to 40inch diameter and to include the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) as one of the main parties in the consortium . Officals at the Energy Division indicated that Bangladesh would get about US$ 100 million million as wheeling charge and US$25 million as maintenance charges from the proposed pipeline. Besides, Dhaka would get the right of way revenue from the pipeline. It will also ask its Indian counterpart to reduce the trade gap between the two countries.

On top of that, there would be an investment of US$ 150 million that would create employment opportunities for Bangladeshis.

Though the committee on three-nation gas pipeline felt that it was a good proposal, it needed the Indian and Myanmar governments formal opinion to take any decision or discuss anything in this regard, sources said.

The proposal, pursued since 1996 by Mohona Holdings, has been approved in principle by the governments of the two Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura, and Myanmar. The Bangladesh Ministry for Energy and Mineral Resources referred the matter to the Cabinet Sub-committee for taking a decision six months ago.

The sources said the proposed pipeline would enter the Bangladesh border through Brahmanbaria from the Indian state of Tripura and will cross into West Bengal through the Rajshahi border.

It was learnt that the Bangladesh government had accepted a formal invitation from the Myanmar government to attend a meeting of the Ministers of Energy of Bangladesh, India and Myanmar in Yangon in January to finalise the three-nation gas pipeline project.

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