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Navigating Through Troubled Waters: Bangladesh's Experience with India and Myanmar

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  • February 19, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chairperson: Dr. Arvind Gupta
    Discussants: Alok Bansal and General Barmer

    Dr. Sreeradha Datta, notes that Bangladesh’s maritime boundary dispute with India and Myanmar is becoming increasingly salient in their bilateral relations. It is only in recent years that the issue has gained prominence fraying relations. The un-demarcated nature of the maritime boundary line is the source of dispute between Bangladesh and its two neighbours. Both India and Myanmar have overlapping maritime boundary claims with Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the only country among littoral states not to have reached a maritime agreement. Maritime boundary delimitation implies not only the setting of limits of the state’s outer limit of maritime zones including its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf, but also its maritime boundary limits vis-à-vis its opposite or adjacent state. Under the dispute settlement provisions of the UNCLOS of 1982 each littoral state is entitled to claim 200 nautical miles (nm) of sea area as its EEZ with all living and non-living resources within these areas are that state’s exclusive property; out of this, the first 12 nm are the Territorial Sea and the next 188 nm are its EEZ. The resolution of Indo-Bangladesh maritime boundary dispute entails addressing two contentious issues – that of the baselines to demarcate maritime and delimitation boundaries including the outer limit of the overlapping extended continental shelf. Following revision, the UNCLOS III stipulated that the ‘median’ or the ‘equidistance’ be the principle for maritime boundary demarcation which India supports. Bangladesh strongly opposes the ‘equidistance’ principle given the nature of its coast. With India, Bangladesh’s dispute specifically surrounds the contrasting claims over what is known as New Moore in India and South Talpatty in Bangladesh. Myanmar’s position is fairly similar to that of India. Rangoon also insists that the equidistance principle be maintained. However as Dr. Datta maintains despite the contentious issues at stake between Bangladesh and its two neighbours and given the geographical condition of Bangladesh there is ample scope in the UNCLOS III to treat Bangladesh’s case with greater flexibility and beyond the strict guidelines of equidistance. India and Bangladesh could agree on a joint survey, but for now the dispute is being mediated by an independent arbitrator. Finding a modus vivendi is possible according Dr. Datta. While Bangladesh in recent negotiations has agreed to a joint hydrological survey on Teesta River with India allowing the extreme positions over the baseline may thus be bridged.

    Points of Discussion

    1. Europe’s context is different from the history that bedevils the India-Bangladesh maritime dispute. History is important in Europe’s case, but this is not the case between India and Bangladesh.
    2. The paper is informative.
    3. Equity cannot be defined clearly and Bangladesh has its own conception.
    4. Delineation of the maritime boundary must follow the equidistance principle. Even the ICJ maintains that equidistance is the rule.
    5. Joint management is the best option as the author has proposed. Sea bed resources can be equally shared.
    6. India is in a scientifically and technically stronger position than Bangladesh, which lacks technical resource capacities.
    7. India must be magnanimous, because it will strengthen the Hasina government.
    8. China’s role is increasingly worrisome.
    9. The author seems to be pleading only Bangladesh’s case. The onus also lies on Bangladesh to demonstrate that it is really in need of the resources.
    10. The author must highlight the strategic importance of the dispute and China’s role in trying to exploit the problem, particularly between India and Bangladesh.

    Report prepared by Kartik Bommakanti, Research Assistant at the IDSA