Category Archives: National Boundaries/International Relations

Govt to prepare digital topographical map

Govt to prepare digital topographical map
Tk 3.74bn can be saved a year
Asif Showkat

The government with help of satellite imagery and digital elevation model will prepare a digital topographical map for implementing the country’s development programmes which can save at least Tk 3.74 billion a year.

A recent study conducted by the national surveying and mapping agency, Survey of Bangladesh (SOB) revealed new scope of cutting government and private sectors’ expenditures in several economic fields.

The study also estimated that the total economic benefits would be Tk 18.90 billion a year if indirect economic effects were accumulated with the direct benefits of the new digital map.Bangladesh Survey Directorate under Defence Ministry had already selected a Japanese consulting firm to assist the government in preparing the digital topographical map.A defence ministry’s proposal is likely to be placed before the cabinet committee on economic affairs next week for approval, according to committee sources.

Defence Secretary Khandaker M Asaduzzaman said successful implementation of the project would provide a common platform for the government agencies as well as private sector for using geographical data for development of the country.

Professor Ainun Nishat, vice-chancellor of BRAC University, told daily sun on Saturday that foreign donors like Japanese agencies would provide technological support.

“Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) has already used the digital mapping system (IDMS), although it faced difficulties in modelling,” he added.

He further said BWDB used satellite map after 1988 devastating floods for forecasting such disaster. The Finland government prepared a digital map of whole Bangladesh.

Using a digital map might be good in forecasting, he added and stressed on improvement of efficiency.

The programme is targeted at preparing a new 1:25,000 scale digital topographical map covering whole territory and 1:5,000 scale digital topographical map covering five major cities.

Official sources said the existing 1:50,000 scale national base map covering the whole territory of Bangladesh was prepared 50 to 60 years ago.

The study also said digital topographical maps can be used in the fields of communications, agriculture, infrastructural development, enforcement of law and order, disaster warning, defence, engineering and establishing e-governance for expediting work as well as reducing activation cost.

Of the projected saving amount, the study estimated that the highest Tk 980 million can be saved from transportation sector every year, followed by power sector by Tk 550 million.

The digital mapping system would save Tk 410 million in health and population sector, Tk 390 million in rural development, Tk 365 million in physical planning, water distribution and housing and Tk 301.6 million in agriculture sector.

A Japanese consulting firm PASCO Corporation was selected by the defence ministry under item of acquisition of satellite imagery of improvement of digital mapping system (IDMS) programme.

The government will be given Tk 153.2 million from Japanese Debt Relief Grant Assistance (DRGA) counterpart fund as consultancy fees for operation of Japanese consulting firm to provide satellite imagery and digital elevation modal services to the government as well as private sectors.

As per the defence ministry’s proposal, two Japanese consulting firms — Nakanihin Air Service Company Ltd and PASCO Corporation — took part in the tender process.

Considering growing demand for new maps, SOB had decided to take up a project under “Improvement of Digital Mapping System (IDMS)” programme.

The Japan government had supported this project “Bangladesh Digital Mapping Assistance Programme (BDMAP)” under its technical cooperation programme.

For public and private sectors, statistical data especially geographic information like topographical maps is the fundamental need for planning and implementation of various types of development projects, SOB sources said.

SOB had decided to take initiative to set up six permanent Global Positioning System stations in six districts from the current fiscal year which will help convert all maps in the country into digital format with creation of a geo-database, according to the defence ministry’s proposal.


Govt needs to take BDR’s concern seriously

Govt needs to take BDR’s concern seriously

THE recommendation of the Bangladesh Rifles for a dusk-to-dawn ban on the movement of Bangladeshis within 150 yards of the zero point inside Bangladesh territory, to prevent the killing of civilians by the Indian Border Security Force, highlights, above all else, the failure of the successive governments to effectively raise with India the murders of Bangladeshis by the BSF.

According to a report front-paged in New Age on Thursday, the BDR has cited sustained flouting of the Joint India-Bangladesh Guideline 1975 and the International Human Rights Convention by the BSF and ‘no solutions…despite discussions at the diplomatic level’ as the rationale for its recommendation.

In a report submitted to the home ministry in the first week of January, the BDR claims that the BSF has killed 50 Bangladeshis since the February 25-26 BDR rebellion in 2009 till January 1, 2010. (The human rights organisation Odhikar puts the number of people killed by the BSF in 2009 at 96 in a recent report.) The country’s border guards have also recommended formation of committees with public representatives in bordering villages that, along with BDR personnel, will identify the places where restrictions should be imposed. The recommendations, while defensive in nature, clearly stem from the concern over continued loss of lives and need to be taken into cognisance by the government.

Incidentally, the recommendations come at a time when the Awami League-led government appears willing to go any length to have the people believe that the prime minister’s recent visit to India marked a breakthrough in the Dhaka-Delhi relations, although, if the joint communiqué released at the end of her visit were to be taken as a yardstick, it seems all that she has managed to secure from her Indian counterpart is some clichéd, vague and open-ended promises. Ironically, the BSF killed a Bangladeshi on the very day that the joint communiqué was issued.

The continued killing of Bangladeshi civilians on the border could very well be indicative of New Delhi’s unwillingness to rein in its trigger-happy border guards; after all, it is inconceivable that the BSF would have continued its killing spree had there been an explicit directive from New Delhi against such killings.

The Indian government has time and again tried to brand those killed by the BSF as criminals, smugglers, etc, as if the border guards have the right to be the juror and executioner all at the same time.

It is true that informal trade does take place across the border and the BDR report acknowledges as much. Curiously, as economists in both countries have pointed out, informal trade across the border benefits India more than it does Bangladesh. In fact, available statistics have it that informal trade contributes as much as formal trade with Bangladesh to the Indian economy. It is thus difficult to believe that the killings by the BSF are what the Americans would say ‘collateral damage’ of India’s clampdown on smuggling. On the contrary, there are reasons to suspect that New Delhi’s apparent unwillingness to rein in the trigger-happy BSF men is just yet another manifestation of its big brother attitude towards Bangladesh.

Be that as it may, the BSF killing spree on the border must be put to an end and, as we have commented in these columns before, it would require more than occasional flag meeting or director general-level conference between the border guards of the two countries. The initiative must come from the political level at state-to-state level talks.

If the AL-led government really wants the people to believe that the prime minister’s recent visit did mark a breakthrough in the two countries’ bilateral relations, it needs, for a start, to prove that by raising the issue with its Indian counterparts and by making New Delhi take decisive and demonstrative steps against killings by BSF personnel so that they do not recur in future and Bangladesh does not need to restrict the movement of its citizens in its own territory.

BDR wants night-time ban on movement in border

BDR wants night-time ban on movement in border
Expresses concerns about border killing
Siddiqur Rahman Khan

The Bangladesh Rifles has recommended imposing night-time restrictions on the movement of Bangladeshis within 150 yards of zero point inside the Bangladesh territory aimed at stopping the killing of innocent people in the border by India’s Border Security Force.

The Bangladesh border force in a report sent to the home ministry in the first week of January has also recommended formation of committees with public representatives in bordering villages.

The BDR personnel and the proposed committees will identify the places where restrictions should be imposed, the report said.

The report observed that citizens of both the countries were involved in cross-border informal trade but the Indian border guards often killed unarmed Bangladeshis without bothering about bilateral or international human rights principles.

‘Citizens of both the counties trespass into the territories of each other for informal trade. Although the Bangladesh Rifles has taken lawful action against such organised crimes, India’s Border Security Force has continued killing unarmed Bangladeshi trespassers labelling them as terrorists,’ the report said.

‘India’s Border Security Force has thus kept flouting the Joint India-Bangladesh Guideline 1975 and the International Human Rights Convention,’ it said. ‘No solutions could be reached in this regard despite discussions at the diplomatic level.’

In view of the situation, the Bangladesh Rifles has recommended that dusk-to-dawn restrictions should be imposed on the movement of Bangladeshis within 150 yards of zero point inside the Bangladesh territory.

After the mutiny in the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in February 25–26, 2009, the Indian border guards have killed 50 Bangladeshis till January 1, 2010, according to the BDR report sent to the home ministry.

A recent report by human rights organisation Odhikar showed 96 Bangladeshis were killed by the Indian guards in 2009.

The BDR report said the Indian border guards had ignored a Bangladesh proposal for using non-lethal weapons in the border by the guards.

The report proposed each of the committees in bordering villages, to be headed by union council or municipal chairmen, should have 17 members and the commanders of the BDR border outposts concerned may be made member secretaries.

An imam of a mosque or religious leader of other faiths, a madrassah teacher, a schoolteacher, two representatives of college students, four Village Defence Party members, three union council members or municipal commissioners, a retired military officer or a civil servant, a businessman of the locality and a local policeman should be members on each of the committees.

A high home ministry official on Wednesday told New Age they had received the draft of the working paper, containing statistics of the people killed by the Indian border guards. ‘We held a meeting in the past week and discussed the Bangladesh Rifles recommendations,’ he said.

Bangladesh must sign up for world’s easy customs system

Bangladesh must sign up for world’s easy customs system
ICCB chief stresses at workshop
Star Business Desk

Trade analysts yesterday underscored immediate implementation of the ATA Carnet System to help Bangladeshi businessmen compete on an equal footing with rivals.

The ATA Carnet simplifies the custom formalities by allowing a single document to be used for clearing goods through customs in the countries that are part of the system.

The need for the system is felt as the world experiences expansion of trade that has led to considerable growth of temporary exports and imports of goods.

“Industrialists and traders need to display their products at trade fairs and exhibitions, as these can offer them a valuable means for marketing their products abroad,” said Mahbubur Rahman, president of International Chamber of Commerce Bangladesh (ICCB), at a workshop on ATA Carnet System in Dhaka.

Bangladesh is a member of the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the intergovernmental organisation of customs administrators for the running of the recent and comprehensive international customs convention governing temporary admission of goods under ‘ATA Carnet’, namely the ‘Istanbul Convention’.

“But Bangladeshi businessmen and its foreign partners cannot take advantage of the benefits and facilities offered by ATA Carnet, as the country is not yet a contracting party to Istanbul Convention,” he said.

The ATA Convention that was put in place 45 years ago has become the most important customs document for the temporary duty-free admission of goods.

The ATA Carnet procedure has weathered many implementation problems and proved capable of adapting to a variety of new international transactions, he added.

Introduction of the system in Bangladesh will have a positive impact on foreign trade by ensuring local exporting firms are able to compete with other trading nations on the world market and facilitate integration into the global economy, Rahman said.

The ATA Carnet is used in 66 countries, including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A number of countries in Asia and Latin America are fairly advanced in the preparatory work involved in the accession to the system.

Abu Alam Chowdhury, vice president of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, R Maksud Khan, chairman of ICCB standing committee on customs regulations, reforms and modernisation, Ju-Song Lee, ICC WCF Carnet adviser, were also present at the two-day workshop.

Khan observed that adoption of the ATA Carnet by Bangladesh is of utmost importance to attract investment and further enhance exports.

Participants from the National Board of Revenue, commerce ministry, Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh Bank, trade bodies, commercial banks, associations and national companies were present.

Asian Highway ESCAP route Dhaka becomes party

Asian Highway ESCAP route Dhaka becomes party
Chance of amendment slim: Yangon mum on Cox”s Bazar-Myanmar route

Bangladesh has become party to the ESCAP sponsored Asian Highway agreement. This was notified from the ESCAP headquarters in Bangkok. The ESCAP sponsored route kept Tamabil as the entry point and Benapole and Banglabandh as the exit points.

Earlier Bangladesh was not a party to the ESCAP-sponsored Asian Highway agreement because of the controversy revolving round the route.

The ESCAP sponsored route would help meet the Indian demand for transit from Bangladesh and obliterate the historical Grand Trunk Road built during the Shershah regime to connect the East Asian countries from Gumdung of Cox”s Bazar.

Except the Awami League government no other governments accepted the ESCAP sponsored Asian Highway routes. The last four-party alliance government withheld the ratification of the ESCAP prepared agreement and pressed hard to include the Chittagong-Myanmar route as one of the international routes of the Asian Highway.

But on every occasion Bangladesh was told to become party to the ESCAP agreement by ratifying the same and thereafter put forward the amendment proposal. But such advice was not considered logical, because once the ESCAP sponsored route is accepted it would be hard to change.

The present regime, however, accepted the logic to become a party to the agreement and ratified the ESCAP sponsored Asian agreement in August last.

After becoming party to the agreement, officials concerned felt that an amendment proposal to the original agreement should be proposed to accept the Cox”s Bazar-Myanmar route as one of the international routes. But the file could not move as no directive so far was received from the political authorities. The communications ministry officials feared that the amendment proposal might be dropped as there was indication that India would oppose the amendment proposal.

The communications ministry officials also said that they did not receive any encouraging response from Myanmar regarding Bangladesh”s demand to include Cox”s Bazar-Myanmar route as one of the international routes of the Asian Highway.

The maritime boundary dispute with Yangon compounded the whole gamut of bi-lateral relations. Both Myanmar and India have taken a common stand against Bangladesh”s claim regarding maritime boundary.

Bangladesh has already approached the UN arbitration to find a logical solution to Bay boundary dispute with its two neighbours. Two Indian nationals would plead in favour of Yangon and Delhi, which would create a great problem for Bangladesh.

In such a situation concerned officials feel that Yangon might side with India and might not support Bangladesh demand for the amendment to the Asian Highway agreement.

A senior official of the communications ministry said that Myanmar did not respond to the RFP (request for proposal) sent to them for their concurrence to develop Gumdung-Bawalibazar road, which would be developed by Bangladesh at its own expense. The understanding of developing the Gumdung-Bawalibazar was reached during the last 4-party alliance government.

Bangladesh sea boundary examined through UNCLOS III

Bangladesh sea boundary examined through UNCLOS III

Engr. M. Inamul Haque

THE present day Law of the Sea is the outcome of United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea of 1958 (UNCLOS I), UNCLOS II of 1960 and UNCLOS III of 1982. Bangladesh has its Territorial Waters & Maritime Zones Act of 1974. It has ratified the UNCLOS 1982 on 27 July 2001, having time for claims to UN Commission to the Limits of Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) by July 27, 2011. According to the UNCLOS III of 1982 articles 3 and 15, every state has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention. The baseline is the line of low tide along the seashore of a state. As per article 17, ships of all states, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. Article 33 gives authority of a state on certain other matters to further 12 nautical miles called the Contiguous Zone.

Exclusive Economic Zone

According to the UNCLOS III of 1982 article 55, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, subject to the specific legal regime established in this Part, under which the rights and jurisdiction of the coastal State and the rights and freedoms of other States are governed by the relevant provisions of this Convention. As per its article 56, in the EEZ, the coastal state has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds. The above two articles give the coastal states rights over an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, for economic exploitation. But as per its article 57, this EEZ shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

Continental Shelf

The UNCLOS III of 1982 in its article 76 gives rights to the coastal states to go down to some points beyond the EEZ called the continental shelf. As per its sub article 1, the continental shelf of a coastal state comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance.

As the limits of sea boundary prolongs towards the deep sea, disputes may arise between adjacent states on their boundaries and claims over their natural resources. Bangladesh has three base lines on its seashore: 1) from the Hariabhanga Estuary to the Haringhata Estuary which makes about a 10 degree slanting towards east from the longitudinal lines; 2) from Haringhata Estuary to the Karnafuli River which makes about a 10 degree slanting towards west from the longitudinal lines; and 3) from the Karnafuli River to St. Martins Island which makes about a 70 degree slanting towards west from longitudinal lines. Thus, if the boundary limits are prolonged from these three baselines, three different scenarios of continental shelf shall arise where Bangladesh can claim over other state’s continental shelf. So, the sub article 4(a) of the article 76 gives clarifications to resolve the disputes.

Article 76 sub-section 4(a): “For the purposes of this Convention, the coastal State shall establish the outer edge of the continental margin wherever the margin extends beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured by either, i) a line delineated in accordance with paragraph 7 by reference to the outer-most fixed points at each of which the thickness of sedimentary rocks is at least 1 per cent of the shortest distance from such point to the foot of the continental slope; or ii) line delineated in accordance with paragraph 7 by reference to fixed points not more than 60 nautical miles from the foot of the continental slope. This article 76 limits of the continental shelf on the seabed, drawn in accordance with paragraph 4 (a) (i) and (ii), not beyond 350 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured or not beyond 100 nautical miles from the 2,500 metre isobath which is a line connecting the depth of 2,500 metres.”

The Bengal Fan

The Bengal Fan is the bed of sedimentary rocks in the sea that starts from the mouth of River Ganga sloping gradually down to 5 degree latitude in Indian Ocean. Sediments from the Indian Territory as well as from Myanmar also contribute to this fan, but their contributions can be easily separated from the isobaths. In the Bengal Fan, a deep trough from south of the Sundarbans, called the Swatch of No Ground, separates sediments of western and eastern branches of the River Ganga arriving through India and Bangladesh. A similar trough from south of the St. Martins Island can separate sediments from Bangladesh and Myanmar rivers. These two lines can be our sea limits as per UNCLOS III of 1982.

Bangladesh Sea

Boundary Disputes

Bangladesh has divided its mainland and territorial waters into several blocks for gas and oil exploration. Recently an invitation for tenders was issued for interested parties for exploration of 8 blocks under the EEZ and 20 blocks under the Continental Shelf. But objections were raised from India and Myanmar over claims on the peripheral blocks. A recent discovery of huge hydrocarbon reserves in the continental shelves of India in Orissa, and Myanmar in Rakhaine states has created the disputes over territorial claims. Bangladesh needs to solve this problem in the light of article 76 clause 4a and article 7 of UNCLOS III.

The article 59 of UNCLOS III says that in cases where this Convention does not attribute rights or jurisdiction to the coastal states or to other states within the EEZ and a conflict arises between the interests of the coastal state and any other state or states, the conflict should be resolved on the basis of equity and in the light of all the relevant circumstances, taking into account the respective importance of the interests of the involved parties as well as to the international community as a whole. As per this article, Bangladesh should negotiate not only on the basis of equity, but also in the light of other relevant circumstances, particularly the basis of sedimentary rocks deposited from the mainland.

I appreciate the Government’s decision to move to the UN for resolving sea boundary disputes with our neighboring states. As Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar are signatories to the UNCLOS III, the matter should be resolved there. I also appreciate the Government’s decision to conduct a Seismic Survey of the sea bed to update the available Bathymetric Records. But the government should not delay anymore to update Bangladesh Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act 1974 on the basis of UNCLOS III of 1982.

The writer is ex-Director General, Water Resources Planning Organization, Ministry of Water Resources. Email:

Dhaka takes maritime dispute with Delhi to UN

Dhaka takes maritime dispute with Delhi to UN
Shahidul Islam Chowdhury

Bangladesh has registered its objection with the United Nations to India’s claim over certain areas in the Bay of Bengal three months after a similar opposition lodged against Myanmar’s claim over sea waters.

‘We have submitted our objection to the maritime commission of the UN on October 29,’ Bangladesh’s permanent representative to the UN, MA Momen told New Age over telephone Monday evening.

India submitted its claim on maritime boundary to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in May 2009, one month ahead of its deadline.

Bangladesh earlier lodged its objection with the CLCS, a UN body to deal with the law of the seas, in July this year against Myanmar’s claim on the sea waters.

Bangladesh and Myanmar sent warships 50 km down Saint Martin’s Island in November last year as the latter allowed a Korean gas exploration company to send survey team and equipment in the Bangladesh waters.

Dhaka has disputes over territorial waters in the Bay with both New Delhi and Yangon in two areas—that of natural prolongation of the continental shelf and the baseline.

India argues that the course of the natural prolongation of continental shelf is from east to west while Bangladesh says it is from north to south.

Bangladesh and India have some overlapping claims on baselines.

According to the United Nations Convention on Law of the Seas, Bangladesh must demarcate its sea boundaries by July 27, 2011, India by June 29, 2009 and Myanmar May 21, 2009.

The three countries are signatories to the UNCLOS.

As per the UN provision, claims submitted by any country would not be taken for final consideration before settling the objection raised by a neighbouring country which might have overlapping claims.

Dhaka opted to go for negotiations as India and Myanmar recently opposed Bangladesh’s offshore block biddings for exploration of oil and gas even within its own territorial waters as Dhaka did not have an internationally accepted exclusive economic zone.

Bangladesh has problems with India and Myanmar on the issue of ‘starting point’ on how to mark the coastlines from the exclusive economic zone that has apparently overlapped claims of the three neighbouring countries due to the funnel-like shape of the Bay of Bengal.

A country is supposed to enjoy its rights to fish and extract and explore other marine resources in its exclusive economic zone, an area of 200 nautical miles into an adjacent sea, according to international maritime law.