Bangladesh and India are gearing up to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will ensure mutual cooperation by both parties in conducting scientific research in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, as well as facilitate an exchange of scientific and technical data and samples.
According to the draft agreement seen by The Business Standard, areas of mutual cooperation in research will include monsoon and climate change, air-sea interaction, ocean processes, circulation and dynamics, biogeochemistry, ecosystem characteristics and marine biology, sedimentology and marine sedimentary processes, marine pollution, and paleo-oceanography and tectonics.
Bangladesh has already finalised the draft agreement based on the one sent by India at an inter-ministerial meeting held on 9 April.
The Bangladesh Oceanographic Research Institute (BORI) and India's National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), will sign the MoU.
When asked about the progress in the MoU signing process with India, BORI Director General (additional charge) Md Moinul Islam Titas told The Business Standard, "Efforts are underway to finalise the draft…But it is not possible to say at what stage the process is now, without seeing the file."
In its draft, India proposed conducting research in the entire Bay of Bengal – "the open Bay of Bengal" as the draft said, but Bangladesh did not agree to it.
Bangladesh decided to drop the term "open Bay of Bengal" and, in addition, included "any area within the Indian Ocean mutually agreed by the two parties" in the draft instead of "Indian Ocean" as the geographical area of investigation.
Bangladesh agrees to joint research only in those areas of both oceans that the two countries will agree upon.
The draft also says data and samples collected during the research can be exchanged between the two countries but cannot be handed over to a third party and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Any unutilised samples have to be sent back to the coordinators identified in the agreement.
Both parties shall take all measures to protect the secrecy of and avoid disclosure and unauthorised use of the information which is confidential as agreed by both parties and outside the public domain.
The exchange of biological materials, if any, shall be governed by the applicable provisions of the Indian Biodiversity Act 2002 and Bangladesh Biodiversity Act 2017 or equivalent legislative provisions of the respective countries, the draft MoU said.
The two countries will jointly bear the cost of the research and if any publication or document is created as a result of the research, it will be owned by the two countries.
Officials of Bangladesh Oceanographic Research Institute said the institute was established in 2018 for the purpose of oceanographic research, application of research findings and related work.
The BORI Act 2015 allows the signing of MoUs between various domestic and foreign institutions and universities to boost cooperation in oceanography.
After the establishment of the Bangladesh Oceanographic Research Institute, four Bangladeshi scientists and officials visited NIO in Goa, India, and the National Institute of Ocean Technology in Chennai.
Later, the Director of NIO proposed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bangladesh Oceanographic Research Institute and sent a draft to that end.
Bangladesh finalised the draft and sent it to India in September 2019. In November of that year, the Indian High Commission in Dhaka changed the draft MoU and added some sub-articles before handing it back to the Bangladesh government.
A technical committee of the government reviewed the draft sent by India and decided that the inputs incorporated in the latest draft sent by India were inconsistent with the capacity and experience of Bangladesh Oceanographic Research Institute as a new institution. The committee agreed to proceed with the previous draft finalised in September 2019.
The draft finalised in 2019 was once again sent to India through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Later the Indian side agreed to it with some comments.
The Ministry of Science and Technology has sent the draft to the Ministry of Finance, seeking the opinion of the Finance Division on this matter.