Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, yesterday, said water-sharing agreements regarding the Teesta River – along with six other transboundary rivers – might be finalised this year.
He said India has a federal government system, and the central government can only finalise water-sharing issues with consensus among stakeholders.
Addressing a seminar titled "Bangladesh and India: A Promising Future," he said India's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been misunderstood in many ways.
"The CAA was enacted on humanitarian grounds," said Shringla.
He said the amendment is not aimed at any religion and is for those who have faced persecution.
However, Gowher Rizvi, foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister of Bangladesh, said a secular country should not do something that might affect another country's secularism.
The Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and the High Commission of India in Bangladesh jointly organised the seminar at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Dhaka hotel.
Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das and BIISS Chairman Fazlul Karim addressed the seminar – among others.
Shringla said his country has assured Bangladesh that India is working on water-sharing issues to resolve them as early as possible.
"India is also committed to finalising an acceptable agreement with Bangladesh," said the Indian foreign secretary as the seminar's keynote speaker.
Both countries have agreed to exchange data on the water flow of seven transboundary rivers, he added.
'CAA proactive legislation'
Shringla described the CAA as proactive legislation.
"In other words, the people who were refugees or faced political persecution and fled to India within the cut-off time were allowed fast-track citizenship," he remarked.
There are thousands of people in India who are homeless and stateless and they will be allowed to apply for fast-track citizenship, Shringla said.
"This means instead of 10 years, they will get citizenship in five years; but that does not mean in any way that others will not benefit from the act. India has a normal process of citizenship application," he explained.
The Indian official said about 5,000 Pakistani nationals have been granted citizenship in the last 10 years.
Shringla said the minorities of Bangladesh are taken care of under the current government as it has a secular constitution and laws are enacted accordingly.
The acts of religious persecution that India talked about are those that were perpetrated in the post-1975 period when there was no spirit of secularism in the constitution of Bangladesh, he added.
50:50 border killing
Responding to a question about border killings, Shringla said: "Every death on the border is something that is a problematic issue. We truly regret those deaths. Every border killing diminishes us."
"A death is a death, but it is too many when it occurs on the border, and that is our official position as a state," he said.
Shringla said that not only Bangladeshis but an equal number of Indian citizens had also been killed on the border.
"Obviously, the Indian statistics are not reflected in Bangladesh, because Bangladesh is only looking at the deaths of its own citizens," he said.
'Bangladesh's commitment to secularism absolutely central'
Speaking about Bangladesh's religious harmony, Gowher Rizvi said, "It is true that we are a secular society. Our commitment to secularism is absolutely central.
"We do not want to have a situation where our secularism is threatened in any way."
Rizvi said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had repeatedly stated that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is their domestic issue that will not affect Bangladesh.
"We have been assured, again and again, for the last three to four years – especially for the last six months – that it will not affect the domestic affairs of Bangladesh," he said.
"That is why we need to continue working closely with India to ensure a secular society," he added.
"Bangladesh's minorities are not only our holy deposits but they absolutely are our citizens with equal rights and dignity," Rizvi remarked.
"The government prioritises the protection and welfare of our minority citizens," he added.
Shringla arrived in Dhaka on a two-day visit on Monday morning. He was received by his Bangladeshi counterpart Masud Bin Momen at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.