New Delhi, Jun 30 (PTI) There is a need to focus on the socio-economic development of frontier districts on either side of the India-Bangladesh border, Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said on Tuesday.

He made the remarks at the Digital Conference on Doing Business with Bangladesh.

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"As India and Bangladesh share the largest border, we need to focus on the socio-economic development of bordering districts on both sides. Sometimes for want of opportunities available, we have criminal elements committing crimes, attacking security forces and disturbing the peace and harmony that exists between our two countries," Muraleedharan said.

"There is an urgent need to focus on the development of these areas and therefore, ‘haats' (village markets) spread along the border is a welcome development," he said.

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In the same spirit, "we should cooperate on developmental works that get undertaken on either side of the border", Muraleedharan was quoted as saying in a statement by the External Affairs Ministry.

The minister noted that the COVID-19 situation has opened new opportunities for collaboration in the digital realm; startup and information technology sectors; and for online workshops and consultancy.

He said India appreciates Bangladesh's commitment of USD 1.5 million to the SAARC COVID fund and "only by cooperative approaches can we together deal with this pandemic which has led to disruptions in trade, supply chains, investments and employments".

"India has conducted an online programme for medical professionals exclusively in Bangla language at the request of Bangladeshi participants and we stand prepared to further assist Bangladesh in mitigating the health and economic impact of the pandemic," he said.

Muraleedharan said that this situation has also presented both challenges and opportunities in conducting trade.

"The congestion at land borders offers possibilities to explore inland water routes and trade via rail. These are eco-friendly, efficient and logistically cheaper options,” the minister said.

“We are glad that trade in essential commodities particularly in the holy month of Ramadan, has continued through the rail route," he said.

"I want to reassure that India is and will continue to remain a committed development partner of Bangladesh, and will continue to be governed by Bangladesh's priorities. Our ongoing projects in Bangladesh are aimed at improving infrastructure in sectors like ports, power, railways and roads making the investment environment all the more conductive in Bangladesh," he added.

Muraleedharan recommended exploring more cooperation in the garment sector like facilitating exchanges between premier textile design institutes, capacity building and expertise on textile machinery, among others.

"As we are linked by land, we are also connected by 54 rivers that sustain us and cherish us. Our approach must take into account the needs of future generations and we need to expand our cooperation in areas including river water restoration, their sustainable use, address the issue of pollution in rivers, erosion etc," he said.

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