Climate Change & Immigration: Two Immediate Issues between India and Bangladesh

Sampurna Goswami
December 29, 2019


The theories pertaining to International Relations have frequently centered on the notions of ‘Security’. Notably, the gradual waning of the great power intrusions into the domestic affairs of the erstwhile colonial countries and the subsequent economic and political ascendance of countries post-1990 have, however, ensured greater autonomy to the novel participants of the global power play. Irrespective of the complex interdependence of the nation-states in the globalized world order, the state-centric notion of security still remains a determining factor in foreign policy and diplomacy. With the emergence of new power centers in the global politics, the notions of security, as argued by most of the scholars, moved away from the conventional ‘Great Power Threat’ theory to a more inward ‘Regional Security Dilemma’. Following the arguments brought forth by the Frankfurt School, popularly known as the ‘Constructivists’, this regional security threat is often perceived amongst proximate actors who share common history and culture.

Coming to ‘South Asia’, a region comprising of members who share the common history of colonial rule; a region comprising of members whose borders were demarcated on lines of religious identity, and a region where the power (economic and military) is distributed unevenly with one dominant player, is perceived as a space of turmoil, tiff, and competition. Delineated by the chaotic relationship that the member states share with each other, South Asia’s security dilemma has been defined in a way that predisposes unregulated immigration to be an element of threat. Within South Asia, India’s relationship with Bangladesh has been considered as one of the most strategic associations. However, the unregulated entrance of population from Bangladesh has caused instability, not only within the territories of India but has also strained India’s engagement with Bangladesh at a time when both the nations have pledged to engage deeply in sub-regional forums to promote cooperation in areas of connectivity, climate change, trade, and business.

Amongst the aforementioned areas of cooperation, climate change seems to be an area which has been least discussed in India-Bangladesh relations. However, this is the area that seeks greater understanding and focus since both the countries are adversely affected by calamitous super cyclones every year that most climatologist considers to be an upshot of global climate change. In this backdrop, the trajectory of the ‘Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta: the Sunderbans’, which is positioned along the Indo-Bangladesh border making the area one of the most porous borderlands in the world, needs some attention. The developmental disparities across the border have exposed this area to the forces of illegal entry, although the intensity of migration increases manifold when the area is struck by disasters, especially cyclones and floods. As a result, the 10,247 sq-km of forested borderland witnesses the highest amount of disaster-induced displacement in South Asia. Notably, this disaster-induced displacement is a one-sided process, where the population moves from Bangladesh to India. The diasporic similarities that include language, religion, kinship, and shared history have further problematized the process of delineating the inhabitants and the immigrants.

In order to address the issue, India and Bangladesh decided to cooperate on the ‘Conservation of Sunderbans’, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2011, and have created a Joint Working Group that would oversee the implementation of the MoU. However, nine years have passed since the signing of the MoU, and both sides have shown little in terms of achievement and success. Moreover, India and Bangladesh have been cooperating on climate change in the BIMSTEC forum as well, but even the initiative to protect the world’s largest mangrove forest from the forces of climate change could not bring both the nations on the same page. For more than a decade now, India has been more interested in getting transit through Bangladesh in order to access the North East. At the same time, Bangladesh continued to cajole India over the Teesta Water Treaty diplomatically. As a result, unregulated immigration became a consequence of climate change, pouring across the borders and continue to strain the bilateral relationship. India’s relationship with Bangladesh has to be handled with deftness as it involves the issue of illegal migration. Bangladesh itself has the unfortunate tag of being the world’s most densely populated country in the world for which increasing population remains a challenge. As such, the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh could become an irritant in India-Bangladesh relations in the future.

It is noteworthy to mention here that over the last two years, Bangladesh’s GDP is growing at 8.1 percent, which has set the stage for India to engage deeply with its neighbors in order to promote economic exchanges. Moreover, India’s engagement with Bangladesh through bilateral and multilateral forums would provide India with a platform to encourage Bangladesh to address the issue of immigration and work together towards climate change, a problem that stares both countries.

*** *** Author is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Sukanta College, University of Calcutta & Ph.D Scholar, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University ***