Monday, March 25, 2019 | ePaper

Hasina`s India visit and getting water from Teesta

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INDIA has kept talks on sharing of water of common rivers with Bangladesh stalled for over eight years holding back the signing of interim agreements on Teesta and Feni Rivers and making negotiations on five more rivers uncertain. India has been declining since 2010 to hold a water resources ministers-level meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission sought by Bangladesh, diplomatic sources said. The ministers are co-chairs of the commission, as per a report of a local daily.
Successive Indian Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Manmohan Singh continued to promise to conclude interim agreements on sharing waters of seven transboundary rivers, Teesta River in particular, in spite of requests of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on almost every occasion they met.
Hasina is expected to reiterate the request to Modi in a meeting at Shantiniketan in West Bengal of India on Friday for concluding the Teesta Agreement as agreed upon by both the governments in January 2011. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is also scheduled to attend a function Visva Bharati University with the two prime ministers.
It is fairly obvious that India will not co-operate in this regard as they have Mamata Banerjee to contend with. To ensure that her vote bank remains devoted to her she will have no choice but to allow West Bengal farmers to have first use of the transboundary rivers as it still remains the cheapest option for irrigating lands. And the Teesta remains the biggest river, and the one with the most volume of flow, so essentially it is something that Mamata wants out of any negotiation.
Teesta's flow in northern West Bengal drops drastically in the lean season, and parts of the river are reduced to a trickle. The Teesta is vital for irrigating 1.20 lakh hectares of land in northern West Bengal and the draft treaty in its current form can seriously impact agriculture in this area. However, giving more of the Teesta to Bangladesh can hurt Banerjee and her party TMC electorally, especially in northern Bengal where they do not enjoy huge popular support among the ethnic Nepalis and Gorkhas, Hindu Bengalis who have arrived from East Pakistan/Bangladesh, tribal communities, and Marwaris who have settled here for trade.
Even though the Indian government has constitutional powers to override West Bengal's position in matters of transboundary rivers, reality dictates that it cannot ignore a border state as strategically and economically important as West Bengal which contributes 40 percent of the GDP of East and North East India. But this situation can't go on forever. The Indian Central Government formulated a plan to put reservoirs in place in West Bengal during the lean season to ensure the flow of water to Bangladesh. It makes no sense for the Indian government to not support the Bangladesh Government--but Mamata is standing in the way. It should not be difficult in this age to put together a technical plan to get water out of the Teesta during the lean season for both Bangladesh and India for their interests.


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