At a time when India is trying to give a fresh push to bilateral ties with Bangladesh, amid China’s growing interest in Bangladesh, Dhaka and New Delhi are preparing for a bilateral Joint consultative commission between the Foreign Ministers from both the sides in June, which would clear the deck for a likely visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in July.
But one contentious issue between the two countries that remain unresolved for the decade is the River Teesta water-sharing deal.
“It is unfortunate that we could not get the Teesta water sharing deal through for 11 years. We share 54 rivers with India. We are keen on sharing and working together on joint management of all rivers. Joint management is necessary for wellbeing of people of both sides, entire basin area,” Dr AK Abdul Momen told NDTV on the sidelines of the NADI Conclave in Guwahati.
“It’s a shame, we were ready, they were ready, yet deal is not done. In future there will be big cry for water and we have to prepare for it,” the Bangladesh Foreign Minister said.
The Teesta river originates in the Teesta Kangse glacier and flows through Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh. It has been mired in conflict since 1947 when the catchment areas of the Teesta were allotted to India.
In 2011, India agreed to share 37.5 per cent of Teesta waters while retaining 42.5 per cent of the waters during the lean season between December and March. However, the deal never went through due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who strongly opposed the treaty. Moreover, constant building of dams along the Teesta in Sikkim has resulted in lean seasonal flow draining into Bangladesh.
“Assam, Bangladesh faced floods this year at the same time, we need to collaborate more with technology for water discharge, jointly develop early flood warning systems, joint management of river is win-win for both country,” said Dr Momen.
On media reports of heavy Chinese build-up on Yarlung Tsangpo – it becomes Brahmaputra in India and Jamuna in Bangladesh – the Foreign Minister lamented that the “issues” of the “lower riparian state” is overlooked.
“In the Brahmaputra basin, only 3 per cent is in China, in India only 6 per cent people are affected by the river, but we are the lower riparian state with 23 per cent affected people. One country alone must not develop infra on this trans-boundary river. We should look at the residents of the Brahmaputra basin together, whether it’s the Chinese development or India or Bangladesh. We all have to think on the impact on the entire basin and its people,” said Dr Momen.
There is a lot of media buzz that Bangladesh is discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river. The project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods, and tackling the water crisis in summers.
The Bangladeshi Foreign Minister said, “We don’t have a formal proposal from China on Teesta as yet, the one that China was proposing was initially was a French project, designed by French engineers in 1989. It was expensive, that time we could not manage funds. Now the Chinese are picking up one component of it, the Teesta project, but this I gather from media reports, they did not send us a proposal as of now. We have to see how it goes, because as of now India is not really not doing much to resolve the Teesta water sharing issue, that’s why they came up with a proposal, it’s a lucrative proposal,” Dr Momen said.
In September 2016, the Bangladesh Water Development Board entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Powerchina or the Power Construction Corporation of China to carry out a technical study to better manage the Teesta for the benefit of northern Bangladesh’s greater Rangpur region.
“However, Teesta is an unresolved issue, so our people would naturally push the government to look into any fresh proposal, that many be the reason why the Chinese project on Teesta is so much talked about in media,” the Foreign Minister said.
“We are very optimistic that India would agree to go forward with the deal, even West Bengal will agree, and we will achieve it,” he said.