Bangladesh PM’s India Trip Leaves Farmers Thirsty for Water Deal

Via NikkeiAsia, a report on issues between India and Bangladesh over use of the Teesta River:

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India this week has left farmers and experts back home frustrated over a lack of progress on a deal to share precious water from a Himalayan river.

Hasina, visiting for the first time in three years and likely the last time before a general election in late 2023, did ink a nonbinding pact on sharing water from the Kushiyara River. But there were no signs of headway on allocating supplies from the more important Teesta River.

Back in 2011, the leaders of India and Bangladesh agreed to direct their officials to pursue a deal for sharing water from the Teesta during dry seasons on a “fair and equitable basis.” But the river — which originates in the Himalayas in the Indian state of Sikkim and meets other waterways, ultimately flowing into the Bay of Bengal — remains a point of contention between the South Asian neighbors.

Dam construction in India means that farmers in northern Bangladesh get hardly any water when they need it most, leaving them with withered crops and losses every year. When water is released during the wet season, farms are at risk of being inundated.

At a joint news conference, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said nothing about the Teesta water deal. Hasina, meanwhile, struck an upbeat note on the subject of water.

“I recall that the two countries have resolved many issues in the spirit of friendship and cooperation,” she said at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi. “We hope that all outstanding issues, including a Teesta water-sharing agreement, will be concluded at an early date.”

“There are 54 rivers. As long as Prime Minister Modi is here, India and Bangladesh will resolve all these issues,” she added.

But this was not what many expected. Ahead of the visit, many Bangladeshis hoped Hasina would push hard for a breakthrough — one that could earn her points with voters amid a worsening economic crisis.

Junior Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam briefed reporters after the Hasina-Modi summit, saying that India again assured Bangladesh that the Teesta matter would be resolved.

“We are still at the assurance level,” he was quoted as saying by news agency UNB. “We believe that the commitment that India gave us will be delivered, though it may take time.”

With climate change being blamed for more droughts and volatile weather, water disputes across the region are heating up. India also has a spat with China over the Yarlung Tsangpo River, where Beijing is building dams for generating 60 gigawatts of hydropower. The lower part of the waterway is called the Brahmaputra River in India.

Archrivals India and Pakistan are at loggerheads over water from the Indus River, despite a treaty signed in 1960. India also has a dispute with neighboring Nepal over river water.

As regards the Teesta, the stalemate is believed to be due to fierce opposition from Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the Indian state of West Bengal, through which the Teesta enters Bangladesh.

Banerjee has complained that her own state is not getting the required water, blaming dam-building in Sikkim. She did not visit Delhi during Hasina’s tour, with some media reporting that the central government did not invite her.

Nevertheless, analysts say Bangladesh should press India to sign a deal that would provide a fair share of Teesta water rather than settling for deals on less important rivers like the Kushiyara.

The International Farakka Committee (IFC), a group of water experts campaigning for Bangladesh’s right to supplies from trans-border rivers, last Saturday called on the prime minister to pursue Teesta water-sharing and a renewal of the Ganges treaty. The two nations signed a 30-year sharing agreement for the Ganges in 1996.

“Before signing the proposed [memorandum of understanding] on the Kushiyara, Bangladesh should ask for the long-awaited treaty on the Teesta to be signed,” the IFC said in a statement.

M. Inamul Haque, former director general of the Water Resources Planning Organization in Dhaka, called the Kushiyara memorandum an attempt to “divert attention from the Teesta water-sharing pact.”

“We have historical rights on Teesta water,” Haque told Nikkei Asia, claiming that insufficient water from the river saddle Bangladesh with over $600 million in financial losses every year.

Mostafa Kamal Majumder, a water expert and editor of online newspaper GreenWatch Dhaka, said the Kushiyara sharing agreement could come at a price for Bangladesh if it gives India rights to draw water from the river.

“The Sylhet region [of Bangladesh] will be affected seriously if India lifts water from the Kushiyara River,” he said.

On the Teesta, he said India’s constitution mentions that states will have control over water resources, but in the case of international relations, the central government will have full control. This suggests West Bengal’s position should not be such an obstacle.

“If [New Delhi] wants, it can use its absolute power and sign the deal, but India’s central government is not doing so,” Majumder said.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 8th, 2023 at 7:42 am and is filed under Bangladesh, India.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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