With Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi on the anvil later this year, all eyes are riveted on chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is yet to agree to signing the India-Bangla Teesta Water Sharing Treaty.
The Bangaldeshi administration expressed concern over souring ties between Mamata and the UPA II government at the Centre that could scuttle efforts to bring a swift resolution to the water treaty, disturbing what they believe will be the major electoral leverage for Hasina’s Awami League in the Bangladeshi general elections of Bangladesh later this year.
Sheikh Hasina is eagerly awaiting Mamata’s nod in favour of sharing Teesta waters with Bangladesh. “Water is very important for us. Its scarcity in the country has made the treaty very important for the Hasina government,” said Mahbubul Hoque Shakil, special assistant (Media) to Prime Minister Hasina.
Awami League MP Tofail Ahmed aired similar views, saying it was the human – more than the political factor – that makes the Teesta treaty so very important for Bangladesh. “If we don’t get the Teesta waters, a portion of our country will turn into a desert and people well be severely affected,” Ahmed added.
Bangladeshi river experts pointed out, Teesta enters their country near Tin Bigha in Lalmonirhat district, and of the total 315 km stretch of the river, about 130 km runs inside Bangladesh.
In summer, Teesta releases between 10,000 to 280,000 cusecs and serves nearly 21 million people living in the river basin in the Rangpur district and are engages in agriculture and fishing. “Since, India is diverting 80% of the water from the Gazaldoba Barrage in Jalpaiguri without consulting Bangladesh, our people are suffering,” said Ahmed.
Bangladeshis alleged that they get no water in the dry season and are unable to irrigate 632,000 hectare of land for eight months in a year, being dependent on Teesta waters. However, in the monsoon, the Teesta flows so abundantly that it floods the land, destroying crops, homes, riverbanks and embankments.
To overcome its problem, Dhaka suggested equal sharing of Teesta waters, the formula being to allow Bangladesh 20% of the river flow and divide the remaining 80% equally between India and Bangladesh. This treaty would be in place for 15 years.
“The Teesta Treaty fell through when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Sign visited Dhaka in 2011, since Mamata Banerjee refused to accept it,” Ahmed said. “So far, we only have one river treaty with the Ganges, though 54 major rivers flow from India to Bangladesh and India uses the waters of 43 of these rivers,” he added.
However, water isn’t the only factor. The Teesta Treaty has assumed great political significance for the Hasina government since the party faces general elections this year in Bangladesh. The Khaleda Zialed Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the major Opposition to Hasina’s Awami League, has been campaigning against the Prime Minister for failing to close the Teesta deal.
“The BNP, Jamaat and the Razakars are campaigning that Hasina’s pro-India policy has failed Bangladesh. India is not protecting Bangladesh’s interests and there they should have a regime that protects their national interests and does not supplicate to India,” a BNP leader said.
Summing up the Opposition’s stand, Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, vice chairman of the BNP, said, “The people of Bangladesh do not actually know what is being negotiated in the Teesta Treaty.”