Based on advice of river and ecological experts, chief minister Mamata Banerjee believes that River Teesta will not fulfill the unrealistic irrigation command area in either Bengal or Bangladesh that the Indo-Bangla Teesta Treaty is expected to serve.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is likely to visit New Delhi in September and is expected to sign the IndoBangla Teesta Treaty with the Centre. Though, Teesta flows primarily through North Bengal, Mamata has been kept out of the bilateral river-sharing developments by the Centre so far.
The Central Water Commission has concluded that Teesta, which originates in Sikkim and flows 72 km downstream thorough the Jalpaiguri district of North Bengal from the Gajaldoba Barrage, would irrigate 9.22 lakh hectares of land in Bengal and seven-lakh hectares in Rangpur district of Bangladesh.
The Central Water Commission has added that in the first phase, Teesta would irrigate 3.6 lakh hectares of land. But this is untrue. In reality, with its present volume of water, Teesta irrigates only 40,000 hectares of land in Bengal.
“The whole concept is unrealistic. What’s more, once the 23 hydel-power projects start operating by 2013-end, the flow of water would further reduce during the daytime and affect irrigation downstream. Plus, the river biodiversity, water table and its ecological flow would go for a toss,” river expert Kalyan Rudra told HT.
Experts have told the chief minister that before taking any decision on sharing Teesta waters with Bangladesh, a detailed real-time data of river’s ecological flow, a study of the river’s sustainability, engineering and its environmental impact report should be prepared.
“As things stand now, there is not much volume of water in Teesta during the lean season between November 1 to May 31. The water however is in abundance during the monsoon from June to September. But that will not serve the demand of Bangladesh,” said a river expert.
In downstream, Teesta enters Bangladesh from Burigram and from Duani Barrage flows 20 km inside Bangladesh to merge with River Brahmaputra.
During the Ganga-Farakka Treaty with Bangladesh during the Jyoti Basu-led Left regime in 1996, a proportionate watersharing table of a ten-day cycle was prepared for the period from January 1 to May 31.
The preceding 40 years’ average was also taken into consideration. And once the viability report was cleared, then Prime minister Deve Gowda signed the treaty with the then Prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
Mamata has been advised that a similar table should be prepared. On one hand, study should be done on availability of Teesta water throughout the year and the second important factor is to study the life of the people dependent on the river and what happens if the river water is denied to them.
Around 15 lakh people in Jalpaiguri live on the banks of the Teesta. Fall in the water table would affect the life of people, the ecology of the river and irrigation. “Plus, many fish will go extinct and birds will stop migrating. People will be displaced and agriculture will be destroyed,” said an expert.
River experts deputed by the state government have already informed the Central Water commission about the ramifications of sharing the Teesta with the neighbour.
No wonder, Mamata and her experts believe the Indo-Bangla Teesta Treaty is not pragmatic and will neither serve the interests of Bengal nor Bangladesh.
However, for Hasina, who is facing general elections in Bangladesh in 2013 end, the Teesta treaty is of great political significance. And the agreement, her party Awami League believes, could sway the votes in Hasina’s favour and help her to return to power.
No wonder, Indo-Bangla observers say Teesta is today caught in the politics of water. But the river needs a scientific approach and not a diplomatic coup to fathom its utility problems.