India and Bangladesh have been negotiating the elusive Teesta river water-sharing pact for close to two decades now. Prime Minister Narendra Modi rekindled hope for the early signing of the pact yet again after meeting his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Saturday.
But West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee changed the narrative again, insisting that instead of Teesta, the Centre should look at other river systems to share water with Bangladesh.
And this would further muddy the water on issues related to water sharing between India and Bangladesh. The ties with Bangladesh have been on an upswing recently driven by closer cooperation in a host of sectors such as security and settling a niggling border dispute. But the inability to ink Teesta pact will make it difficult for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to keep the momentum in ties with India for a variety of reasons.
Since water is a state subject, the Centre cannot do much about Teesta so long as Mamata Banerjee does not play ball. Water sharing pacts are very difficult to arrive at. India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers but there is only water sharing pact that exists between them - the Ganges water-sharing treaty of 1996.
“No important water-sharing treaty has been signed in the world in this century, indicating how increasing water stress is making sharing and cooperation more difficult,” said strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney, author of the book, ‘Water: Asia’s New Battleground’.
Apart from the complex nature of water sharing negotiations, the Teesta has become a political and emotional issue in Dhaka. Not sealing the pact after it was ready for signing in 2011, sets up Sheikh Hasina to be charged with giving too much to India for too little in return.
“Oh, Teesta!” a front-page headline in one of Bangladesh’s leading newspapers Daily Star screamed in June 2014, coinciding with the visit of Modi to Bangladesh. “Thin river to continue reminding Bangladesh about prolonged sufferings inflicted by India,” the paper had commented.
Of late, Dhaka has been complaining that the flow of the Teesta is thinning alarmingly. Dhaka says that the average flow of the Teesta in the last ten days of March, which considered a lean season, was 315 cusecs in 2015 compared to 550 cusecs during same period in 2014.
But West Bengal also complains that there is not enough water while objecting to the water sharing pact.
“We don’t know anything about the new proposal from West Bengal chief minister. Nothing has been formally conveyed to the Centre,” said a government source.