West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to the proposed Teesta water-sharing agreement between India and Bangladesh in its present form is good news for people in north Bengal. Six districts in the area depend on Teesta waters for irrigation.
The Trinamool Congress had done exceptionally well in north Bengal during the last assembly elections. Banerjee’s move is expected to go a long way towards projecting her as a leader who did not sacrifice the interests of her state to continue bonhomie with the Centre.
Sharing of Teesta waters with Bangladesh is a fraught issue in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, North and South Dinajpur and Malda districts. Not only do the people depend on the waters for irrigation, when the Teesta Barrage Project was started in 1975, many farmers gave their land for the project in hope of more water.
“The Centre’s proposal to give 33,000 to 50,000 cusecs of water to Bangladesh would keep the six districts dry in summer,” said Professor Jeta Sankrityayan of North Bengal University, who is also a member of the state planning board. “The chief minister made the right move keeping in view the interests of lakhs of farmers, who, since 1975, are waiting for Teesta waters.”
Another professor, on condition of anonymity, said: “It was the Centre’s fault not to consult the state government while preparing the draft.”
It was also “unfair” on the Centre’s part to agree to give a large part of Teesta waters to Bangladesh when it had taken up the Teesta Barrage Project as a national project in 2008, she said.
So far, over R1,268 crore has been spent on the Teesta Barrage Project, the biggest irrigation project in eastern India. IT had a deadline of 2015 for completion, but the first stage work is not over yet.