After seeing through the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh in Parliament, the Modi government has started the groundwork to get West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on board for the Teesta water sharing pact.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hopes to seal the deal during a proposed visit to Dhaka in June-July and may ask chief ministers of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura — states that border Bangladesh — to accompany him, sources said.
The Centre is “open and receptive” to suggestions from Banerjee, who stopped the deal at the last minute in 2011, government sources said, acknowledging that the Trinamool Congress chief will have political reasons to be cautious on a sensitive pact in view of the 2016 assembly elections.
Sources close to Banerjee, however, told HT that “positive movement in inking the Teesta accord can definitely be expected”, confirming that “plans are in the works” for the West Bengal chief minister to visit Dhaka along with Modi.
“She is aware of the expectations of the people of Bangladesh from her government. Last time she went to Dhaka (in February), the discussions on Teesta dominated the exclusive meeting between her and Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina,” a source said.
Sources, however, also pointed out that Teesta has dried up to a large extent in the last decade and 27 irrigation projects depend on the river. Also, sharing the water of a parched North Bengal less than a year before assembly elections would be a politically sensitive issue.
Indian officials familiar with the water-sharing pact said the agreement is good for both countries, though misconceptions about the deal persist.
At present, West Bengal uses only 25% of Teesta water and the rest flows to Bangladesh. As per the draft of the 2011 treaty, India and Bangladesh had agreed upon a 50-50 sharing formula.
But Banerjee wanted 75% of the flow at Gozaldoba in North Bengal where a river barrage project is under construction since 1976. Once completed, the project will serve an irrigated area of 9,22,000 hectares as against the 58,000 hectares it caters to now.
Bangladesh agreed to Banerjee’s demand since it was getting the promised share – 25% water was to flow downstream to Gozaldoba and another 25% would be added through regeneration by the time the river reached Dalia barrage in Lalmonirhat district of Bangladesh.
“Mamata had wanted an explicit reference to this in the agreement, leading to the last-minute visit of then national security adviser Shivshankar Menon to Dhaka,” said an official. Though the nitty-gritty of the final water flow is usually not reflected in the text of any international agreement, it was done so in this particular case due to the West Bengal chief minister’s insistence.
Banerjee, however, backed out of the deal due to political differences with the then UPA government.