Even when the issue of sharing Teesta waters continues to trigger controversy, another cross-border river Churni is threatening to ignite fresh row between India and Bangladesh.
Churni is a narrow river that flows into the Nadia district from Bangladesh. It is a distributary of the Mathabhanga river which, in turn, is a distributary of the Padma.
Representatives of Nadia Zila 18th August Parichalan Samiti (NDAPS), a social organisation in Nadia district, have sent a container with samples of water from the Churni river to the Prime Minister’s office on Thursday with a plea to start negotiations with the Sheikh Hasina government in Dhaka for controlling the effluents dumped in this river by Bangladesh industry which is carried into India through this river.
In September 2016, the eastern zonal bench of National Green Tribunal instructed the ministry of external affairs to negotiate with Bangladesh on setting low-cost effluent treatment plant at the industrial unit concerned with expenses to be borne by the Government of India. Nothing, however, has progressed.
“Locals greatly depend on the Churni and the Mathabhanga river for various reasons – from fishing to agriculture. But the ever-increasing rate of pollution has jeopardised everything. Finally, we decided to send samples of water from the rivers to the office of the prime minister and the chief minister,” said Anjan Sukul of NDAPS.
Significantly, the noise is increasing when there is a perceptible difference between the Centre and the West Bengal government over sharing of Teesta waters which flows from India to Bangladesh. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen on signing the Teesta water sharing agreement with Bangladesh, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has taken a stand against sharing north Bengal’s principle river’s water with the neighbouring country.
In the case of Churni, an 80-year old industrial unit Carew & Co Ltd has a sugar mill, a distillery and a pharmaceutical unit at the border town of Darsana in Chuadanga district of Bangladesh. While the problem of pollutants flowing down the river is an old one, the quantity of effluent released into the waters has drastically increased over the past few years, locals alleged. They collected samples of the polluted water on April 24 and sent it to the PMO the next day.
“The effluents are not only polluting the entire river and its ecosystem but are also killing tonnes of fish every year. The livelihood of local fishermen is badly affected and many of them are compelled to switch to other professions,” said Gokul Bala, a resident of Shibnibas area in Krishnaganj.
The extent of pollution in the river is so high that the water is unfit even for irrigation and bathing, alleged the locals who filed the petition in the NGT.
Locals who filed the petition also claimed that the river flows through densely populated areas of the Nadia district and affects the lives of six lakh inhabitants and about 5,000 fishermen, who have “lost their livelihood”.
“National Green Tribunal directs the Ministry of External Affairs to continue negotiations with Government of Bangladesh for setting up an effluent treatment plant with funding by Government of India for the industries contributing to the pollution of river Mathabhanga, which subsequently flow into river Churni in West Bengal,” reads the September 21 order.
The green tribunal also ordered the government of West Bengal to prepare a detailed project report through its Municipal Engineering Directorate.
Members of the organisation indicated to HT that they have approached the highest executive office of the land hoping the government would try to prevail on Dhaka to find a quick solution to the festering problem. However, if there is no result, they may think of launching agitations.
It is recorded in the NGT order that on July 14, 2014, the Indian high commission in Dhaka conveyed the problem of dumping effluents into the Churni to the foreign ministry of Bangladesh, but there has been no improvement in the situation.
After branching off from the Mathabhanga river, Churni flows for more than 56 kms before merging into the Hooghly river. Therefore, the pollutants are eventually carried into the Hooghly river too.