China eyes Teesta development project in Bangladesh, India in race too | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

China eyes Teesta development project in Bangladesh, India in race too

May 08, 2024 06:39 PM IST

Beijing has been eyeing Dhaka’s planned Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration project, with an estimated cost of $1 billion, for the past few years

New Delhi: Bangladesh’s plans to dredge and develop its section of the cross-border Teesta River have become a source of contestation between India and China at a time of increased rivalry between the two Asian powers across the neighbourhood.

Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration project (Representative Photo)
Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration project (Representative Photo)

Beijing has been eyeing Dhaka’s planned Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration project, with an estimated cost of $1 billion, for the past few years and has submitted a formal proposal for implementing the project. The Indian side too, has evinced interest in carrying out the work, given the importance of the cross-border river.

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Moves by India and China have picked up pace following the re-election of Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina as Bangladesh’s premier in January, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. The Bangladesh government is yet to take a call on who will implement the massive project or when work on it will begin.

Asked about interest shown by both India and China in the Teesta project during an event at Ananta Centre on April 30, Bangladesh high commissioner Mustafizur Rahman said Dhaka is yet to receive a formal proposal from New Delhi.

“I am aware of the Chinese proposal, I don’t know officially about the Indian proposal. Once it is placed and proposed, then I am sure that the concerned authorities [in Bangladesh] will look into it and see the viability and other aspects of that,” Rahman said without going into details.

The people cited above said while the Indian side has not submitted a formal proposal, the matter has been taken up with Bangladesh, both formally and informally, at several meetings. “We would definitely not like this project to be given to China given the strategic and security implications,” one of the people mentioned above said.

Most such big-ticket projects awarded to China are implemented by state-run firms and India has concerns about the possibility of water flow data and other crucial information being scooped up by the Chinese side. The site of the proposed Teesta project in Bangladesh will also allow Chinese personnel to establish a presence near the Siliguri Corridor or so-called “chicken’s neck”, the narrow strip of land that links the rest of India with the strategic northeastern region.

India’s concerns in this regard have been conveyed to the Bangladesh side, the people said. The Indian side has also kept a wary eye on efforts by Chinese diplomats to pressure Bangladesh on the Teesta project.

Also Read: Resetting India-China ties in an era of tensions

Last December, China’s envoy to Bangladesh, Yao Wen, caused a stir by announcing that Beijing has received several proposals for developing the Teesta basin.

In October 2022, Yao’s predecessor, Li Jiming, visited the Teesta barrage in Lalmonirhat district and said Chinese engineers were exploring the possibility of dredging the river and studying conditions to set a timeframe for the project.

Bangladesh’s foreign ministry spokesperson responded to Yao’s remarks by saying that Dhaka will “take into cognisance the geopolitical issues” before deciding on the Teesta project.

During a visit to New Delhi last year, Prime Minister Hasina told reporters that Bangladesh is not required to consult the Indian side for any works on its section of the Teesta, one of the 54 cross-border rivers shared by the two countries. It is also the only river on which the two sides have not been able to reach a water-sharing agreement.

India and Bangladesh were set to ink a pact on sharing Teesta waters in 2011, but it had to be put off due to opposition from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Under India’s Constitution, the concurrence of state governments is mandatory for agreements on sharing waters of cross-border rivers. Banerjee contended the treaty would leave parts of West Bengal dry.

Bangladesh, the biggest beneficiary of India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy through connectivity initiatives that have resulted in the creation of energy pipelines and road and rail links, has struck a cautious balance in accepting development aid from India and China.

Japan, India’s partners in the Quad, has closely aligned its development efforts in India’s northeastern states and Bangladesh with an eye on China. Japan has extended loans worth $1.2 billion to Bangladesh for building the Matarbari deep seaport in Cox’s Bazar district with an eye to creating a new industrial value chain that will benefit the northeastern states.

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