Sheikh Hasina’s India visit in limbo after Mamata pulls the rug on Teesta pact
Both India and Bangladesh are looking at an early date for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India. But with the Centre failing to get West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on board, the much awaited visit is now certain not to seal the Teesta river pact for sharing water.
Though Banerjee accompanied PM Modi to Dhaka in June 2015, she seems to have given a short-shrift to Centre that hoped to sign the politically significant water sharing pact the two sides have been discussing for little over 18 years now.
For Hasina, Teesta would have helped mark a major milestone in ties with India. Though Bangladesh was hoping to get December 18 as the main day for Hasina’s visit, India is finding it difficult to agree on that day due to a busy diplomatic calendar.
“We have written to the West Bengal government on this regard but have not heard anything as yet. There are issues like the percentage of water from the Teesta river that will be shared between the two countries. The state will have to come on board to finalise these issues without which we can’t go ahead and sign the pact,” said a senior water resources ministry official.
The pact was ready for signing during the 2011 Dhaka visit of the then prime minister Manmohan Singh. Then also, Mamata pulled the rug on the pact at the last moment.
Sources said that the Centre is likely to start a fresh dialogue with the state government on the Teesta pact after March next year, once the elections in key states including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are over. India and Bangladesh share 54 cross border rivers and a water sharing pact exists only in the case of one river.
Dhaka says that the average flow of Teesta in the last ten days of March, considered a lean season, was 315 cusecs in 2015 as compared to 550 cusecs during same period in 2014.There being not enough water is a complain that even West Bengal raises, while objecting to the water sharing pact.
“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’.
“On the water front, we will discuss the proposed Ganga Barrage project that Bangladesh is planning to build on the Padma river. India has given its in-principle agreement and details like the existing water level and if flooding possibility on India side once the barrage becomes operational will be discussed during the PM’s visit,” said another ministry official.
Bangladesh has already completed the feasibility study of the 2.1km long barrage project that will improve the flow of water, even during the lean season, to areas across the border that depend on water from the Ganges.
The proposed project has a reservoir to augment the flow of water and its equal distribution, in both dry and rainy seasons, over the Ganges dependent area.