Mamata meeting with Prime Minister Modi: Any hope for Teesta Agreement?

Mamata meeting with Prime Minister Modi: Any hope for Teesta Agreement?

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of Bengal, met on March 9th Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time since he took power in last May. The main purpose of her meeting was to seek financial assistance from the Prime Minister to debt-stressed West Bengal.

It is reported that at the 20-minute one-to-one meeting between the two leaders, the current state of India-Bangladesh relations and the pending issues- the Teesta water-sharing deal and land boundary agreement- with Bangladesh came up. Mamata was understood to have apprised Modi of her talks with Bangladesh leadership, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her visit to Dhaka last month. It is reported that she took a positive approach on inking the Teesta water pact and extended her help to implement the Indo-Bangladesh Land Border Agreement.

She also told reporters in Kolkata that she had written separate letters to Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj about the outcome of her recent visit to Bangladesh.

Last month while visiting Dhaka for three days, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee asked Bangladesh to “keep faith” in her over a Teesta water-sharing deal that Bangladesh has long wanted to be concluded. The chief minister reportedly said the water-sharing issue a problem for everyone concerned.

The chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee had appointed an expert committee headed by Dr. Kalyan Rudra to study the Teesta water-sharing issue. It is believed that Rudra’s report was in favour of Bangladesh but the Chief Ministe had reservations on the report which remains unpublished. In recent months, Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh reportedly met and discussed the issue with Dr. Rudra.

It may be recalled that on 17th September last year Foreign Office spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin while addressing the Press over the talks of Bangladesh foreign minister meeting with his Indian counterpart said India requires political consensus over Teesta issue. .He said, water was a “sensitive” issue that needed to be addressed in a manner which was fair, equitable, and none of the party was negatively impacted.

Teesta is the most important river in northeast of Bangladesh and is the 4th largest river of the country. The upper stream Indian states- West Bengal and Sikkim- have plans to irrigate an area of 9.22 lakhs hectares of land and reportedly water has increasingly been withdrawn every year from Teesta river. However at present more than 1 lakh hectares have come under irrigation project, further depleting water for Bangladesh.

The plan affects adversely about 21 million Bangladeshi people who live in the basin of river Teesta while only 8 million live in West Bengal and half a million live in Sikkim state. The population ration is 70 for Bangladesh: 30 for India.

The river originates in the Sikkim Valley of the Himalayan Range within India. Sikkim reportedly has built five dams, building four dams and 31 more on the upper region of the Teesta River.

West Bengal claims that Sikkim with its ambitious water projects depletes water on the down stream flow of the river and West Bengal wants that the Central Water Commission which is a premier technical organisation of India in the field of water resources and is presently functioning as an attached office of the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India, can help solve the problem. If Pawan Chamling, chief minister of Sikkim state can be persuaded to by the Modi government to release more water to West Bengal, West Bengal is able to share water with Bangladesh.

It is reported that the New Delhi asked the chief minister of West Bengal to prepare a draft a text of Teesta Water sharing agreement which could satisfy the all the parties including Bangladesh.

Bangladesh wants that water of a common river should be used on equitable basis where the minimum historical flow has to be maintained for the life of the river and no withdrawal of water can be harmful to lower riparian Bangladesh as provided in Article 9 of the 1996 Indo-Bangladesh Treaty on the Ganges River.

Having said that, there are two views over the resolution of Teesta water sharing agreement. One view is that since Bangladesh is strategically important for India primarily for two reasons: (a) connectivity (transit or transshipment) through Bangladesh to the northeastern states and maintenance of security in the restive northeaster states and when Bangladesh government is able to provide these core interests, the Modi government reportedly expressed its desire to resolve the two issues with Bangladesh and such steps are expected to boost bilateral ties tremendously facilitating a visit for the Prime Minister Modi to Dhaka this year.

The other view is that the election of the legislative assembly in West Bengal will take place in 2016 and the BJP and Trinamool Congress of Banerjee are expected to contest the election and it is reported that politically it may not desirable before the state- election to sign the Teesta Water sharing agreement with Bangladesh. If BJP wins the election, West Bengal will be led by BJP chief minister who will pursue the policy of New Delhi with Bangladesh and New Delhi’s policy towards Bangladesh cannot be disrupted..

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