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A tale of two rivers

  • Published at 06:19 pm February 25th, 2017
A tale of two rivers

Over the years, Bangladesh has proven its credentials not as a good samaritan, but as a good friend for India. At the request of the government of India, as well as government of Tripura, Bangladesh imposed a massive crackdown on hideouts which sheltered Northeast India’s insurgent outfits.

During Indian PM Narendra Modi’s Dhaka visit in 2015, the government of Bangladesh allowed India access to Chittagong and Mangla ports. Bus route services vis-à-vis Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala and Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati were launched as well, which has facilitated road connectivity between the two nations.

India now also has access to the submarine cable which has helped speed up network connectivity in North-East India.

Two turbines of Palatana power project were reachable to Tripura via the transit route of Bangladesh’s Ashuganj port. In a reciprocal move, Tripura has decided to supply 100MW of electricity to Bangladesh.

Possibly, no other country in the globe has been as amiable as Bangladesh has been towards India. However, India is yet to give Bangladesh a fair deal.

As it happened, then Indian PM Manmohan Singh was about to readily give a nod to the water-sharing agreement in 2011. However, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s strident opposition to the agreement at the 11th hour dashed all hopes and led everything back to square one.

But what actually prompted Mamata to take such a drastic step to scuttle such an agreement which would have strengthened Indo-Bangla friendship?

The river Teesta flows with 2,430 cubic metre water per month. It is waterless during drought, while full of during monsoon. It originates in Cholamu Lake of North Sikkim. Flowing through a length of 414km, it confluences with Jamuna at Chilmari sub-district of Bangladesh.

In Sikkim, it flows through a length of 170km, while in West Bengal and Bangladesh it flows through a length of 123km and 121km respectively.

Former PM Manmohan Singh propounded a solution to the convoluted water-sharing issue. He stated that a uniform 50% of Teesta’s water would be apportioned between India and Bangladesh during drought seasons. However, Mamata objected as Teesta gets dried up during that particular season.

According to a clause of the water-sharing agreement, if the water-flow of Ganga becomes less than 50,000 cusec, India and Bangladesh can share water in uniformity. If necessary, the two nations can again sit for talks

On the other hand, she accused Sikkim of obstructing the river’s flow by constructing hydroelectric dams along the river. But Sikkim summarily dismissed those claims. Ultimately, the West Bengal CM passed the buck to PM Narendra Modi.

Be that as it may, Mamata’s fears hold ground in light of retrospection.

The Ganga water-sharing agreement was signed by then Indian PM HD Deve Gowda and Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina in the presence of then West Bengal CM Jyoti Basu on December 12, 1996. This point verily requires a thorough elucidation.

The Ganga water-sharing agreement was signed on the basis of its average flow in 1949-88. As per sources are concerned, the river is supposed to flow with 64,688 cusec water through the Farakka barrage at the last week of March. Out of it, India would be allotted 35,000 cusec water and the rest would go to Bangladesh. Ironically, the water-flow in Ganga has not been up to the mark for the last few years.

The current flow of Ganga bears no resemblance with the four-decade old (1949-88) estimation. It should also be noted that the flow of Ganga following 1988 and preceding 1996 was not estimated due to unknown reasons.

As dams and reservoirs are built for irrigation and hydel power projects along the catchment areas of Ganga, the river is gradually getting dried up.

According to a clause of the water-sharing agreement, if the water-flow of Ganga becomes less than 50,000 cusec, India and Bangladesh can share water in uniformity. If necessary, the two nations can, again, sit for talks.

On the other hand, things have taken twists and turns with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asking for the decommissioning of the Farakka Barrage. This move has been strongly looked with a frown by the leader of the opposition, the Bihar Legislative Assembly, Sushil Kumar Modi.

Still then, some sacrifices should be made by India for Bangladesh.

Because Bangladesh has readily met up with Indian demands, especially during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tenure.

But has India reciprocated in return?

India should introspect on it as last year during his Dhaka visit India’s Foreign Secretary, Subhramanyam Jaishankar stated that Indo-Bangla friendship is a model all over the world to be emulated in diplomatic circles.

On the other hand, sacrifices should be made if India wants to improve connectivity in its northeastern states within the purview of the “Act East” policy. Improving connectivity in northeast is impossible by side-stepping Bangladesh.

For that matter, India should delve into the matter deeply so that an amiable solution is found to keep up with the most trustworthy friendship with Bangladesh.

Shilajit Kar Bhowmik is Dhaka Tribune’s Tripura correspondent.

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