India, Bangladesh: Dispute over water and the river Teesta

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Society & You - Social Critic
Monday, 11 June 2012 12:03

This post is part of our special coverage of International Relations and Security [en].

India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers. Despite the creation of a Joint Rivers Commission [on] for water management since 1972, tensions between the two countries on sharing resources recently reached the point of dispute over the river Teesta. At stake are the lives of countless people of West Bengal and Bangladesh, which depend on the river for their survival.

To date, India and Bangladesh have signed only a broad agreement about the river - a bilateral treaty of 1996 [in] which established a 30-year arrangement to share the waters between the two countries. This would change in September 2011 when the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, signed a pact with his counterpart in Bangladesh in relation to access and use of the river Teesta.

Aerial View of Teesta River

Aerial view of river Teesta. Prato9x photo on Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Teesta - which originates in Sikkim - flows through the northern part of West Bengal in India before entering Bangladesh, where after passing for about 45km of irrigable land, joins the river Brahmaputra (Jamuna or when it enters to Bangladesh). In 1983, a water-sharing agreement ad-hoc [in] was reached between India and Bangladesh, in which both countries were allocated 39% and 36% respectively of the water flow. The new bilateral agreement expands on this by proposing an equitable distribution of river Teesta.

However, the deal fell [in] when the newly elected Chief Minister of West Bengal, Ms. Mamata Banerjee [in], refused to approve the treaty, fearing that the loss of a greater volume of water to the lower river could cause problems in the upstate region, especially during the drier months.

Ganges Hrishikesh

The river Ganges, to Hrishikesh, India. Photo on Flickr Sanj @ y (CC-BY-2.0)

Given that water is a matter of state in India, and that the political party of Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress All India [in], is a key partner in the coalition government in power plant, the agreement could not pass without his approval. While much of the population of Bangladesh and the Indian media vilified its rigid stance, his opposition to the treaty's terms was not without a share of support [in].

In May 2012, during a visit to India, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, Ms. Dipu Moni said that [in] the bilateral relations will be complicated if India is unable to deliver the agreement to share the waters of the Teesta .

Despite this pressure tactic, the treaty remains a simmer, while India continues its efforts to build domestic political consensus [on]. However, the Indian Foreign Minister, SM Krishna, tried to ease tensions and said to Bangladesh that India remains committed to an early solution to the issue of sharing Teesta waters.

Jamuna River (Brahmaputra) in Bangladesh. Photo on Flickr bengal * foam (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Bangladesh also wants a quick solution to the problem, and may even be willing to soften its position [in] due to the growing pressure at home to close the deal.

Bangladeshi Journalist and blogger Ahmed Farid writes [es]:

It seems quite clear now that for the moment ... Bangladesh has failed to ensure that India sign an agreement ... to share the water of common rivers, especially the Teesta ... It is now Bangladesh, who must do what it should have started long. Apart from traditional diplomacy, should have conveyed the feelings of his audience to those across the border. The sky is blocked for Dhaka since no Bangladeshi channel is transmitted by cable operators in India ... Most of the newspapers in India were supporting the cause of Bangladesh in the Teesta. That's a positive side. What about public participation in West Bengal?

However, looking beyond the political rhetoric, the concerns of West Bengal on water security for the northern region can not be overlooked and should be allayed. India already is beginning to feel the pressure on its water security in the light of increasing demands siemre more water for its growing population. According to the 2010 report 'Water Security for India: the external dynamics', published [in] by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) [en}:

India faces a serious water problem and as suggested by the trends, is expected to become 'water stress' in 2025, and "water scarcity" by 2050

Both countries, therefore, need to develop a well thought out and balanced treaty that allows a fair distribution of the waters of the Teesta, improving bilateral relations and reducing the possibility of water conflicts.

ISN logo This post and its translations into Spanish, Arabic and French have been commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of an alliance to locate voices of citizens around the world on issues of international relations and security.

Visit the blog of ISN [on] and see more related stories.

Posted by Aparna Ray · Translated by Juan Arellano · View original post [en] · Comments (0)
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