The Teesta water treaty
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is coming to New Delhi on a four-day visit on April 7. One of the issues to be discussed by the two sides is the sharing of Teesta waters between India and Bangladesh. The Teesta water-sharing treaty between the two countries has been hanging fire for a long time, mainly due to West Bengal’s objection on the ground that the State does not have much surplus water from the river to share with Bangladesh. Now, on the eve of Hasina’s visit, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has told an electronic media that she has learnt that the Teesta agreement is going to be signed on May 25 and Chief Ministers of five border States are going to be invited to the signing event. But she says she has not been consulted at all and that she could not approve of the treaty at the cost of the State’s interests.
Of the Teesta’s nearly 414 km length, some 150 kms lie in Sikkim, 123 kms in West Bengal and 140 kms in Bangladesh. Any sharing of its waters with Bangladesh will directly affect two Indian States – Sikkim and West Bengal. Obviously, the Centre can’t enter into a treaty about the sharing of Teesta waters without the consent of the State Governments of Sikkim and West Bengal. The two countries, it may be recalled, reached an ad hoc water sharing treaty in 1983. Under it, West Bengal was to receive 39 per cent of the waters and Bangladesh 36 per cent. When the Trinamool Congress came to power in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declined to approve the treaty on the ground that such a sharing would cause problems in the northern region of the State, especially during the lean months. In 2011, when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister, a draft agreement was drawn up under which Teesta waters would be shared on a 50:50 basis. But due to Mamata’s objection, the treaty could not be signed.
The issue has to be seen in a larger geopolitical context. A discord with India on any issue will give a handle to the Opposition in Bangladesh not only to run down India but also Sheikh Hasina herself. China will try to take advantage of any discord between India and her neighbours, including Bangladesh. It is of utmost importance to arrive at an amicable solution of the water-sharing problem in the larger interest of the two sides. The people expect a mature response from Mamata on the sensitive Teesta issue.