Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | May 20,2019
Bangladesh has requested India to hold a secretary-level meeting for resuming talks on sharing of water of common rivers stalled for about nine years, holding back the signing of Teesta deal and negotiations on six more rivers.
Water resources secretary Kabir Bin Anwar in March formally invited his Indian counterpart UP Singh for an official meeting in Dhaka, water ministry officials said.
Earlier, he held an informal meeting with Singh in New Delhi in February and requested him to hold the official meeting, diplomatic sources in India said, adding that Singh agreed to visit Dhaka after the Indian general elections.
The meeting between the two water resources secretaries ‘may take place sometime in June,’ a senior official said.
The ‘framework agreement’ between Bangladesh and India, signed on September 2011, is expected to be the basis of the talks, an official concerned said, adding that signing of a deal on the Teesta and other common rivers and renewal of the Ganges water sharing treaty would also come up in the talks.
The latest water secretary-level meeting was held in January 2011.
The water secretary-level talks may create avenue for a much sought-after water minister-level meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission of the two neighbours. The ministers are co-chairs of the commission.
India has been holding the chairmanship of the commission since 2010 in violation of Article 3 of the Statute of the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission, which says, ‘The chairmanship of the commission shall be held annually in turn by Bangladesh and India.’
Bangladesh has sent at least 10 letters to Indian authorities since late 2010 for a water minister-level meeting but got no positive response from the next door neighbour. Chapter V of the statute says, ‘The ordinary sessions of the commission shall be held as often as necessary, generally four times a year. In addition special meetings may be convened any time at the request of either government.’
The latest and 37th meeting of the commission, founded in 1972, was held in New Delhi in March 2010.
Bangladesh has been urging India to sign deals on common rivers for a long time as India continues to withdraw waters of the common rivers severely affecting agriculture, environment and ecology in Bangladesh.
Agriculture minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque said in Dhaka on Saturday that indiscriminate withdrawal of water from all transborder rivers upstream by India in violation of international laws was seriously affecting agriculture and groundwater recharge in Bangladesh.
There is an acute water shortage at Dalia point of the Teesta River in Bangladesh now because of to unilateral withdrawal of water at different points, including Gazaldoba barrage, at the upstream in India, a Bangladesh Water Development Board official said on Sunday.
Successive Indian prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi continued to promise to conclude agreements on sharing of waters of seven transborder rivers, the Teesta in particular. The agreements were, however, never signed, in spite of requests of Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina on almost every occasion they met.
In an unflinching delivery in presence of Hasina after their latest official bilateral talks in New Delhi in April 2017, Modi said that the two governments would sign a deal on the Teesta by their [present] tenures.
India is already undergoing general elections and the results are expected to be declared after counting votes on Thursday following which the next government will be formed.
After the finalisation of the draft of the Teesta deal by the two sides, India backtracked on the signing few hours before the arrival of Manmohan Singh in Dhaka on September 6, 2011 on the plea that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee objected to the signing. Mamata is yet to give a green signal on the signing of the deal, a Bangladesh diplomat in Kolkata said on Sunday.
According to the framework of an interim agreement finalised in 2010, the two sides agreed to share Teesta water on fair and equitable basis on a 50:50 water sharing ratio after keeping 20 per cent of Teesta water as environmental flow during lean season.
In April 2017, the two prime ministers also ‘directed concerned officials to conclude meanwhile discussions on various aspects relating to sharing waters of the Feni, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar rivers,’ according to the joint statement published on April 8, 2017 on official visit of Hasina to India.
Bangladesh has, however, given consent as ‘a good gesture’ at technical levels, without signing of any formal agreement, to the withdrawal of water from the Feni River for supplying to Belonia town of India, officials said.
Bangladesh and India share at least 54 transboundary rivers of which agreement has been reached only on sharing of water of the Ganges River, which is flowing in Bangladesh as the Padma, based on a sharing formula of the flows measured at Farakka during the lean season each year, from January 1 to May 31. The 30-year treaty signed in 1996 is renewable by mutual consent.
Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said on April 28 in Dhaka that time had come to talk about the Bangladesh-India Ganges water sharing agreement that would expire by 2026.
Bangladesh also shares the Sangu, Matamuhuri and Naf rivers with another neighbour Myanmar.
Centre of Environmental and Geographic Information Services, an independent research organisation establish by the government, identified 16 more transborder rivers in addition to the 57 common rivers with India and Myanmar.