DHAKA has written again to New Delhi requesting a meeting between water resources secretaries of Bangladesh and India, which generally precedes a meeting between the water resources ministers under the Joint River Commission framework, on the resumption of talks on the sharing of the water of common rivers that have been stalled for nine years now. The minister’s meeting is, keeping to the commission’s statute, meant to take place every year alternately in Bangladesh and India. The meeting of the water resources ministers of the two neighbours, which was the commission’s 37th meeting, was last held in New Delhi in March 2010 and since then Dhaka has written to New Delhi at least 10 times on this but has received no positive response. The meeting between the water resources secretaries was last held in January 2011 and a ‘framework agreement’, which also covers the Teesta issue, was signed in September that year, which is expected to be the basis of the talks, with the added likely agenda of the agreement on Teesta water sharing, negotiations on six more common rivers, the conclusion of the negotiation on one more river and the renewal of the 30-year Ganges water sharing treaty, which was signed in 1996 and is to expire by 2026. The situation at hand has held back all this, letting Bangladesh suffer.
New Delhi’s apparent reluctance about the issues along with its indiscriminate withdrawal of water of the common rivers in breach of the international laws, speaks of India’s high-handedness towards Bangladesh. An acute shortage of water has already been reported at the Dalia point of the River Teesta in Bangladesh because of the unilateral withdrawal of water at different points upstream, especially at Gazaldoba, in India. This has seriously affected farming and harmed groundwater recharge in Bangladesh. India’s prime minister Narendra Modi in the presence of Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina at a bilateral meeting in New Delhi in April 2017 promised that the Teesta water agreement would be signed before they served out their respective tenure. The government in Bangladesh has already rolled down into the next tenure and the Indian government is on the brink of its tenure, yet India has failed to accomplish the task. As the meeting of the water resources secretaries is, as it stands now, likely to be held this June, it is expected that India should keep its word on the issues this time. The Teesta agreement framework was decided in late 2010 provisioning for water sharing on a fair and equitable basis of a 50:50 ratio, setting aside 20 per cent of the water for environmental flow in lean seasons. It just needs to be signed.
Besides, Bangladesh has given consent in a goodwill gesture at technical levels, without any formal agreement being signed, to India’s withdrawing water from the River Feni for supply to Belonia in Tripura, the negotiation on which is pending conclusion. India should, therefore, hold the meetings, between the secretaries and the ministers, and to sign the Teesta water sharing agreement based on the draft already agreed in 2010 and complete negotiations on the sharing of the water of seven more common rivers.
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