INDIA is reported to have requested Bangladesh to complete preparations for the signing of the River Feni water sharing agreement, standing back on its earlier commitment made in 2015 to sign agreements on the water of both the River Teesta and the River Feni simultaneously. A senior Bangladesh official, as New Age reported on Friday, says that Bangladesh faces pressure to expeditiously put into a final form the draft of the agreement on the Feni water, with another official having corroborated the statement. Dhaka should in no way agree to Delhi’s proposal as the agreement on the water of the River Teesta is a priority for Bangladesh while the issue of the River Feni has been kept for discussion, in a group, with six other trans-boundary rivers — Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar — as is referenced in the joint communiqué that was issued when Bangladesh’s prime minister visited India in 2010. It was Delhi that in 2011 proposed the simultaneous signing of interim agreements on the water of the River Teesta and the River Feni on a fair and equitable basis that Dhaka accepted. India agreed to sign an interim agreement on the River Teesta when the then Indian prime minister visited Dhaka in September 2011.
But India later unilaterally stood back at the last minute on signing the agreement giving disagreement of West Bengal authorities as a reason. India in 2015, however, noted that deliberations were under way as regards the conclusion of interim agreements on both the Teesta and the Feni ‘as soon as possible.’ India in 2017 again regrouped the River Feni with the six other rivers and in 2018 put up a new hurdle, involving Sikkim — where the Teesta originates and passes through West Bengal and Bangladesh before meeting the Bay of Bengal — making the Teesta agreement further difficult. More than two dozen hydropower projects are reported to be on the river, mostly in Sikkim. In 2019, India stood strongly on firming up the draft framework on the Feni interim agreement, setting aside Bangladesh’s request for an early signing and implementation of the framework on the Teesta interim agreement. India’s foreign secretary during his visit to Dhaka in March suggested that India was expecting final agreements with Bangladesh on seven common rivers, including the River Feni, but excluding the River Teesta. India’s move on the River Feni stands to benefit Sabroom town on the southern tip of Tripura where the supply of drinking water is inadequate and the groundwater has a high iron content but Bangladesh’s move on the River Teesta agreement appears to be of a greater importance as the Teesta issue having not been attended to has started causing desertification in Bangladesh’s north.
India is not learnt to have considered the environmental impact of the Farakka Barrage on the lower-riparian Bangladesh when it constructed the barrage in 1975. India has also not been considering the environmental impact of the absence of an agreement on the water of the River Teesta, which was agreed on by both the sides in 2010, since negotiations on how to share the water began in 1983. Dhaka must not, therefore, agree to Delhi’s move on a Feni agreement without a final agreement on Teesta.
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