Dhaka negotiates loan deal with Beijing for Teesta project

Shakahwat Hossain    | Published: 00:37, Aug 25,2020 | Updated: 19:02, Aug 25,2020


Bangladesh and China are negotiating a loan deal, reportedly irking India, to implement a proposed engineering project on the trans-boundary Teesta River.

Bangladesh Water Development Board officials said that they were negotiating for the loan from China worth $938.27 million to implement the proposed ‘Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project’.

A feasibility study on the project was completed in 2019 in the country’s northern region that suffers flash floods in the rainy season and draught in the winter due to the unilateral withdrawal of water by India from the Teesta.

Feasibility study project director Aziz Muhammad Chowdhury on Thursday told New Age that they highlighted the importance of the project in the past week while responding to queries made by the authorities in China.

The Economic Relations Division under the ministry of finance is mediating the negotiation between the WDB and the Chinese authority after the financial assistance was sought for the project in June this year.

ERD’s Asia and JEC Wing chief Md Shahriar Kader Siddiky said that they had forwarded to China the information provided by the Water Development Board.

The Chinese authority had sought some clarifications, he said without elaborating.

Aziz hoped that they would conclude the loan agreement before this December as the government wanted to start implementing the project next year.

Bangladesh has been demanding a greater share of the Teesta waters to have higher levels of water in its portion of the river during December and May when  the water level goes down creating difficulties for the farmers in the northern region for long.

A 50:50 water sharing formula was agreed between India and Bangladesh in 2011 but the agreement is yet to be signed despite repeated requests from Bangladesh, said Md Mahmudur Rahman, member of the Joint Rivers Commission, Bangladesh.

The hectic negotiation between Dhaka and Beijing on a possible loan deal on the Teesta project has worried India, according to a report published in the influential Indian daily The Hindu.

As the negotiation on the loan deal between Bangladesh and China has been at the centre of a water-sharing negotiation between Dhaka and Delhi, Indian authorities sent foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on a two-day unscheduled visit to Dhaka on August 18-19 amid the pervasive COVID-19 scare.

The Hindu report commented that the Chinese loan was a landmark in the Delhi-Dhaka relations as it would seal the fate of the India-Bangladesh Teesta water sharing agreement which failed to take off as India’s plans to offer Bangladesh its share of the water was stuck in a political fight between Delhi and West Bengal.

As the water sharing agreement was in decades-old doldrums, the Water Development Board appointed Power Construction Corporation of China, Powerchina in short, in 2016 to conduct a feasibility study on the Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project.

The WDB has already prepared a preliminary development project proposal on the basis of the feasibility study. 

According to the PDPP, the project is aimed at upgrading the socio-economic status of Rangpur by establishing new economic growth points along the both banks of the river by preventing floods and removing slits from the river bed.

The Teesta is the fourth largest trans-boundary river to enter Bangladesh from India.

Originating in Sikkim in India and entering Bangladesh in Lalmonirhat, the 315-km-long Teesta travels 153 kilometres through half a dozen other districts, including Rangpur, Gaibandha, Nilphamari, Kurigram, before merging with the Jamuna River at Fulchhari.

Describing the Teesta as a ‘flashy’ river, the PDPP said that flooding in the Teesta discharged maximum 4,500 cubic metres silts per second in addition to causing serious erosion and scouring in a vast area to destabilise the livelihoods of the area’s people.

The PDPP said that the project would yield three times more benefit from the money to be spent to implement the river management project in the country’s one of the poverty-prone areas.

Checking flash floods, caused due to the release of water by India, will change the lifestyle of millions of people, it added.

A report was published in this daily on September 19 last year that the Teesta was flowing above its danger levels due to heavy onrush of waters from India since the opening of 54 flood gates of the Gajaldoba Barrage.

Commissioned by India in 1996, the Gajaldoba Barrage in West Bengal reportedly diverted 85 per cent of the Teesta waters flow in the winter through a link canal to the upper Mahananda River.

The Mahananda falls into the Meichi River in Bihar that links the Fulhar River and reaches the Ganges River upstream of the Farakka Barrage.

JRC member Mahmudur said that they learnt that there had been two more dozens of structures on the Teesta in India to generate more than 5,000 megawatt electricity.

He hastened to add that India never shared the data despite repeated requests.

In fact, no JRC meeting was held during the last one decade despite requests from Dhaka on several occasions, according to officials.

India has kept the talks on common river water sharing with Bangladesh stalled and held back the signing of a Teesta water sharing agreement.

The last water resources minister-level meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission was held in New Delhi in March 2010.

Bangladesh has implemented a major irrigation project on the Teesta named Teesta Barrage — a 615-metre-long dam in Lalmonirhat — for irrigation in the lean period.

Mantu Kumar Biswas, joint chief of the Planning Wing under the minisrtry of water resources, said that the project helped bring over 5.4 lakh hectares area under irrigation.

He said that the proposed Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project was a much-needed project, which was now awaiting the finalisation of the loan deal with China.

Once the deal is finalished, the ministry would seek approval from the executive committee of the National Economic Council for the development project proforma.

Bangladesh water ministry officials said that they had to abandon the construction of another barrage — the Ganges Barrage at Pangsha in Rajbari — following the announcement of its cancellation by prime minister Sheikh Hasina soon after his return from New Delhi in April 2017.

In 2015, the PM declared that the Ganges Barrage would be a joint Bangladesh-India project to ensure the uninterrupted natural flows of the Ganges-Padma through Bangladesh.

In April 1975, India commissioned the Farakka Barrage to divert Ganges water for flushing the Kolkata port.

India’s withdrawal of Ganges waters from the upstream using the Farakka Barrage drastically reduced the river’s water flow into the lower riparian Bangladesh adversely affecting its agriculture, fishery, forestry, navigation, and its industrial growth.

The salinity intrusion deep inside Bangladesh due to the low flow in the Ganges also poses a threat to the biodiversity of the Sunderbans, a world heritage site.

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