Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

India-Bangladesh River Disputes


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : India-Bangladesh

India and Bangladesh are likely to ink at least one major river agreement later this month.

It is gauged that India has agreed to offer Bangladesh a package on river waters-related deals that will be considered a significant advancement in terms of sharing of river resources with Dhaka.

Why in news?

  • There is a strong possibility that an agreement on the River Kushiyara that flows from Assam into Bangladesh is part of one such agreement.
  • This river got its fame in recent Assam floods.
  • Water sharing is considered a sensitive subject given the fact that it often takes political meaning.

Rivers between India and Bangladesh

  • Overall, India and Bangladesh have 54 transboundary rivers between them, all of which are part of the drainage system of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) basin.
  • The Padma (the Ganga), the Jamuna (the Brahmaputra) and the Meghna (the Barak) and their tributaries are integral in maintaining food and water security in Bangladesh.
  • In most of these cases, Bangladesh is the lower riparian.
  • This causes concern in Bangladesh that India—being both the upper riparian and first to develop the water resources—can have far more disproportionate control over the rivers.
  • Compounded by the lack of transparent data regarding trans-boundary rivers, such concern can lead to a more serious conflict between the two otherwise friendly neighbours.

Genesis of the disputes

  • The issues between India and Bangladesh regarding water resource allotment can be traced to the time Bangladesh was still East Pakistan.
  • In 1961, India began construction of the Farakka Barrage—which was to be operational by April 1975—to divert a portion of the dry-season flow and increase the navigability of Kolkata port.
  • When India began its preliminary planning for the project in 1950-51, Pakistan immediately expressed concerns over the potential effect of the project on East Pakistan.

Moves for disputes resolution: Joint River Commission

  • Soon after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Joint River Commission was formed between India and Bangladesh in 1972.
  • In a joint declaration issued on 16 May 1974, the PM of Bangladesh and India acknowledged the need for the flow augmentation of the Ganga in the lean season to meet the requirements of both countries.

Often in news: Teesta River Dispute

  • The Bangladesh government has been insistent on sealing the Teesta Waters Agreement, which has eluded settlement so far.
  • Teesta River is a 315 km long river that rises in the eastern Himalayas, flows through the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal through Bangladesh and enters the Bay of Bengal.
  • It is a tributary of the Brahmaputra (known as Jamuna in Bangladesh), flowing through India and Bangladesh.
  • It originates in the Himalayas near Chunthang, Sikkim and flows to the south through West Bengal before entering Bangladesh.
  • Originally, it continued southward to empty directly into the Padma River but around 1787 the river changed its course to flow eastward to join the Jamuna river.
  • The Teesta Barrage dam helps to provide irrigation for the plains between the upper Padma and the Jamuna.

What is the dispute about?

  • The point of contention between India and Bangladesh is mainly the lean season flow in the Teesta draining into Bangladesh.
  • The river covers nearly the entire floodplains of Sikkim while draining 2,800 sq km of Bangladesh, governing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
  • For West Bengal, Teesta is equally important, considered the lifeline of half-a-dozen districts in North Bengal.
  • Bangladesh has sought an “equitable” distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty of 1996, but to no avail.
  • The failure to ink a deal had its fallout on the country’s politics, putting the ruling party of PM Sheikh Hasina in a spot.

Q.The hydrological linkages between India and Bangladesh are a product of geography and a matter of shared history. Discuss this statement in line with the Teesta water sharing dispute.

The deal

  • Following a half-hearted deal in 1983, when a nearly equal division of water was proposed, the countries hit a roadblock. The transient agreement could not be implemented.
  • Talks resumed after the Awami League returned to power in 2008 and the former Indian PM Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka in 2011.
  • In 2015, PM Modi’s visit to Dhaka generated more ebullient lines: deliberations were underway involving all the stakeholders to conclude the agreement as soon as possible.

Issues from the Indian side

  • It remains an unfinished project and one of the key stakeholders — West Bengal CM is yet to endorse the deal.
  • Her objection is connected to “global warming. Many of the glaciers on the Teesta basin have retreated.
  • The importance of the flow and the seasonal variation of this river is felt during the lean season (from October to April/May) as the average flow is about 500 million cubic metres (MCM) per month.
  • The CM opposed an arrangement in 2011, by which India would get 42.5% and Bangladesh 37.5% of the water during the lean season, and the plan was shelved.

Why does this deal matters?

  • India and Bangladesh have resolved border problems through the Land Boundary Agreement of 2015.
  • However, both nations have locked horns over the sharing of multiple rivers that define the borders and impact lives and livelihoods on both sides.


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