Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

Teesta Water Sharing Deal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Teesta River

Mains level : Teesta dispute

PM while on his tour of Bangladesh assured his best to ink the long-awaited deal over the Teesta and other common rivers. On at least two occasions—2011 and 2017—Bangladesh and India came close to signing a deal on the Teesta.

Teesta River

  • 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.

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 it matter?

  • India witnessed a surge in the insurgency in the northeast during the rule of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from 2001 to 2005.
  • Bangladesh allegedly sheltered insurgents engaged in anti-India activities, and nearly all the Home Ministry-level talks ended without agreement, and India had to increase the security budget for the northeast.
  • In a couple of years of assuming office in 2008, the Awami League targeted insurgent camps and handed over the rebels to India.
  • As India’s security establishment heaved a sigh of relief, the relationship improved on multiple fronts.
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