Sharing of Teesta Water Critical for India-Bangladesh Relations

11 February 2015 FDI Team

Bangladesh is hopeful that an upcoming visit from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, scheduled for 19 February, will accelerate progress on the Teesta water-sharing negotiations.

Background

Bangladesh is a lower riparian state to the 53 rivers that it shares with India. As a result, the country is vulnerable to the interests of its upstream neighbour. The Ganga Water Sharing Treaty of 1996 remains the only water-sharing agreement that is in force between the two countries and differing priorities over shared water resources are raising concerns for Bangladesh over its future access.

Comment

Concluding negotiations over the sharing of the waters of the Teesta River will be crucial for India-Bangladeshi relations this year. During a meeting between Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September last year, the water sharing treaty and implementation of the Land Boundary Agreement were the two priority issues to be resolved.

The Teesta water sharing agreement was postponed in 2011 due to objections by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Resistance to, and the continued postponement of, a water-sharing agreement has the potential to threaten bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh.

Securing water sharing arrangements for the Teesta River are of vital importance to Bangladesh, which depends on a regular supply to support irrigators, agriculture and local communities in the north-east. The river is the fourth-largest in the country and current management often leaves Bangladesh with too little water during the dry season and too much during the wet.

Despite reassurances from leaders that India will not act unilaterally, hydro-development within India is causing growing concerns for Bangladesh. A barrage built at Gazaldoba in West Bengal diverts 80 per cent of the Teesta River’s water flow through a link-canal to the upper Mahananda River. Within Bangladesh, the Teesta River Basin is home to approximately 21 million people, who are likely to experience significant adverse effects from ongoing flow diversions.

For India, a lack of consensus is stalling progress and preventing further development in other areas. Dhaka is unlikely to co-operate, for example, over the development of transit facilities to landlocked states in India’s north-east, unless India reciprocates by finalising the water sharing agreement.

Following Ms Banerjee’s visit to Dhaka later this month and a prospective visit by Mr Modi to Bangladesh this year, there are hopes that the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement will be concluded in 2015. While it has been suggested by the Indian media that the agreement will not conclude before the 2016 West Bengal elections, it is in India’s interest to do so sooner rather than later. A lack of consensus among Indian stakeholders must be addressed and firm central leadership may need to be exerted to reach a timely and amenable agreement. Doing so will be in the best interests of both parties.

Sinéad Lehane
Research Manager
Global Food and Water Crisis Research Programme

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