No clear hopes for Teesta water share

Once against a proposed treaty, Mamata now asks Bangladesh to keep confidence in her

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was apparently more enthusiastic about the implementation of Indo-Bangla Land Boundary Agreement than the Teesta water sharing issue during her talks with the Bangladesh prime minister in Dhaka yesterday.

She addressed the Teesta issue only by asking Bangladesh to keep confidence in her, although she had earlier strongly opposed a proposed treaty between the neighbours.

Mamata’s first Dhaka tour in 17 years comes at a time when water flow in the Bangladesh part of the shared river Teesta has been hitting all time lows.

During the 2011 Dhaka tour of the then Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, the bilateral Teesta water sharing treaty could have been signed had Mamata not strongly opposed.

At that time, she also went against the long-pending ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) in Indian parliament.

Yesterday, the West Bengal chief minister (CM) assured the Bangladesh prime minister (PM) that the LBA, which Bangladesh ratified long ago, has already been placed in the Indian Lok Sabha and the agreement is likely to be okayed in the upcoming session.

Mamata said she had done everything she could to remove the hurdles in ratifying the LBA, and that was why she told Sheikh Hasina that Bangladesh should have faith on her for solving the water sharing issue as well.

On February 17, water flow in Teesta was measured at 313 cubic feet per second (cusec) – an all time low. Two days later, the flow was measured at 325 cusec – much lower compared to the 500-cusec average last year.

According to sources, the dying flow in the river has forced the authorities to curtail Boro paddy irrigation target to 20,000-25,000 hectares from last year’s 35,000 hectares.

“We all love Bangladesh and try to give importance to its interest … We will play a positive role in solving the Teesta water sharing issue soon by keeping the interests of both West Bengal and Bangladesh in tact,” Mamata yesterday told Sheikh Hasina.

PM Sheikh Hasina gave a warm welcome to the West Bengal CM at Gonobhohon around 12 noon yesterday – the final day of the latter’s three-day tour to Dhaka. At first they had a 15-minute meeting in front of everyone and then talked one-to-one for about half an hour.

Prime Minister’s adviser Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury later briefed journalists about the outcomes of the talks.

“This tour of the West Bengal CM has laid the foundation for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bangladesh tour in future,” the adviser told journalists.

In reply to a query, Iqbal said Mamata was the first to raise the Teesta issue and assured Sheikh Hasina, who she said was like her elder sister, that there should not be any tension.

The adviser said when the PM reminded her about the sufferings of the people living in the enclaves, Mamata said she was aware of the matter.

“That is why we have reached a consensus and I hope that it [LBA] would be passed in the coming session of the Lok Sabha starting February 23,” Iqbal quoted Mamata as saying.

The LBA was signed in 1974 between Indira Gandhi and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, providing for the exchange of enclaves, which are portions of a state entirely surrounded by the territory of another state.

If the LBA is implemented, 51 Bangladesh enclaves within the Indian territory will go to India. Similarly, the 111 Indian enclaves on this side of the boundary will be added to Bangladesh’s territory. The residents of all those 162 enclaves, who have been living without any kind of basic facilities for decades, will be free to choose either of the nationalities.

At the outset of the meeting, Mamata said she was overwhelmed when Bangladesh invited her to join the Amar Ekushey programmes; for this, she thanked the Bangladesh PM.

The West Bengal CM said she was a little girl during Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971 and loved listening to the inspirational programmes broadcast by the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, the wartime radio station.

She said the immortal song “Shono Ekti Mujiborer Theke” that pays tribute to Bangladesh’s founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was her favourite.

Other exchanges

Iqbal Sobhan yesterday told journalists that the West Bengal CM had emphasised on enhancing cultural and trade ties between Bangladesh and the West Bengal.

She placed a proposal for forming a committee to arrange joint cultural festivals with participation of artistes and cultural activists from Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Bangladesh’s Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor will lead the Bangladesh side at the committee, while Mamata Banerjee will nominate a minister from her cabinet.

She also proposed introducing direct bus services from Kolkata to Agartala via Dhaka.

During the meeting, Mamata invited Sheikh Hasina to visit her state to lay the foundation stone of the Bangladesh Bhaban in Kolkata and inaugurate the Bangabandhu Chair at the Biswa Bharati University.

Iqbal said the prime minister has accepted the invitations.

The CM said her government would take initiatives so that Bangladeshi TV channels and movies could be broadcast in West Bengal.

Mamata presented a photograph of Bangabandhu to Sheikh Hasina while the prime minister presented Mamata a picture of a boat, the electoral symbol of Awami League.

While presenting the picture of a boat, the PM told the CM with a smile: “Water remains in the river.” In reply, Mamata said: “Rest assured that there will be arrangement of water [in the rivers].”

An Indian journalist wanted to know whether any discussion took place on the export of Ilish.

Iqbal said Mamata Banerjee had raised the issue and said jokingly: “We are not getting much Ilish [in West Bangal].” In reply, Sheikh Hasina said Ilish “will go if water comes.”

Later in the afternoon, the Bangladesh prime minister hosted a luncheon in honour of the West Bengal chief minister where the guests were served a number of Ilish-based cuisines.

Source: Dhaka Tribune