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5 December, 2016 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 5 December, 2016 01:07:45 AM
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Decreasing Teesta water flow

A cause of worry

Water sharing deal with India hangs in balance
ANISUR RAHMAN KHAN
A cause of worry

The alarmingly decreasing flow of river Teesta is hampering the operation of the Teesta barrage and thus the irrigation of vast tracts of land in the country's arid northern region. The crux of Teesta problem lies in the country during the lean season when the river almost dries up because of the building of innumerable hydropower projects in Sikkim, India.
The gradual decline in the flow of Teesta water also threatened the livelihood of thousands of people in northern part of Bangladesh. The shortage of water in the river has not only caused severe hardships to the farmers and fishermen but also resulted in siltation of the river bed.
Sources in the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) said the cultivation of Boro paddy in 70,000 hectares of northern Rangpur, Nilphamari and Lalmonirhat districts depends on Teesta water. Apart from affecting the farmers, the decreasing Teesta water flow also hit the region’s ecology with the approach of the dry season.
The country needs at least 4,500 cusecs of water for the 60,500 hectares of cropland in northern districts. But in the lean period between December and April, the water flow is often reduced to less than 500 cusecs, sources in the government said.
Bangladesh received less than 500 cusecs of water during the lean seasons of the past three years (2014-16) because of unilateral withdrawal of water in the upstream by the Indian authorities for their hydroelectricity and irrigation projects, they said.
The part of the river in Bangladesh has been reduced to a trickle of water, which is highly inadequate for Boro cultivation.
According to the sources, India has been unilaterally withdrawing water in the
upstream, where it has constructed at least 13 tunnels for hydropower, choking the river downstream. India is also withdrawing water at Gazalduba barrage, controlling the river flow and causing desertification in Bangladesh.
Teesta River, which originates in the north-eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, flows down to Bangladesh through the Gazalduba barrage at Kuchbihar.
“Legitimate sharing of common river waters between Bangladesh and India has become very important now,” Sabbir Mostafa, a professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), told The Independent.
Once the government was very active to sign the agreement, but now the fate of the Teesta water sharing agreement is hanging in the balance, he said.
Many rivers and canals have already died due to lack of water, the expert said, adding that many areas of the country have also become deserted due to unilateral withdrawal of water by the Indian authorities upstream.
Like Sabbir, experts are worried over the fate of the Teesta water sharing agreement with India as the West Bengal state government is reluctant to sign the agreement.
Despite achieving breakthroughs in several areas of India-Bangladesh relations during the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 6-7, 2015 visit to Dhaka, both the countries failed to resolve the most contentious bilateral problem.
In September 2011, when former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka, both sides finalised an interim agreement on equal sharing of the Teesta water for 15 years. But it could not be inked eventually due to the firm resistance from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Mamata is currently in a political fight against Modi’s demonetisation drive and it has again made uncertain any positive development over the signing of Indo-Bangla Teesta deal during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming India visit later this month.
Indian newspaper The Hindu last week reported that Mamata’s political fight against Modi’s demonetisation drive has cast a shadow on the upcoming visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India.
Quoting Bangladesh official sources, the newspaper said the visit was unlikely to witness any progress on the Teesta water-sharing issue because of the political differences between Mamata and Modi.
However, Sheikh Hasina, replying to a query at a press conference organised at her official residence Ganabhaban regarding her recent visits to Morocco and Hungary, said she is still hopeful about the Teesta water sharing agreement with India.
"I’m going to India, I’m not going with any condition… discussion is on for Teesta river water sharing and we’re hopeful," she said.
India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers. In the last four decades, the two countries inked only one pact on sharing water of the Ganges in 1996.
The two close-door neighbours, however, formed the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) on a permanent basis through a joint declaration between then prime ministers of Bangladesh and India in March 1972.
The JRC was formed to carry out a comprehensive survey of the river systems shared by the two countries, formulate projects concerning both the countries in the fields of flood control and to implement them, to formulate detailed proposals on advance flood warnings, flood forecasting, study on flood control and irrigation projects on the major river systems and examine the feasibility of linking the power grids of Bangladesh with the adjoining areas of India, so that the water resources of the regions can be utilised on an equitable basis for mutual benefit of the people of the two countries.
The Statute of JRC was accordingly signed on 24 November, 1972 to maintain liaison between the two countries in order to ensure the most effective joint efforts in maximising the benefits from common river systems to both the countries.
No JRC meeting was held in the past six years, even though it is supposed to meet at least twice a year to settle issues relating to the common rivers. The last JRC meeting was held in New Delhi in March 2010.
According to water resources ministry sources, the JRC meeting has now become essential as river Padma, the lower part of the Ganges, is now swelling and causing huge damage inside Bangladesh.
The flow of the Padma was the lowest ever in Bangladesh during the lean season early this year because of the unilateral withdrawal of water from the upstream in India, official statistics show.
When contacted, Zahid Hossain Jahangir, member of the JRC, declined to comment on the issues.

 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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