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PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi will meet his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Sunday to discuss bilateral issues, particularly the signing of the Teesta water sharing treaty. But though the Modi administration is keen to sign the pact, it is unlikely that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will give her support.
Sources said Mamata has reached out to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and conveyed to them that while she is not against Bangladesh — pointing to the historic ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement last year and the exchange of enclaves with Bangladesh — she continues to be wary of the consequences in north Bengal if the treaty is signed.
“She is not willing to sign the agreement because of concerns in north Bengal,” said the source.
Officials said Bangladesh was hoping that its decision to pull out of the SAARC meet in Pakistan, which gave a diplomatic push to India in its effort to isolate Pakistan on cross-border terrorism, would help its cause.
A number of Cabinet ministers from Bangladesh reportedly hope the Teesta pact would finally come through as “diplomatic quid-pro-quo”.
In 2011, Mamata had opted out of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s delegation visiting Dhaka, scuppering the signing of the deal.
In 2015, when she accompanied Modi to Dhaka, she had sounded positive.
Later on, her government has maintained that since Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015, the Centre has made no effort to consider the concerns that have been “repeatedly raised by the West Bengal government” regarding the contentious Teesta treaty.
“The Sikkim government has a number of hydroelectric projects coming up on Teesta river. During rainfall, Sikkim releases water, which leads to flooding in north Bengal. During the dry season, there is water shortage in north Bengal due to their dams. Mamata Banerjee has raised the issue with the Centre, but to no avail,” said a senior official.
The state government, while invoking a 2009 report by river expert Kalyan Rudra, had said that West Bengal receives less than 40 per cent of the available utilisable surface water and reservoirs only meet 2.44 per cent of the total water demand for the agricultural sector.
The delta, which once had excess water, now suffers from acute dearth of water during the dry period, the report stated. Rudra had suggested the building of a number of small reservoirs to counter this.
A government official, however, said: “The Centre has neither taken any steps regarding this, nor has it allocated any funds for the construction of such reservoirs.”