In a bid to find a solution to the logjam over sharing the Teesta’s waters, the Mamata Banerjee government is learnt to have made a counter-proposal to the Centre: why focus on the Teesta system alone, “water could be obtained from other river systems”, too.
Mamata has had reservations about sharing the Teesta’s water, especially with regard to the possible impact on North Bengal. Her opposition kept the deal from coming through when then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka in 2011.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking in Mamata’s presence, told his Bangladesh counterpart, “I firmly believe that it is only my government and Your Excellency, Sheikh Hasina, your government, that can and will find an early solution to Teesta water sharing.”
A source close the Mamata told The Sunday Express that the CM had “made a suggestion that instead of being focused on the Teesta river, the two governments could look at the possibility of sharing water from other river systems in Bengal, which are also close to the border”.
Mamata made the suggestion to the PM on Saturday and “urged both governments to conduct studies to ascertain the viability of the option”, the source added. She is likely to take up the issue with Hasina too, the source said.
The three river systems that Mamata suggested be studied as possible alternative to the Teesta were the Torsa, the Sankosh and the Raidak systems.
The Torsa rises in Tibet and flows through Bhutan before entering North Bengal, the Sankosh rises in northern Bhutan and empties into the Brahmaputra after flowing across the Bengal-Assam border, and the Raidak, also a tributary of the Brahmaputra, rises in Bhutan before emerging onto the plains of Jalpaiguri.
“North Bengal is completely dependent on the Teesta river, particularly in the dry months. The river once had excess water, but now suffers from acute water shortage, particularly because of dams that have been constructed on the river in Sikkim,” a senior state government official said.
Officials pointed to the 2009 report by river expert Kalyan Rudra that said West Bengal harnessed less than 40% of the available utilisable surface water, and reservoirs met only 2.4% of the demand for the agricultural sector.
While opting out of the 2011 visit to Dhaka, Mamata had accompanied Modi there in 2015, and had sounded broadly positive about the Teesta agreement. But since then, she has repeatedly accused the Centre of making “no effort” to take on board concerns that have been “repeatedly raised by the West Bengal government”.