On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet approved an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Bangladesh on the withdrawal of 1.82 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Feni river by India for a drinking water supply scheme for Sabroom town in Tripura.
The approval is ex-post facto, or having retrospective effect, on the MoU that was signed on October 5 between the two countries during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India.
Feni river and dispute
The Feni river, which forms part of the India-Bangladesh border, originates in the South Tripura district, passes through Sabroom town on the Indian side, and meets the Bay of Bengal after it flows into Bangladesh. According to the Indian government press release, there has been no water-sharing agreement between the countries on the Feni previously.
The dispute over the sharing of the river water has been long-standing. It was taken up between India and Pakistan (before the independence of Bangladesh) in 1958 during a Secretary-level meeting in New Delhi. According to the Bangladeshi daily newspaper The Daily Star, water has long been drawn from the Feni river through small pumps on the Indian side.
Importance of India-Bangladesh MoU
The Daily Star reported that in August 2019, India and Bangladesh held a water secretary-level meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) in Dhaka, where it was agreed to collect data and prepare water-sharing agreements for seven rivers — Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla, Dudhkumar, and Feni.
The joint statement released by India and Bangladesh after Sheikh Hasina’s visit in October expressed appreciation for the JRC: “Both the leaders (Modi and Hasina) appreciated the decision taken at the water resources secretary-level meeting in Dhaka for an early start of the work on the withdrawal of 1.82 cusec water from the Feni river for drinking purpose of the people of Sabroom town in Tripura.”
The MoU stands to benefit Sabroom town on the southern tip of Tripura. The government release said: “The present supply of drinking water to Sabroom town is inadequate. The groundwater in this region has high iron content. Implementation of this scheme would benefit over 7000 population of Sabroom town.”
Other projects on the Feni
In Tripura, a 150-metre long, 4-lane bridge across the Feni is being built between India and Bangladesh, where the river forms the border between the two countries. It is expected to be completed by March 2020 at an estimated expenditure of Rs 73 crore.
Once ready, it would connect Tripura with Chittagong port in Bangladesh, which is only 70 km away from the Indo-Bangla border, and would play an important role in the proposed economic corridor through India, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.
Sabroom is expected to transform into the largest transit hub in the Northeast after the bridge is ready.
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