WITH ASSEMBLY elections over in West Bengal, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has accepted an invitation of the Mamata government to visit Kolkata later this year, in what promises to be a step towards concluding the Teesta water sharing deal.
On Monday, Bangladesh High Commissioner in India, Syed Muazzem Ali, conveyed Hasina’s decision to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. “Sheikh Hasina is likely to visit India at the end of the year, as a part of a larger multi-lateral meeting of different countries. During the visit, she is likely to meet Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee,” a source in the CMO said.
“During her last Bangladesh visit, Mamata Banerjee had told us to have confidence in her on the Teesta issue. Today, we have told her that we continue to have confidence in her on the issue,” Syed Muazzem Ali said after a 40-minute meeting with the chief minister at state secretariat Nabanna. He added that he was hopeful that his country’s relation with Bengal would grow simultaneous with the negotiation over the Teesta and other issues.
Earlier on Sunday, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had said that India was taking initiatives to conclude the deal. “There are three parties in this. India, Bangladesh and West Bengal government. Assembly elections were held in West Bengal. Now that elections are over and Mamata Banerjee is back as chief minister, the federal Indian government will begin talks with the Mamata government to finalise the Teesta water sharing treaty,” she had said.
Officials said both Mamata and Ali were positive on resuming talks. While Swaraj had said no talks could be held with the Bengal government for the past few months, as the state was busy with elections, officials said the Centre was keen on resuming talks with the state on the issue.
Claiming that the prime issue was “availability of water for North Bengal”, an official said: “The issue at hand has always been the extent to which North Bengal is dependent on river Teesta for water. The West Bengal government wants assurance from the Union government that at no point in time will the well-being of the people of Bengal be hampered. Bangladesh is our neighbour and we have historical ties with them. But the deal should benefit every body.”
Key to the entire issue is the report submitted by Indian river expert Kalyan Rudra — who was tasked by the Bengal government to find a solution to the issue. In the report, submitted by him in 2012, he had said that there was a shortage of water in Teesta since the Indian government had been building hydro-power projects upstream.
The Teesta deal had faced obstacles since September 2011 when Mamata, scheduled to visit Dhaka with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, opted out of the trip opposing the agreement.
This was the Bangladesh envoy’s first meeting with Mamata after she became the chief minister for a second term. The four-member delegation that met Mamata also included Zokey Ahad, head of the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Kolkata.
“This is basically a courtesy call. I have come here to congratulate her after her re-election as the chief minister on behalf of our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,” Ali said.
On whether there was a discussion on the Ramkrishna Mission in Bangladesh getting threats from suspected ISIS members, the envoy said: “The two countries cooperate on security and after this (threats to RKM) security has been considerably enhanced. We had a discussion with West Bengal earlier on this… Today, we told the chief minister about our discussion with Sushma Swaraj.”
On export of Hilsa fish to West Bengal, Ali added: “We will export (Hilsa)… But I must say that the facilities at the ports and the infrastructure must be developed… Otherwise fish get rotten while exporting.”
Speaking on Mamata’s massive victory in the recent Assembly elections, Ali told mediapersons, “This is a mammoth victory. It shows that the people of West Bengal have faith in her.” He added they have also invited Mamata to visit Bangladesh.