Updated: March 27, 2017 6:18:54 am
With Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina scheduled to be in India from April 7 to 10, the Centre has said that all stakeholders, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, will be taken “on board” before going ahead with a Teesta water sharing pact. Sources in the state government, however, said Mamata remains unconvinced over the pact particularly with regard to the situation in north Bengal. A source said, “The CM is not keen about the deal because the Centre has made no attempts to reach out and address the twin issues of water scarcity and flooding in the area. No attempts at communication have been made.”
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Gopal Baglay, in response to the charge, said, “The government’s approach would be to take everyone on board, and consult…all stakeholders.”
In October 2016, Mamata had reached out to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and said that while her government was keen to aid Bangladesh, it was concerned of the water situation in north Bengal.
Officials pointed to a 2009 report by river expert Kalyan Rudra that had said West Bengal could harness less than 40 per cent of the available utilisable surface water and reservoirs met only 2.4 percent of the total demand for the agricultural sector. The river, that once had excess water, now suffers from acute water shortage during the dry period, maintains the report. Rudra had suggested the building of a number of small reservoirs to counter this, but officials said, “The centre has taken no steps regarding this nor has it given any special allocation for the construction of these reservoirs.”
Damming of the Teesta in Sikkim is another issue that the state complained to the Centre about.
“The Sikkim government has a number of hydro electric projects on the Teesta river coming up. During rainfall, Sikkim releases water during the rainy season which leads to flooding in north Bengal and during the dry season, there is water shortage in north Bengal due to their dams. Mamata has raised the issue with the Centre, but to no avail,” said an official.
Meanwhile Sheikh Hasina’s trip is being projected as an important event in the Indian diplomatic calendary, with the Narendra Modi government keen to project the country as one of the most valued and reliable partner in South Asia. Hasina, who is up for re-election in 2019, is keen to sign the agreement to boost her image before her voters.
In 2011, Banerjee had opted out of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s delegation visiting Dhaka, scuppering signing of the deal.
In 2015, when she accompanied PM Modi to Dhaka, she had sounded positive — the Banerjee government maintained that since Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015, the Centre has made no effort to take into consideration the concerns that have been “repeatedly raised by the West Bengal government” regarding the contentious Teesta water-sharing issue.
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