India Sends Its Foreign Secretary To Bangladesh To Keep China Away From Teesta

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LOOKEAST REPORT |

HIGHLIGHTING the strong rapport with India compared to China, Bangladesh foreign minister Hasan Mahmud emphasised on Thursday that New Delhi is geographically closer to Dhaka than Beijing. This insight came when he was asked about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s preferences for her next trip to neighbouring countries.

Mahmud also mentioned that Prime Minister Hasina is planning to visit India either in early June or the first week of July, following the formation of a new government in India after the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. These statements were made following Mahmud’s meeting with visiting Indian foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, who is set to hold discussions with Prime Minister Hasina and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Masud Bin Momen as well.

In January this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi warmly congratulated Prime Minister Hasina on her electoral triumph, expressing optimism for the sustained enhancement of the longstanding and robust relationship between India and Bangladesh. Their most recent face–to–face interaction took place during the G20 Leaders Summit in September 2023, where Bangladesh participated as a guest country.

■ Teesta barrage in Lalmonirhat

INDIA LIKELY TO FUND TEESTA PROJECT

Foreign Minister Mahmud said that India has expressed a strong interest in funding the Teesta Project in accordance with Bangladesh’s requirements.

Flowing across the Indian subcontinent for a distance of 414 kilometres, the Teesta River traverses through the regions of Sikkim and West Bengal before ultimately reaching the Bay of Bengal via Bangladesh. A 2013 report by the Asian Foundation highlighted the river’s immense significance with its floodplain covering approximately 14 per cent of Bangladesh’s total cultivated land directly supporting the livelihoods of around 73 per cent of the population. In West Bengal, particularly in North Bengal, the Teesta is considered the lifeblood, sustaining nearly half a dozen districts.

 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi warmly congratulated Prime Minister Hasina on her electoral triumph, expressing optimism for the sustained enhancement of the longstanding and robust relationship between India and Bangladesh

 

The Teesta River Project is a comprehensive initiative aimed at harnessing the river’s water resources for various purposes including irrigation, flood control and power generation. It encompasses the construction of dams, barrages and hydroelectric power stations along the river’s course.

However, the project has been mired in controversy primarily concerning the equitable sharing of water between India and Bangladesh. At the heart of the dispute lies the allocation of Teesta river’s water resources. Bangladesh advocates for a larger share than what is currently allocated as its current portion is lower than India’s. The disagreement centres on ensuring a fair distribution of the river’s waters, especially during dry seasons, to meet the agricultural, drinking water and other essential needs of both nations.

■ Indian foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra

TEESTA AND ITS TRYST WITH HISTORY

Back in 1951, a significant agreement between East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and India, known as the ‘India–East Pakistan Agreement on the Sharing of the Ganges Waters,’ was inked encompassing the Teesta river within its provisions. This landmark pact aimed to ensure the equitable distribution of the river’s waters although negotiations on the specifics of this sharing arrangement have been ongoing since 1972.

Fast forward to 1984, a Joint River Commission report indicated a slight increase in Bangladesh’s share based on hydrological data. Under this arrangement, India was allocated 42.5 per cent of the water share, Bangladesh 37.5 per cent with the remaining 20 per cent left unallocated. Subsequently, in 1998, Bangladesh initiated the “Teesta Barrage” irrigation project allowing for three cropping seasons annually.

 

Teesta River Project is a comprehensive initiative aimed at harnessing the river’s water resources for various purposes including irrigation, flood control and power generation. It encompasses the construction of dams, barrages and hydroelectric power stations along the river’s course

 

Despite intentions to finalise an interim agreement in 2011 for a 15–year period, opposition from both West Bengal and Sikkim thwarted its signing. Even discussions during Prime Minister Hasina’s visit to India in December 2021 failed to culminate in a formal agreement.

While the rainy season typically presents fewer challenges, issues arise during the winter months as Bangladesh grapples with watering over 1 lakh hectares of land in Rangpur for farming, primarily due to India’s significant withdrawal of water, exacerbating the situation.

■ Chinese envoy to Bangladesh Yao Wen

THE CHINA ANGLE

As Bangladesh strategises to enhance its portion of the transboundary Teesta River, a new battleground has emerged, drawing the attention of both India and China.

China has been eyeing Dhaka’s proposed Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration project, projected at a staggering $1 billion, for several years. Recently, Beijing formally submitted a proposal to execute this project. While India has expressed interest in the endeavor, it has yet to submit a formal proposal of its own.

 

China’s involvement in the project raises legitimate security concerns for India. Allowing Chinese participation would bring their presence dangerously close to India’s Siliguri Corridor, already a critical security focal point. Furthermore, Chinese diplomatic efforts persist, with China’s envoy to Bangladesh, Yao Wen, disclosing in December the reception of proposals for Teesta basin development

 

The prospect of China’s involvement in the project raises legitimate security concerns for India. Allowing Chinese participation would bring their presence dangerously close to India’s Siliguri Corridor, already a critical security focal point. Furthermore, Chinese diplomatic efforts persist, with China’s envoy to Bangladesh, Yao Wen, disclosing in December the reception of proposals for Teesta basin development. This comes on the heels of Yao’s predecessor, Li Jiming, sparking controversy by visiting the Teesta barrage in Lalmonirhat district back in October 2022.

Bangladesh must make a judicious decision bearing in mind the cautionary tales of how the dragon swallowed the Gwadar Port in Pakistan and Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka in a meticulously laid ‘debt trap’ before contemplating any adversarial approach towards India. ■

LOOKEASTis not responsible for the opinions, facts or any media content presented by contributors. We are reproducing an FirstPost reportage.

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