Modi government weighs options to make Hasina visit success
Published : 19 Mar 2017, 16:20:07
Though progress on a water sharing deal on Teesta river looks uncertain, innovative approaches towards developing transport and power facilities and managing ecologically fragile Sundarbans can help India navigate around West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s concerns and make Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visit a success.
She is scheduled to visit India in early April. Banerjee’s opposition has held up a pact since 2011 on the ground that committing a share of Teesta waters to Bangladesh disadvantages West Bengal’s farmers, leading to a search for options that include adopting a “basin management” approach to joint initiatives in the Ganga-Brahmputra-Meghna basin.
This envisages a multi-sectoral approach towards developing river transport and hydropower with Bangladesh. Experts also believe activation of the existing joint rivers commission (JRC) and conservation of Sundarban as a common project under existing MoU are the other key points that can boost ties beyond a Teesta pact. “Smart diplomacy demands that we should not stick to Teesta (deal) when it looks quite difficult. India can explore other options.
The basin management approach could definitely be an effective way to deal with common concerns,” said Uttam Kumar Sinha of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
The Ganga-Brahmputra-Meghna Basin has the potential to drive change in the region by not only providing water for irrigation to support large populations, but also facilitating river navigation and electricity needs through joint development of hydropower projects. “Once you accept the realities of a linked future, it would be easier to arrive at an agreement on the more difficult sharing principle. There is also a need to activate JRC which provides a very good platform to discuss water sharing,” said Sinha.
JRC was established in 1972 with a view to maintain liaison to ensure effective joint efforts in maximising benefits from common river system Asked about fate of the proposed Teesta deal, former water resources secretary
Shashi Shekhar said since water was a state subject, India would have to keep the WB government’s views in mind.
“The Centre should, in the meantime, concentrate on developing a robust mechanism to collect hydrological data.”
The present system of data collection on flow of the river water is quite an archaic one. Unless we have an authentic data, it would be difficult to bring state on board. State can take decision only on the basis of scientific data”, said Shekhar.
India was set to sign a deal on water sharing of rivers Teesta and Feni (originates in South Tripura district and flows into Bangladesh) during the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in September, 2011. It was, however, postponed indefinitely at the last minute due to objections raised by the chief minister Mamata Banerjee. She had then even dropped out of the Prime Ministerial delegation.
The hope to have the deal was revived when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Dhaka in 2015, but the stand of West Bengal has made it quite uncertain.
NEED TO LOOK BEYOND TEESTA:
Four points can be explored as confidence building measures (CBMs) when the deal seems difficult:
* Basin management approach — Both the countries may opt for jointly managing Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin, going beyond the boundaries of Bangladesh and India, to address the common realities of the entire region
* Activation of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) mechanism — It’ll help in addressing concerns of both the countries
* Move positively on the neighbour’s request for building Ganga barrage in Bangladesh — It’ll help Bangladesh in retaining surplus water during Monsoon for use during lean season
* Conservation of Sundarban — It may be pushed as core area of interest under existing MoU for benefit of both the countries.-Times of India