The water flow of the river Teesta in Bangladesh has dropped significantly in recent times. This has had a negative impact on irrigation and other socio-economic activities of the area.
Bangladesh has requested India to sign an interim agreement for the sharing of common river waters. Until the agreement is signed, Bangladesh has requested Delhi to release reasonable and adequate amount of water for river conservation and irrigation purposes. Delhi has not responded.
Analysing data of the joint river commission (Bangladesh), a senior official of the water resources division told journalists, the amount of water received in the first 10 days of January and February this year is only one-tenth of the amount received in 1973-85 at Dahlia Point. The flow fell further in February. Before construction began on the Gajaldanga barrage in West Bengal, in 1975-85 the flow of water in the Bangladesh side of river Teesta was strong.
In 1973-85 at Dahlia Point, the water volume was 7010, 6010, and 5668 cusecs in the first 10 days, second 10 days and last 10 days of January. In the first 10 days, second 10 days and third 10 days of January this year, the volume of water was 2384, 1760 and 1190 cusecs respectively. In the first 10 days of the current month, the water fell to 1000 cusecs. In 1973-85 the water volume fell to 5986 cusecs.
Water resources ministry sources have been quoted to have said, a letter was sent to India in December last year, asking for the treaty to be signed as soon as possible, in view of the rapid fall in water flow. It was also requested to release an adequate quantity of water for Bangladesh until the agreement was signed.
Foreign secretary Mohammed Shahidul Huq raised the issue with Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar during a meeting in Delhi recently. India is yet to respond.
Diplomatic sources in Delhi said that the Teesta issue was discussed at the meeting of foreign secretaries of the two countries on 1 February, but no progress had been made. The Indian side said that the central government was sincere in its intentions to sign the agreement regarding shared rivers, with the support of its West Bengal state. This indicated that there is little possibility of the agreement being signed anytime before the elections in West Bengal. These elections will be held in April-May this year.
Notably, the two countries have agreed to detailed discussion on Teesta water sharing at the next meeting of the Joint River Commission (JRC). The two countries may also discuss the release of adequate water for irrigation purposes, even before the agreement is signed. The JRC meeting may be held after five long years, sometime in the middle of this year.
The river Teesta is 366 km long. Of this, about a half is in Bangladesh. The areas for irrigation under Teesta total 19.63 lakh hectares, of which 7.49 lakh is in Bangladesh and 12.14 lakh hectares in India.