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Teesta water treaty between India, Bangladesh scrapped

New Delhi : The long awaited Teesta Water Treaty between India and Bangladesh fell through on Monday on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's maiden visit to Dhaka.

The two countries had been working for years to arrive at a consensus to share waters of the common rivers, including Teesta, but political compulsions forced the Indian Government to take off the Treaty from Singh's agenda. The PM is on his first visit to Bangladesh in 12 years.

Signing of the Teesta Treaty was to be the highlight of Singh's visit, with India also expected to offer a host of incentives in other sectors to its eastern neighbour.

On September 5, the Government said the deal on sharing of the waters of the common river Teesta was off the agenda with India Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai stating that the pact between the two countries scheduled to be signed has been ‘scrapped’.

The likely cause of the deal being scrapped is the objection raised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has expressed her unhappiness about equally sharing of Teesta waters with Bangladesh.

Banerjee, head of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), was to accompany Prime Minister Singh to Bangladesh but objected at the last moment to the quantum of water sharing with Bangladesh. West Bengal shares a long, and often volatile, border with Bangladesh.

According to media reports, TMC has accused the Centre of ignoring the state government. On the other hand, Congress has accused Mamata of stalling the Indo-Bangla pact.

Banerjee had withdrawn from the PM's entourage, protesting the Government's failure to consult her on the key agreement to share water with Bangladesh. The Teesta, which flows across 315 km from Sikkim to Bangladesh through the northern districts of West Bengal, is a crucial water resource for the state.

In fact, over the past few months, several political leaders have highlighted the importance of the Teesta waters for West Bengal.

Media reports indicate that RSP Balurghat MP Prasanta Majumdar had written a letter to to the PM on August 25 which raised concerns of north Bengal if the Treaty gave away 50 per cent of Teesta water to Bangladesh. The letter had asked the PM to consult the West Bengal Chief Minister before signing the Treaty.

But, what is being seen as political incompetence by many, is that the Union Government ignored Mamata and avoided consulting her before firming up the water treaty.

Even though relations between TMC and the Congress-led UPA are not the very best at the moment, the fact that TMC remains a crucial component of the UPA can't be ignored completely.

Before India signed the Ganga water treaty with Bangladesh in 1996, the Union Government had held seven rounds of meetings with the then Bengal CM Jyoti Basu.

The Prime Minister's office had been attempting damage control, but Mamata chose to stay away from the tour altogether. It is believed that the PM could have gone ahead with the Teesta treaty, but decided to keep it on hold and have Mamata and West Bengal, the largest stakeholder in this iussue, on board.

The Teesta treaty envisages an equal split (50:50) of the water between the two countries, but Banerjee is reportedly opposed to any deal that provides for less than a 75:25 split in India's favour.

Reports from Bangladesh indicate that Dhaka was also looking forward to propose joint basin management with India to end protracted wrangle over the issue of water-sharing of common rivers. In all, the two countries share waters of 54 common rivers.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Foreign Affairs Adviser Gawher Rizvi was quoted as saying in a Press Trust of India report last week, "After the landmark Ganges Water Sharing Treaty we now expect to sign agreements on the Teesta and Feni rivers during the Indian Premier's (September 6-7) visit ... but at the end of the day a joint management is the solution to the outstanding issue of water-sharing in the remaining of the 54 common rivers".

"We hope during the meeting of the two Prime Ministers the possibility of the joint river management will be extensively looked into ... which in the longer run should engage other co-riparian nations."

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