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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Teesta deal yet unsettled Inking of a clear deal has unfortunately been delayed yet again

“Highly productive and fruitful” talks are meant to deliver results, and not to procrastinate in making closing decisions. The recently ended Indo-Bangla foreign secretary-level talks have ended by holding talks and discussing a number of bilateral issues but, by sidelining the issue of implementing the fair share of Teesta river water. However, despite Bangladesh’s repeated attempts the meeting held in Delhi actually didn’t bear fruit, at least on the topic of Teesta deal, and have kept the issue pending for future discussions.

In the wake of successful transfer and exchange of the long awaited undecided enclaves last year, we were hopeful to see the Teesta deal to materialise within 2015, but that didn’t happen mainly due to India’s domestic political disputes and internal conflicts of interests among its states.
Apparently Bangladesh will have to wait longer to get her correct share of water. The abrupt drying up and near death situation of the once mighty Teesta has already affected the lives and livelihood of the northern region severely. Also the environment and ecology of that region is fast changing in the course of a desertification process. Barely 450 cusecs of water was available at Teesta’s Dalia point in the first 10 days of February last year and now that amount has dwindled even further. However, the situation cannot wait to get worse for further “fruitful bilateral meetings and dialogues”. Moreover, we expect our biggest neighbour to comprehend the gravity of a geographical calamity it has created for us.
Nevertheless, coupled with the West Bengal Chief Minister Delhi should also take this into serious consideration. Promised by the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and assured by the current PM Narndra Modi , the Teesta deal shouldn’t have taken longer to materialize, though we are fully aware of the causes behind its delay.
Placing the harsh realities of India’s internal disagreements on top, why should Bangladesh be a victim of it? Moreover, she is not asking the share of water to be judged from humanitarian perspectives, she is demanding for something which is naturally and lawfully hers.
India being on the upper riparian has to decide fast and realistically to implement the Teesta deal before our northern region turns into a desert. From the last secretary level talks our Indian counterparts, though edgy but welcomed open discussions on joint water resources management. Both sides are also working on a meeting at the ministerial-level combining with Joint River Commissions. This meeting should take place soon and be made more regular.
Given the history of our friendly and cooperative relations our neighbour has to acknowledge our equitable rights over all Trans-boundary rivers including Teesta and fast track processes to realize equivalent water sharing.
Water cannot be a political issue.

**Dried up Teesta hits livelihood

S Dilip Roy

“We used to have bumper crops here,” says farmer Mahir Uddin of Char Kalmati village in Lalmonirhat. “The Teesta River used to flow year-round but nowadays there's not enough water in winter for optimal agriculture.”
Across the villages situated on Teesta river shoals in Lalmonirhat, the outlook is similarly gloomy. Rachima Begum, a farmer of Gobordhan village located on a shoal in Aditmari upazila says because they need to access underground irrigation water by machine, farming has become less profitable.
“The people of the shoals need never face poverty if the river had water year-round,” she says.
The Teesta, which can be up to 2.5 kilometres wide, is currently reduced to a width of about 70 metres, with water only knee-deep.
“The river is all shoal and no water,” locals complain, as they describe how they can walk for miles along sand deposit stretches which now connect many island communities to the mainland.
It's bad news for boatmen like Noor Hossain of Char Parulia village in Hatibandha upazila who finds himself unemployed entirely. “It was unthinkable only a few years ago,” he says, “that people could easily cross the River Teesta by foot here.”
His colleague Abdul Gony, of the same village, blames the unilateral construction of the river barrage across the Teesta at India's Gazaldoba, around 100 kilometres upstream of the Teesta Barrage Irrigation project at Dalia in Lalmonirhat's Hatibandha upazila, for the poor river condition.
Over one lakh people live on 95 shoals in five upazilas in the district and with boats impractical they are often compelled to walk several kilometres across sand stretches to pursue mainland-based livelihoods.
Meanwhile Ranjit Chandra Das of Char Kalmati, by family heritage a fisherman, is also suffering. “Once I could catch about 10 kilograms of boirali fish every day,” he says, referring to the Indian flying barb, an endemic species traditionally caught in the area. “These days I can only catch about half a kilogram.”
The species, which is at risk of extinction, no longer breeds in the river for lack of water, he adds.
Lalmonirhat's executive engineer of the Bangladesh Water Development Board, Shibendu Khastagir, says the water level fell sharply in September, with all the district's rivers drying at an alarming rate.

Farmer, fisherman, boatman and general shoal dweller alike, people here hope and wait for the government to take much-needed measures, including the finalisation of a fair water sharing treaty with India, in order to restore the year-round navigability that can alleviate suffering.