Bangladesh ‘cautiously observing situation’ over India’s move to diver joint river waters

By SM Najmus Sakib

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA): Bangladesh has raised eyebrows over neighboring India’s move to divert transboundary Teesta River waters for agricultural purposes​, calling it “alarming” as further withdrawal of the joint waters would be disastrous for the country’s downstream agriculture lands.

Bangladesh will send a letter to India’s Central Water Commission to seek an explanation for the diversion of fresh water, Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) Member Mohammad Abul Hossen told Anadolu on Friday.

An Indian newspaper reported last week that West Bengal’s irrigation department had taken possession of approximately 1,000 acres of land to dig two more canals under the Teesta Barrage Project to channel water for agricultural purposes.

Under the new project, India will build three hydropower plants in Darjeeling, two of which will draw water from the Teesta River, according to The Telegraph.

Bangladesh is prepared to write to India asking for an explanation and for details about the projects that the Indian government has launched to dig canals to divert water from the joint river for agricultural use.

The 414 kilometers (257 miles) Teesta River originates in the eastern Himalayas and crosses northern Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has 57 transboundary rivers, 54 of which are shared with India and three with Myanmar.

“They (India) should have informed us, but we have not been informed of anything officially. Therefore, we will send a demi-official letter to the Indian counterpart to know the facts and express our concern that such an initiative would have an impact on the Teesta downstream in Bangladesh,” JRC’s senior official Hossen said.

The JRC usually provides water for irrigation to 55,000 hectares of agricultural land during the dry season, but this year it has only provided water to 35,000 hectares due to a lack of water flow in the Teesta River and other renovation work in canals of the Teesta barrage project, he explained.

The Teesta Barrage, located 44 kilometers (27 miles) north of Nilphamari, began operation in 1979.

The river nearly dried up during the dry season due to irrigation and water control upstream in India, he said, adding that if the waters are diverted further, the entire ecosystem in the Teesta downstream will suffer.

“We don’t have minimum water flow in the Teesta during the dry season, no water, no fish are found in the river with only limitless char or sandbanks due to the overcontrol of water flow in the upstream in India,” he said, adding that they are forced to take this step.

Bangladesh State Minister for Water Resources Zaheed Farooque also called the initiative concerning. He told reporters in Dhaka on Thursday that the government will ask New Delhi to explain the situation.

Meanwhile, in its weekly briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Seheli Sabrin said Bangladesh is monitoring the situation and will take the appropriate action based on India’s response.

“We are cautiously observing the situation and verifying media reports. The water resources ministry and Joint River Commission are readying a paper, and we will seek to know the facts. Then we shall take necessary measures,” Sabrin told the media.

Despite repeated assurances from New Delhi, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and protests from India’s West Bengal state, Bangladesh could not have allowed its neighbor to sign the long-standing water-sharing agreement over the last 12 years.

Some 11 small rivers in Bangladesh, mostly in northern districts that are dependent on Teesta River water flows, are now dying due to wishful waters withdrawing upstream in India in the absence of a water-sharing deal.

Additional report by The Muslim News

[Map of Bangladesh from CIA Factbook/Public Domain]

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