Dhaka to raise Kolkata’s Teesta waters diversion at UN and issue demarche to Delhi

New Delhi : The West Bengal government’s decision to dig two new canals to divert some waters of the Teesta river for irrigation purposes in Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar districts has spoilt the festive mood ahead of the inauguration of the first ever 130 km long cross-border energy pipeline between India and Bangladesh.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina are scheduled to inaugurate the ‘India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline’ via a video conference on Saturday, March 18. However, Bangladesh is upset with the West Bengal state government’s proposed plan to build canals to divert Teesta waters for irrigation purposes.

Reliable sources indicate that Dhaka is sending a ‘demarche’ (a formal, diplomatic protest) to the Delhi-based Indian government to seek an explanation about West Bengal’s proposed projects on the Teesta river, which will reduce its flow, amidst a protracted, unsettled process for sharing the waters of the trans-boundary river.

Though the harsh diplomatic word ‘demarche’ was not mentioned by the Bangladesh Foreign office Spokesperson, Saheli Sabrin, she did say at the foreign office’s weekly media briefing that “We will prepare a paper on the issue in  consultation with our water resources ministry and the JRC (Joint River Commission) and then we will ask the Indian side regarding the issue.”

She added that Dhaka was analysing “the situation with caution” and, currently, the foreign office was in touch with the water resource ministry and JRC to collect information regarding the proposed projects. According to reports, the West Bengal government also plans to build two hydropower projects using the Teesta waters, which, in turn, may affect the flow of the river to downstream Bangladesh. If the state government does go ahead with the two or three planned Darjeeling hydro power projects, it is likely to reduce the volume of water in the Teesta that is available for irrigation, particularly during the December–April lean season, when the demand for irrigation water goes up in Bangladesh.

Although the Bangladesh Spokesperson maintained a soft line, to resolve the issue through dialogue, “in view of the excellent bilateral relations” between the two neighbours, she simultaneously articulated Dhaka’s hard line, that the Bangladesh government would take up the issue at UN water conference, which is scheduled in next month in New York.

India was hoping that the operation of the ‘India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline’ would put in place a sustainable, reliable, cost-effective and environment friendly mode of transporting HSD (high speed diesel) from India to Bangladesh and thereby create an important confidence building measure between the countries, as farmers of the northern districts of Bangladesh would be benefitted despite non signing of the Teesta waters agreement between the neighbours.

The decision of the West Bengal government has definitely put a spanner in this move. Some experts feel that Kolkata’s move is of a more political nature, as farmers in north Bengal require more water for irrigation. The area is politically sensitive particularly since the BJP got the maximum number of their Lok Sabha seats from this area. The region may  again face a stiff political contest in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

It is interesting that the political slugfest between the BJP and the TMC in West Bengal has also placed Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party on the back foot, as they get ready for general elections soon, in January 2024.



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