Saturday, June 11, 2011

Visit of Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh and the Unsettled Issues

SWADESH ROY
THE RECENT visit of Nirupama Rao, Indian Foreign Secretary, has shown a light that Bangladesh and India will be able to settle their long unsettled issues. The Foreign Secretary of India said that, some issues have already resolved and the rest of the issues will be resolved during the visit of Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India. The Foreign Secretary however did not disclose any specific date of the proposed visit but indicated that it may take place by the end of this year. The officials of the two countries are waiting with a hope that, Teesta river water sharing treaty will be signed at the time of Dr. Singh’s visit.

Teesta is a common river between India and Bangladesh. Flowing through India, it enters Bangladesh at the northern part. Many small rivers and cultivation of crops of a vast agricultural land of Bangladesh depend on its water. India has blocked the water of the river and in the summer they withdraw water from it. Therefore, some tributaries and connecting rivers of Teesta are on the verge of extinction and have reached a stage where their untimely death is almost a certainty. Besides this, crop cultivating of a vast area of Bangladesh has also come under immense danger as these areas may soon become infertile and barren. Hence, the Teesta’s water sharing becomes a matter of great necessity for Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh have been in talks about the Teesta water for the last two decades but the two neighbours couldn’t reach a definite goal. Before the visit of Indian Foreign secretary, the technical committee of India and Bangladesh met in Delhi on the same week and talks continued for two days but a common decision point could not reached.

Bangladesh wants the sharing of water on 50: 50 bases while India has proposed for 45:55. Bangladesh badly needs the Teesta water especially from December to March which is the Bangladesh’s dry season. During this time the flow of water of Teesta goes down to 1,000 cusec from 5000 thousand cusec due to withdrawal of water by India, endangering the life and land of Bangladesh greatly. It is therefore necessary for both Bangladesh and India to reach a reasonable point to resolve the Teesta water sharing. India has to realize the reality. Most members of India’s technical committee do realize the reality but they cannot take decision on the basis of reality. So every meeting of last two decades failed ultimately. The experts of two neighbours do understand that the issue requires a decisive political solution. This time people of Bangladesh hope that, the Indian Prime will take a reasonable political decision because Teesta is a common river and not a river of India. Bangladesh is not begging the water of Teesta; it is legal share of Bangladesh. If Indian Prime Minister can understand it and is able to take a right decision, it will help build a good relation between Bangladesh and India.

Historically the Indo-Bangla relation is good, but the issue of Teesta river water sharing is a thorn in to this good relation. Prime Minister of Bangladesh visited India in January 2010. It was a successful visit and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and India signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU); in which both the leaders came to close in many issues. India agreed that they would sell 250-mega watt electricity to Bangladesh. Bangladesh and India are preparing the electricity line to supply electricity from India to Bangladesh. The two countries agreed that, Bangladesh would give a river port (Ashuganj) facility to India. Bangladesh has given the facility already and two countries are working to develop the river port and its link railway lines. In the MoU, two countries also agreed that, Nepal and Bhutan will use Bangladesh seaports and India will give the transit facility to Nepal and Bhutan. Foreign secretary of India told in Dhaka that Nepal and Bhutan are getting some transit facility already and India will give the full transit facility to these two countries.

Another big issue for Bangladesh and India which requires immediate resolution is Bangladesh’s transit facility for India. India wants transit facility from Bangladesh for North Eastern India. The North Eastern part of the India is a block land like Nepal and Bhutan. Therefore, in this part of India needs roads and ports facilities. Bangladesh has already agreed to provide the transit facility and is working on it. Besides that, Bangladesh will get two times benefit from transit facilities. Bangladesh will get the fees of transit and will get the market of the North East India.

Meanwhile the finance minister of Bangladesh has told in an interview with the Time of Assam that, if the North East India gets transit facility from Bangladesh then Bangladesh can set up hydro power plant with joint collaboration. Assam in the North Eastern India’s has more hydro power. Realizing the benefits, both the countries have come to closure of in transit issue. That is why; it can be said that, Indian Prime Minister’s visit will be a successful visit if India can show their broadness.

India is a big neighbour of Bangladesh with a vast economy, but also being a small neighbouring country, Bangladesh has done a lot for India. Having come to power, the present government of Bangladesh has deported all the Indian militants from Bangladesh territory. It is a great job for the socio-economy of this region because any type of insurgency is always unhealthy for any type of economy. Hence, to build a healthy socio economic situation one must have to destroy any type of militancy. Over the last two years, Bangladesh did it for India. That is why now the ball is in Indian court and now it is India’s turn to show their generosity. If India misses this train, Bangladesh will definitely be a loser; but India too will not be the gainer.

First published in Times of Assam, Guwahati, India, June 11, 2011

Swadesh Roy is the Executive Editor of The Daily Janakantha published from Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at swadeshroy@gmail.com