Sunday, September 11, 2011

India embarrassed over stalled water sharing deal with Bangladesh

Photo: India-Bangladesh official talks between prime minister Manmohan Singh and Shiekh Hasina in capital Dhaka on Sept. 6
SALEEM SAMAD

INDIAN PRIME Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on Sept. 6 expressed surprise but denied embarrassing neighbor Bangladesh when India at the last minute ditched an expected deal on international river water sharing.

India scrapped a much-hyped deal to share with Bangladesh water from the Teesta River after the chief minister of the Indian state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, opposed the pact at the last minute. West Bengal borders Bangladesh.

Speaking with Indian correspondents on board the airplane returning to New Delhi, Singh said all technicalities of the Teesta water-sharing accord were settled and Banerjee had been consulted. He mentioned that Banerjee disagreed with the quantity of water sharing in peak and lean period.

The Indian prime minister was in Bangladesh for a two-day official visit and signed eight memos of understanding and one protocol to bring bilateral relations to new heights.

The 196-mile-long Teesta River crisscrosses through India and flows through the Bangladesh floodplain, which is crucial for irrigation of major cash crops.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh holds India responsible for failure to ink an agreement on equitable sharing of Teesta waters but is still hopeful of a pact within three months.

In strong words, the Bangladesh foreign secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes told journalists on Thursday that India would have to share responsibility for the failure.

A prestigious English newspaper Daily Star writes in its Thursday edition, Bangladesh-India relations are far too important and goodwill between us far too precious for us to judge our ties on the basis of just one trip.

On the other hand, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Thursday said the visit of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has failed and did not yield anything worth for Bangladesh.

A senior leader Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, acting secretary-general of the party squarely blames the government for what it says inept diplomacy for the failure.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com