Sunday, April 16, 2017

Teesta: 'India, Bangladesh fighting over a trickle'

SAIBAL GUPTA

A report prepared by the Bengal government indicates that India and Bangladesh may not be fighting over anything substantial as they try to end the impasse over sharing the waters of Teesta.

The report says the river, in its present state, has only a sixteenth of the water that is needed for agriculture by Indian and Bangladeshi farmers on either side of the border during the dry season, which stretches from February to May. The report has now prompted the Centre to send the Parliamentary Committee on Energy to Sikkim on April 23 to study the eight dams there on the Teesta and whether they are affecting the flow of water in any way.

Prepared by an expert committee set up by the Mamata Banerjee government, the report says the river has only 100 cumecs (cubic metres per second) of water between February and May when the requirement for farmers of both countries (mainly for irrigation of the dry season boro paddy) is around 1600 cumecs.

"It is a rough estimate but the flow of water is so inadequate that, if 50% of the water is given to Bangladesh, it will not only fail to serve Bangladesh's purpose but will also ensure that North Bengal risks facing drought," a senior official at the state secretariat said. "Our chief minister is not against giving water to Bangladesh but she is opposed to sharing Teesta's waters simply because there is no water at all. There are 54 rivers, other than the Teesta, that flow into Bangladesh through Bengal. The state government is ready to share the water of these rivers," the official added echoing Mamata Banerjee's stand at the recent meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi.

The report, which has been sent to the Centre, further says that Teesta caters to more 16 lakh hectares of combined land in Bangladesh and India, 9.2 lakh hectares of which are in West Bengal and 6.8 lakh hectares in Bangladesh. "So, if we go by the volume of land on either side of the border that depends on Teesta, West Bengal should get 920 cumecs of water and Bangladesh 680 cumecs. But the flow of water is so inadequate that the state has now decided to irrigate only 52,000 hectares with Teesta's water. It is just not possible to satisfy Bangladesh's demand," the official added.

But Hasina contended during her recent visit that Bangladesh used to receive some water from Teesta till 2011, when the Trinamool Congress came to power in Bengal. Now, it gets only about 20 cumecs during the peak dry season (mainly from a tributary of the Teesta called Dhorla).

Mamata, however, told PM Narendra Modi and Hasina that the projects in Sikkim — eight dams have been built on Teesta there — used up around 60% of the waters available during the lean period, leaving only 40% for North Bengal.

Published in the Times of India, on Apr 16, 2017