Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for the media as Hasina is greeted by Modi upon her arrival in New Delhi on Friday, April 7, 2017. (Photo: AP/Manish Swarup)
With Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's India visit, after seven long years, the anticipation of a discussion on the Teesta water dispute is high. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's scheduled presence at the luncheon meeting has further raised the curiosity.
Considering that Bangladesh is a water rich country when compared with India, Hasina doesn't have to seek a hard bargain. India has 1,907.8 billion cubic metres (BCM) water resources, of which West Bengal's share is a meager 176 BCM. On the other hand, Bangladesh, a much smaller country, has 1,211 BCM water resources.
The government and experts in Dhaka recognize this reality. But ahead of 2019 elections in Bangladesh, she may have to make some noise on the issue.
Teesta is a rain-fed river with an average annual flow of 60 BCM. During lean season between April and June, the average flow in lower areas is just 6 BCM.
Considering these factors, it will be difficult for India to share water on a 50:50 basis. Also, the catchment area in India is higher at 10,155 sq km, compared with Bangladesh’s 2004 sq km.
The Sikkim Factor
The Teesta dispute is more of a political issue. And it will be difficult to resolve the issue without including Sikkim, from where Teesta originates, in the talks.
The river originates in Sikkim's Chhombo Chhu glacial lake at the tip of the Teesta Khangse glacier. According to experts, one of the key solutions to the problem could be small storage dams near upper Teesta in Sikkim during the rainy season.
Speaking to News18, Amalendu Kundu, Adviser to Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, said, "Our Chief Minister was never consulted on this issue. Every time Teesta issue is being hijacked by the Centre and West Bengal government. Even Bangladesh never tried to reach our Chief Minister. There are allegations that we blocked the river, which is affecting its flow in West Bengal. But that is not right. Several time our Chief Minister asked for a tripartite meeting, but this never happened."
Kundu added, "Without Sikkim's involvement, what is the relevance of such meetings? When the river is originating from Sikkim, all of us should sit together to find out solution. In future, we are willing to participate in such meetings for Sikkim's interest."
What Mamata May Say
If Trinamool Congress insiders are to be believed, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was restless on Thursday evening over the Teesta issue. Sources said she discussed how to put Teesta facts before the Bangladesh Prime Minister to seek a better deal without hampering her relationship with Hasina.
Mamata might suggest Centre to initiate talks with Bhutan to link Sankosh River with Teesta for augmenting water supply. She may also seek funds for augmentation of Teesta water flow at Gazoldoba (near Siliguri) to store more water for the lean seasons.
Farming of drought resistant crops and interlinking of Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga (MSTG) Rivers for lasting solution might also be on the table.
What is MSTG Project?
The MSTG project is proposed under the Himalayan component of National Perspective Plan (NPP). MSTG link canal will divert surplus water of Manas and Sankosh rivers with supplementation from the intermediate major streams to augment the flow of Ganga at Farakka. It would further transfer water to Krishna, Pennar and Cauvery basins, boosting irrigation along the way.
The pre-feasibility report of the link has been prepared and sent to all the concerned state governments for their views. On Manas-Sankosh and Sankosh-Teesta linking plan, National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has carried out alternate studies to avoid reserved forest. The preparation of its feasibility report will begin soon.