Bangladesh leans to China for Teesta management amidst Indian neglect
With years of diplomatic negotiations with India over the Teesta river's management leading to no visible output, the Ministry of Water Resources is now seeking to get it done by China, that too with a loan from the latter.
In a letter to the Economic Relations Division (ERD) last month, the ministry sought a $983.27 million loan from China to implement a "Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project".
The project summary states that floods lead to serious erosion for a lack of necessary protective measures, leaving huge amounts of property and home estates submerged every year.
The majority of an existing embankment has been eroded for a lack of proper maintenance while a water crisis arises in the dry winter months.
Some 113 kilometres of the 315-kilometre river lies in Bangladesh.
There are three to four hydro-electricity projects on Teesta in Sikkim, India where the river originates and two irrigation projects in West Bengal, according to Syed Muazzem Ali, a former Bangladesh high commissioner to India.
A dam constructed on the Indian side causes the water flow to reduce downstream in winter, leading to a water crisis for two months on the Bangladesh side, said Md Kabir Bin Anwar, senior secretary to the ministry.
A deal on sharing Teesta's waters has been pending for the last eight years due to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's strong opposition to it.
"If we can implement the project, a vast area on the Bangladesh side can be supplied with water during the crisis season," Anwar said.
The project not only aims at river regime and flood control but also to meet a water crisis in the dry season and enable economic development in the greater Rangpur region.
Its other aspects are land reclamation, development and utilisation, transportation and shipping, mitigation of social and environmental impact and restoration of ecosystem and promoting socio-economic development of locals.
The ministry is keen to implement the project to improve agricultural output in the Teesta river basin, develop a large-scale industrial park and establish a unique, modern and liveable urban complex.
The letter, signed by Khairun Nahar, the ministry's senior assistant chief, and sent on 23 July, also stated of plans to construct and commission a photovoltaic power plant under the project.
The development plans have been held back for a decade for a lack of funds.
Cooperation has been sought from development partners such as the World Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency but there has been no positive reply yet, said sources in the ministry.
However, some Chinese companies have already expressed their interest in implementing the project, they added.
In September 2016 a letter of intent had been signed between the Bangladesh Water Development Board and the Chinese state-owned Power Construction of China (Power China) under which the latter completed a feasibility study and prepared a master plan to implement the project.
However, a 2017 BBC report seemingly warned of "debt-trap diplomacy".
It reported a large group of researchers outside China having compiled a major database detailing virtually all of China's aid to recipient countries.
Citing more than 5,000 projects found across 140 countries, it revealed that China and the US rivalled each other in terms of how much they offer to other countries.
At least a quarter of the money given out under the traditional definition of aid by Western industrialised nations represents a direct grant, not a loan that needs to be repaid.
That aid is given with the main goal of developing the economic development and welfare of recipient countries.
In contrast, only 21 per cent of the money that China gives to other countries can be considered as traditional aid. The "lion's share" of that money is given in commercial loans that have to be repaid to Beijing with interest.
The team's other major finding: when China gives out traditional aid, the recipient countries reap impressive economic rewards.
For a long period, there were suspicions that Chinese aid projects were only set up to benefit China; infrastructure projects built by imported Chinese workers, for instance, that did little to improve the lives of people on the ground.
However, this research showed that China is just as capable of managing development aid projects as Western donors.
The researchers showed that both Beijing and Washington tend to offer money to countries which support them at the United Nations.
But for China, economics plays a key role: Beijing is often focused on promoting Chinese exports or market-rate loans where China wants to get the loan repaid with interest.
Moreover, though these Chinese loans are attractive for fewer strings being attached, in the case of Bangladesh there have been conditions for appointing Chinese contractors.
Several Chinese companies were interested in implementing this project but the Chinese government was yet to give a green signal, said Md Shahriar Kader Siddiky, joint secretary (Asia wing) to the ERD.
The ministry needs to fill up a Chinese application form seeking the loan, he said.
"We will send the documents to the Chinese embassy for including the project under applications seeking Chinese funds."