If the Teesta river water-sharing deal is clinched, it will dramatically change the relationship between Bangladesh and India, according to Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to India Syed Muazzem Ali. He said since Bangladesh is largely agrarian, and the northern part of the country is a water-scarce region, it is important that the Teesta deal is reached as early as possible.
According to Muazzem, both Bangladesh and India should now focus on enhancing the navigability of their common major rivers by undertaking dredging, so that they can hold more water and big ships can sail through them to use Mongla and Chattogram ports.
Interacting with members of the Press Club of India at the Indian capital on Tuesday evening, Muazzem Ali, who returns to Dhaka next month after a five-year-tenure as high commissioner, said sharing of 54 common rivers is the biggest challenge for India-Bangladesh relations, because water is a highly emotive issue in both countries.
Pointing out that there are three to four hydro-electricity projects on Teesta in Sikkim, India where the river originates, two irrigation projects in West Bengal and one irrigation project in Bangladesh built by HM Ershad, he said the quantum of water in the river has come down.
The Teesta deal has been pending for the last eight years due to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s strong opposition to it.
Muazzem Ali said the Farakka barrage project has not helped India meet the purpose for which it was built, because it has not helped the Haldia port and large ships cannot enter there due to siltation. “In fact, Farakka has led to more siltation in Haldia.”
The Bangladesh envoy was asked a number of questions on a range of India-Bangladesh issues including Bangladesh-China military ties, NRC and illegal immigration.
On the NRC issue, Muazzem Ali said India has repeatedly conveyed to Bangladesh officially that it was an “internal” issue and he would not like to comment on it.
Regarding illegal immigration, he said if a Bangladeshi can afford it, they would prefer to go to the West of the Mediterrenean over India.
However, he said, Bangladesh has been on the road to economic prosperity for the last ten years, and the problem of illegal immigration will cease to exist.
Replying to a question, Muazzem said the biggest achievement in India-Bangladesh ties during his tenure was signing of the bilateral land boundary agreement in 2015.