“Unfortunate, a shame”: Momen laments Teesta water deal remaining stalled

Dr AK Abdul Momen. Star file photo

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has reiterated the importance of signing the Teesta water sharing agreement with India, saying it is "unfortunate" and "a shame" that the deal remains stuck for 11 years.

"It is unfortunate that we could not get the Teesta water sharing deal through in 11 years. It's a shame, we were ready, they were ready, yet the deal is not done. In future there will be a big cry for water and we have to prepare for it," he told India's NDTV in Guwahati.

While talking to NDTV on the sidelines of the NADI Conclave held in Guwahati on May 28-29, Momen said that Bangladesh and India share 54 rivers and they are keen on working together on joint management of all rivers. "Joint management is necessary for the wellbeing of people of both sides, the entire basin area."

The Teesta river originates in the Teesta Kangse glacier and flows through Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh. It has been mired in conflict since 1947 when the catchment areas of the Teesta were allotted to India.

In 2011, India agreed to share 37.5 percent of Teesta waters while retaining 42.5 percent during the lean season between December and March.

However, the deal never went through due to stiff opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, reports NDTV.

"We are very optimistic that India would agree to go forward with the deal, even West Bengal will agree, and we will achieve it," he said.

Moreover, constant building of dams along the Teesta in Sikkim has resulted in lean seasonal flow draining into Bangladesh, reads the report.

"Assam, Bangladesh faced floods this year at the same time, we need to collaborate more with technology for water discharge, jointly develop early flood warning systems, and joint management of rivers is win-win for both countries," said Momen.

There is a lot of media buzz that Bangladesh is discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river. The project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods, and tackling the water crisis in summers.

The foreign minister said, "We don't have a formal proposal from China on Teesta as yet, the one that China was proposing initially was a French project, designed by French engineers in 1989. It was expensive, and at that time we could not manage funds. Now the Chinese are picking up one component of it, the Teesta project, but this I gather from media reports, they did not send us a proposal as of now. We have to see how it goes, because as of now India is not really doing much to resolve the Teesta water sharing issue, that's why they came up with a proposal, it's a lucrative proposal."

"However, Teesta is an unresolved issue, so our people would naturally push the government to look into any fresh proposal, that may be the reason why the Chinese project on Teesta is so much talked about in the media," the foreign minister said.

In September 2016, the Bangladesh Water Development Board signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Powerchina, or the China Power Construction Corporation, to conduct a technical study to better manage the Teesta for the benefit of northern Bangladesh's wider Rangpur region.