Unresolved Issues | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 10, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 10, 2015

BOTTOM LINE: MODI'S VISIT TO BANGLADESH

Unresolved Issues

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Bangladesh has ushered in a new chapter not only in bilateral relations but in a significant way for the sub-region (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) as a whole through the signing of 22 agreements and memorandums of understanding on all possible sectors including multi-modal connectivity. It is a new dawn in the sub-region. 

The agreements will also open up the sub-region in an unprecedented scale for investment, trade, people-to people contact which will have multiple positive effects. Furthermore, relations between the two countries have reached a new height which would be noticed by other countries and generate a new climate of investment and joint ventures in Bangladesh.

It is good that the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) came into fruition after 41 years, removing a humanitarian problem for the inhabitants of the enclaves in both countries. The LBA stated that the boundaries of Muhuri River, Feni River, Hakar Khal and Baikari Khal would be fixed. It is not known whether any solution regarding this issue was discussed and agreed upon with India during the visit.

Some analysts say that the result of the agreements and MOUs may be more beneficial to India than to Bangladesh because India will be able to send goods and merchandise in the shortest possible time over railway, water transport or road through Bangladesh to the landlocked seven Northeastern states of India. 

Analysts also believe that since most of the benefits will go to India, it would have been desirable for India to have provided $1 billion grant to Bangladesh out of $2 billion credit suppliers' loan. For a country with $2 trillion GDP, $1 billion grant should be considered as a small amount. 

However, we should also remember that gains in different cases are not comparable and unlikely to be equal. Bangladesh may gain more than India in some areas and the reverse may be the case for India. 

Although our bilateral relations have reached a new height with Modi's visit, it is perceived to have been greatly diminished by the non-signing of the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement. People of Bangladesh had expected that the Indian Prime Minister would be able to conclude the Teesta sharing agreement this time around.

During his visit in Dhaka, Modi however has said, “Our rivers should nurture our relationship, not become a source of discord. Water sharing is, above all, a human issue. It affects life and livelihood on both sides of the border.” He further expressed his confidence that with the support of state governments in India the two neighbouring countries would reach a consensus over the Teesta deal.

The assurance given by Modi is unlikely to quell the fears of those in Bangladesh who will be directly affected by the deal as India is seen to have failed to comprehend how necessary this deal is for a large section of the country. It is a question of life and death for farmers in Bangladesh.  

Those living in northern districts are in a dire state, as the Teesta, the fourth largest river in the region, is almost dry. The dry Teesta River adversely affects about 21 million Bangladeshi people who live near its basins.

India built a barrage at Gazaldoba in West Bengal from which 85 percent of water flow is reportedly diverted from Teesta River through a link-canal to the upper Mahananda River which falls on the Meichi River in Bihar. This links the Fulhar River and reaches the Ganges River.  

The adverse effects of the Farakka Barrage have practically led to the death of many rivers in the western side of Bangladesh, according to water experts. To counter the effects of the Farakka Barrage, Bangladesh needs the Ganges Barrage inside Bangladesh with India's support. It is reported that when the issue was raised, the Indian side stated that the proposal would be examined by the concerned agencies in India.

Furthermore, on the eastern side, the recent dam built by China on Brahmaputra could spell disaster for Bangladesh unless a Himalayan Commission with Bangladesh, China and India is constituted for proper management of water resources for the Brahmaputra River. India's cooperation is imperative to set up such a commission. It is not known whether the issue was raised with the Indian side.

As the population in both countries will increase, the demand for fresh water will also increase. India and Bangladesh need an equitable management of water resources within the sub-region.

We congratulate both the Prime Ministers for the vision of a new pathway of progress and prosperity to eliminate poverty which is the common enemy for the sub-region as our Prime Minister recently stated. It is hoped that border killings will come to a complete halt, the trade deficit for Bangladesh is drastically reduced and that sharing of waters of all common rivers becomes a reality.

The writer is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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