West Bengal and Assam election results and its impact on Bangladesh
The Election Commission in India needs to be congratulated for conducting a free and fair election in Assam and West Bengal, among others, as no party has alleged any rigging in the outcome of elections. Both Trinomool Congress and BJP did much better than expected in the two states.
The two states and Bangladesh share borders, and many unsettled issues with New Delhi depend on the views of the states in resolving them. For Bangladesh, the most important issue is the availability of water during winter, as the rivers in Bangladesh (54 of which flow from India) are getting drier every year, and all agricultural activities, including fisheries and navigation, are adversely affected from November to April. Besides, the impact of global climate change is gradually felt in the country in all sectors of economy, weather and social activities.
It seems that the views on the unsettled issues with Bangladesh will probably become stricter, because of the massive victory of the parties concerned to get as many concessions as they can from Bangladesh. As for the Teesta River Agreement, West Bengal wants no water from the third largest river of Bangladesh (Teesta) to be shared with Bangladesh, until and unless New Delhi puts pressure on the state of Sikkim to stop its proposed construction of dams and diversion of water from Teesta to other India states in the west.
Furthermore, New Delhi is proposing to construct river-linking projects for the Ganges and Brahmaputra to its drought-stricken areas in the west. Although India says that river-linking projects will not be harmful to Bangladesh, the fact on the ground is the opposite according to water experts. Bangladesh has no control on the upper stream of rivers and being a lower riparian, Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to such projects. Moreover, it is against the norms of international law as codified in the 1997 UN Convention on the Watercourses. It is against the Biodiversity Convention, and Article 9 of the1996 Indo-Bangladesh Gages Water Treaty.
It should be noted that Bangladesh has had many water projects to increase the water supply of the rivers, but many of these are not in operation or have been shelved. Unless Bangladesh looks after its national interests, no one will. The coming years will witness the scarcity of fresh water in the rivers in Bangladesh, and it must address the augmentation of waters in rivers with urgency.
Water sharing is an obligation - both moral and legal - for India. Given the friendly relations between Bangladesh and India, the Modi government may turn its attention to the water sharing issue. This affects ordinary people in Bangladesh and the availability of water in the country's rivers will have a visible impact on India's willingness to focus on this.
The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.