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Teesta treaty still a far cry

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28th-May-2018       
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YESTERDAY, Bangladesh Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held a closed-door meeting for about an hour at a five-star hotel in Kolkata. Although they discussed a lot of issues such as education, trade and economic ties, the much anticipated Teesta water-sharing deal did not figure in this all important meeting, according to Indian media. Hasina returned home Saturday night, wrapping up her two-day official visit to West Bengal.
The Mathabhanga-Churni rivers, along with the Teesta, are among the 54 transboundary rivers shared by India and Bangladesh. Together, they form a part of the Brahmaputra-Ganga-Meghna (GBM) basin which occupies an area of 1.7 million kms across five countries, namely Bangladesh, India, China, Nepal and Bhutan and is home to 630 million people. Despite its sheer vastness, multiple riparians and huge population, the GBM basin is not subject to any comprehensive, multilateral water cooperation and management mechanisms. Instead, a number of formal and informal bilateral mechanisms have been established to jointly manage certain sub-basins.
The Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) is one such mechanism established jointly by India and Bangladesh in 1972 to work "together in harnessing the rivers common to both the countries for the benefit of the peoples of the two countries". Since its very inception though, the JRC has been singularly focused on the Ganga River and rather unknowingly sowed the seeds of a fragmented outlook towards the larger river basin shared by India and Bangladesh.
But the key to this is Mamata Banerjee--without her support the central government won't unilaterally supply the Teesta water to Bangladesh. And no one so far has been able to move Mamata from her unyielding stance on the water sharing as it would affect her vote bank adversely. It is in India's interest that the Awami League government maintains power in the upcoming national elections of Bangladesh, against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which has vociferously criticised Sheikh Hasina and India over the non-signing of the Teesta agreement.
 India can no longer pursue the tactic of offering more and more cooperation and aid in various areas to Bangladesh while hanging the Teesta issue because of domestic politics. Sooner or later, it will have to prioritise signing the agreement by getting Mamata to cooperate on sharing Teesta's waters with Bangladesh. But when it will happen, if at all, is still a guess.


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