Bangladesh is now pursuing a ‘comprehensive and coordinated’ solution to water issues centering 54 common rivers with India not just getting stuck on Teesta, said an official source. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, raised the issue ‘very strongly’ conveying Modi that no one can imagine at what height the relations could reach if the water issues are resolved, said the source close to Prime Minister’s Office.
In a smart way, the Prime Minister also gifted a boat to Modi which was not just Awami League symbol rather a message to him that Bangladesh needs water to ensure smooth plying of that boat, said another diplomatic source. “She (PM) could raise the water issue very successfully. And there has been an interesting conversation between them at that time,” said another official of the government adding that the Prime Minister conveyed the message strongly and laid emphasis on comprehensive and coordinated management of common rivers.
Asked about the response from Modi, the official said the Indian PM came up with a ‘new narrative’ water is a ‘human issue’ indicating that the solution will have to humanitarian one with an expeditious process. The official said Modi probably wanted to convey a message to all that he does not want to fight with his neighbour on a ‘humanitarian issue’ which is a good message for Bangladesh.
Asked why Feni was linked with Teesta, the source said these two rivers have always been linked. According to an official at the Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requested Prime Minister Modi for immediate conclusion of the interim agreement on sharing of the water of Teesta as agreed upon by both the governments in January 2011. In response, Prime Minister Modi conveyed that deliberations are underway involving all stakeholders with regard to conclusion of the Interim Agreements on sharing of waters of Teesta and Feni as soon as possible.
In the draft made on Teesta water sharing, the water ratio was kept blank but the ‘understanding’ was 50-50. “That means if you take 40 percent I will take 40 percent, and the rest will be kept for navigability. That means equal sharing,” said the official. “I compared the joint statements of the present and past between the two countries. Huge difference is seen indicating a broader and growing relations,” said another official adding that this time some new rivers came up for discussion.
In the joint statement titled ‘Notun Projonmo-Nayi Disha’ the two Prime Ministers noted that discussions on various aspects relating to sharing of waters of the Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar rivers were taking place at technical levels under JRC. They asked the concerned officials for taking expeditious action to conclude the sharing arrangements at the earliest.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also invited India’s cooperation in jointly developing the Ganges Barrage on the river Padma in Bangladesh. In response, Prime Minister Modi conveyed that he would have the matter examined by the concerned agencies in India. Both the countries also laid emphasis on carrying out dredging and cleaning drives jointly for better functioning of rivers.
The two Prime Ministers recalled Article-2 of the Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development of 2011 and reiterated their commitment to address the issue of water resources management of common rivers including water sharing, in a holistic manner through common basin management. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Modi reiterated the earlier commitment that India would not take any unilateral decision on the Himalayan component of their River Interlinking Project which may affect Bangladesh.
Prime Minister Modi also conveyed that the Tipaimukh Hydro-Electric Power Project is not likely to be taken forward in its present form due to statutory requirements on the Indian side and that India would not take any unilateral decision on this matter that may adversely impact Bangladesh. The two Prime Ministers stressed the need for holding the 38th Ministerial meeting of the JRC at an early date to discuss all issues pertinent to water resources for mutual benefit. Modi in his public speech also said air, water and birds do not require any passport to go one place to another, UNB reports.