The Big Picture: Takeaways from Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina’s India Visit
Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina held bilateral talks recently ending 22 pacts in various key sectors including a civil-nuclear agreement and 2 MoUs on defence cooperation. India has extended a credit line of USD 4.5 billion for implementation of projects in Bangladesh. The Prime Minister also announced $500 million credit line towards India’s eastern nation military budget. The Prime Minister also said that both agreed that peace and security will remain central engagement between the two neighbours. However, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee’s proposal for sharing waters of five other rivers flowing from the northern part of state into Bangladesh instead of Teesta found no takers.
Some Takeaways of the Visit:
- The two countries will expand cooperation in nuclear energy, space and atomic energy sectors along with cyber security, electronics and information technology.
- There was an agreement for the shipping sector and a protocol for passenger and cruise service
- New passenger train service on Khulna-Kolkata route.
- Three defence sector pacts were signed in the form of an umbrella framework agreement on various aspects of defence cooperation.
- India will finance a diesel pipeline from Numaligarh to Parbatipur. Indian companies will also ink a long-term agreement with Bangladesh for supplying high-speed diesel.
- A rail link between Radhikapur and Birol for running goods trains.
The China Factor:
Connectivity has become a new way to extend influence and China is taking the lead with its Belt & Road initiative. India has also extended funds to rebuild old railway lines, construct bridges, power plants, ports and roads in Bangladesh. Plans to revive inland waterway channels have the potential to increase connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan. These measures will strengthen the bonds of India with Bangladesh with which India shares its longest international border as well as historical bonds. It will also help India connect to itself, to the benefit especially of the northeastern States.
Teesta water issue:
Teesta river has its origin in Sikkim and it flows through the northern part of West Bengal before entering Bangladesh and joining the Brahmaputra river. The Teesta is approximately 414 kilometres, of which 150-odd are in Sikkim, 123 in West Bengal, and the remaining 140 or so in Bangladesh. Its flow is significant for Bangladesh from December to March when the water flow often temporarily comes down to less than 1,000 cusec from 5,000 cusec. India has put the river Teesta on the bilateral discussion table but the federal political issues have prevented the Centre from resolving the issue of water-sharing overruling Bengal’s position. Releasing water to Bangladesh can affect irrigation systems in five districts of the North Bengal which are Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, South and North Dinajpur, and Darjeeling and they constitute some of the poorest blocks in the state.
India has been in line with bilateral frameworks with Bangladesh in the past. India and Bangladesh have the advantage of an existing Joint Rivers Commission which was set up in 1972 after Bangladesh won independence for water management. It was this commission that negotiated the Ganges Water Treaty as significant as the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan, because it was an entirely bilateral effort.
India can argue its case for a greater share of river waters based on its own needs and political compulsions as there is no way out of equitable agreements on water sharing looking into India’s own requirements. As both an upper riparian (with rivers that have their source in India and flow downstream) and a lower riparian (with rivers that begin elsewhere and flow into India), the country is at the focus of transboundary river politics and diplomacy and must acknowledge the necessity to have workable agreements to prevent major conflict over water along with other issues.