Teesta River Deal

News: PM while on his tour of Bangladesh assured his best to ink the long-awaited deal over the Teesta and other common rivers. On at least two occasions—2011 and 2017—Bangladesh and India came close to signing a deal on the Teesta.

Teesta River

  • Teesta River is a 315 km long river that rises in the eastern Himalayas, flows through the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal through Bangladesh and enters the Bay of Bengal.
  • It is a tributary of the Brahmaputra (known as Jamuna in Bangladesh), flowing through India and Bangladesh.
  • It originates in the Himalayas near Chunthang, Sikkim and flows to the south through West Bengal before entering Bangladesh. Originally, it continued southward to empty directly into the Padma River but around 1787 the river changed its course to flow eastward to join the Jamuna river. The Teesta Barrage dam helps to provide irrigation for the plains between the upper Padma and the Jamuna.

About the dispute:

  • The point of contention between India and Bangladesh is mainly the lean season flow in the Teesta draining into Bangladesh. The river covers nearly the entire floodplains of Sikkim while draining 2,800 sq km of Bangladesh, governing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
  • For West Bengal, Teesta is equally important, considered the lifeline of half-a-dozen districts in North Bengal. Bangladesh has sought an “equitable” distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty of 1996, but to no avail. The failure to ink a deal had its fallout on the country’s politics, putting the ruling party of PM Sheikh Hasina in a spot.
  • Following a half-hearted deal in 1983, when a nearly equal division of water was proposed, the countries hit a roadblock. The transient agreement could not be implemented. Talks resumed after the Awami League returned to power in 2008 and the former Indian PM Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka in 2011.
  • In 2015, PM Modi’s visit to Dhaka generated more ebullient lines: deliberations were underway involving all the stakeholders to conclude the agreement as soon as possible.

India’s issues:

  • It remains an unfinished project and one of the key stakeholders — West Bengal CM is yet to endorse the deal. Her objection is connected to “global warming. Many of the glaciers on the Teesta basin have retreated.
  • The importance of the flow and the seasonal variation of this river is felt during the lean season (from October to April/May) as the average flow is about 500 million cubic metres (MCM) per month.
  • The West Bengal CM opposed an arrangement in 2011, by which India would get 42.5% and Bangladesh 37.5% of the water during the lean season, and the plan was shelved.

Significance:

  • India witnessed a surge in the insurgency in the northeast during the rule of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from 2001 to 2005.
  • Bangladesh allegedly sheltered insurgents engaged in anti-India activities, and nearly all the Home Ministry-level talks ended without agreement, and India had to increase the security budget for the northeast. In a couple of years of assuming office in 2008, the Awami League targeted insurgent camps and handed over the rebels to India.
  • As India’s security establishment heaved a sigh of relief, the relationship improved on multiple fronts.