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General Studies 2 >> International Relations

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1. Context
During the recent state visit of Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, to India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 22 2024 said: “A technical team will soon visit Bangladesh to discuss conservation and management of the Teesta river in Bangladesh.” The remark triggered fresh speculation about the Teesta water-sharing treaty with Bangladesh, a key bilateral agreement that has been pending between the two countries for over a decade
2. What is the Teesta Treaty?
  • The Teesta Treaty refers to a proposed water-sharing agreement between India and Bangladesh, focusing on the distribution of the Teesta River's waters. The Teesta River originates in the Indian state of Sikkim, flows through West Bengal, and then enters Bangladesh before merging with the Brahmaputra River
  • The Teesta River is crucial for irrigation and agriculture in both India and Bangladesh. The proposed treaty aims to equitably share the river's waters, especially during the dry season when water scarcity is a significant issue
  • Negotiations have been ongoing for several decades, with both countries recognizing the importance of a fair distribution to maintain agricultural productivity and support livelihoods
  • The Teesta Treaty is seen as a critical component of bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh, with successful negotiations potentially strengthening ties and fostering greater cooperation in other areas
3.What is Teesta Water Dispute?
The Teesta Water Dispute is a longstanding disagreement between India and Bangladesh over the sharing of the Teesta River's waters. The river is vital for irrigation and agriculture in both countries, particularly in the regions it flows through.
Here are the key aspects of the dispute:
  • Geographical Context:

    • The Teesta River originates in the Indian state of Sikkim, flows through the state of West Bengal, and then enters Bangladesh before merging with the Brahmaputra River.
    • It is crucial for irrigation, supporting agriculture and the livelihoods of millions of people in both countries.
  • Historical Background:

    • The dispute dates back to the early 1950s when India and Pakistan (before Bangladesh's independence in 1971) discussed water-sharing arrangements.
    • After Bangladesh gained independence, the need for a formal water-sharing agreement with India became more pronounced.
  • Water-Sharing Issues:

    • The primary issue is the equitable distribution of the Teesta's waters, especially during the dry season when water availability is significantly reduced.
    • Bangladesh claims it needs a larger share of the water to support its agricultural sector in the northern regions.
    • India, particularly the state of West Bengal, also relies heavily on the Teesta for irrigation and drinking water purposes.
4. Significance of Teesta River
The Teesta River holds significant importance for both India and Bangladesh in various aspects, including agriculture, ecology, hydropower, and regional geopolitics.
Here are the key points highlighting the significance of the Teesta River:
  • The Teesta River is a lifeline for irrigation, particularly in the northern regions of West Bengal in India and the northwestern parts of Bangladesh. It supports the cultivation of crops such as rice, maize, and jute
  • Millions of farmers and their families depend on the Teesta's waters for their livelihoods, making it a crucial resource for rural economies
  • The river basin supports a diverse range of flora and fauna, contributing to the region's biodiversity
  • Maintaining the flow of the Teesta is essential for sustaining the ecological balance of the region, including wetlands, forests, and wildlife habitats
  • The Teesta River has significant potential for hydropower generation. India has several hydropower projects on the river, contributing to the region's energy needs
  • Hydropower from the Teesta is a source of renewable energy, helping to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate climate change impacts
  • The river's water is vital for agriculture, which is a key component of the economies of both West Bengal and Bangladesh
  • The river supports local fisheries, providing an important source of food and income for local communities
  • The Teesta River has cultural and historical significance for the communities living along its banks. It features in local folklore, traditions, and religious practices
  • Historically, the Teesta has been part of important trade and travel routes, contributing to the cultural exchange and economic development of the region
  • The Teesta River is a key factor in India-Bangladesh relations. The unresolved water-sharing dispute has significant geopolitical implications, influencing diplomatic and economic ties between the two countries
5. West Bengal Perspective
  • If Teesta's water is shared with Bangladesh, it will severely impact hundreds of thousands of people in North Bengal.
  • This is not the first time she has opposed the proposed water-sharing agreement between India and Bangladesh.
  • There are 54 rivers flowing between the two countries, making river water sharing a significant bilateral issue.
  • India and Bangladesh reached an agreement on sharing the Ganga's waters in 1996 after the Farakka Barrage was constructed.
  • By the 2010s, the focus shifted to the Teesta's water-sharing. In 2011, during the United Progressive Alliance-II administration, India and Bangladesh were on the verge of signing a Teesta water-sharing agreement, but Ms. Banerjee withdrew her support, leaving the agreement pending since then
In 2011, a proposal for sharing Teesta's water suggested that India would receive 42.5% and Bangladesh 37.5% of the river's water from December to March.
The Teesta River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, originates from Tso Lhamo Lake at an altitude of approximately 5,280 meters in North Sikkim. The river travels around 150 km through Sikkim and 123 km in West Bengal before entering Bangladesh at Mekhligunj in Cooch Behar district. It flows an additional 140 km in Bangladesh and eventually merges with the Bay of Bengal. Teesta is Bangladesh’s fourth-largest trans-boundary river, with its floodplain spanning 2,750 square kilometers in the country. However, 83% of the river’s catchment area is in India, while the remaining 17% is in Bangladesh, where it supports 8.5% of the population and 14% of the crop production
6.Bangladesh's Position on Teesta River Dispute
Bangladesh's position on the Teesta River dispute focuses on achieving a fair and equitable share of the river's waters, crucial for its agricultural sector and overall water security.
Here are the key points of Bangladesh's stance:
  •  Bangladesh seeks a fair distribution of the Teesta's waters, especially during the dry season (December to March), when water scarcity is most acute
  • Bangladesh has proposed that it should receive 50% of the Teesta's waters during the lean season to meet its agricultural and domestic water needs
  • The Teesta River is vital for irrigation in northwestern Bangladesh, a region heavily dependent on agriculture. Adequate water supply is essential for crop cultivation, food security, and the livelihoods of millions of farmers
  • Insufficient water flow from the Teesta severely impacts agricultural productivity, leading to economic challenges for the farming community
  • Bangladesh emphasises the importance of maintaining the ecological balance of the Teesta River. Adequate water flow is necessary to sustain the river's biodiversity and prevent environmental degradation
  •  Ensuring sufficient water flow can help mitigate the adverse effects of water scarcity, such as soil erosion, reduced groundwater recharge, and habitat loss
  • Bangladesh highlights the need for India to honor previous water-sharing agreements, such as the 1996 Ganges Water Treaty, which set a precedent for cooperation
  •  In 2011, a draft agreement proposed that India would receive 42.5% and Bangladesh 37.5% of the Teesta's waters. Bangladesh urges India to finalize this or a similar agreement to resolve the dispute
7. Way Forward
The Ganga water-sharing treaty with Bangladesh completes 30 years in 2026 and a renewal of the agreement is on the cards. The Trinamool Congress chairperson has pointed out that water sharing with Bangladesh has changed the Ganga’s morphology and affected lakhs of people in West Bengal owing to river erosion.
Source: The Hindu

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