Mighty Teesta River, flowing through the Northeast India and holding key to the region’s prosperity through generation of power and other multipurpose projects, now has become the focal point of forthcoming Indo-Bangladesh talks.
The reason is long standing dispute between India and Bangladesh over sharing of its water. Dhaka wants lion’s share of water while Delhi is justifiably claiming more since the river originates in Sikkim. Dispute, as a result, continues.
Bangladesh also depends much on Teesta River as it also flows through this country like many other rivers which, though originated in India, terminates there. The stretch of Teesta River is about 121KM on which 21 million Bangladeshis depend. But India’s dependence on Teesta River is much more as it is the lifeline of Sikkim and North Bengal.
Things being equal, the passage of an agreement between Dhaka and Delhi could have been possible had China not entered into the theatre of Bangladesh. The demand of Bangladesh for greater water share comes at a juncture when Dhaka has signed an agreement for a U.S. $1 billion for the Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project. This project aims at maintaining water levels during the drought season.
Here, the fear of Dragon comes in. Let us only remind Delhi of it before finally making any liberal commitment to Dhaka sideling the interests of Sikkim, North Bengal, Assam and other areas of Northeast India through which Teesta flows.
We know China is already engaged in a large number of river valley projects almost adjacent to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, North Bengal, Sikkim and Bhutan. Since the aggressive mood of Beijing often varies, its new involvement in Teesta River in Bangladesh segment can pose further threat to India.
China is today the biggest trade partner of Bangladesh in virtually all areas including supply of defence materials, weapons and construction of infrastructure projects. It now wants to help Dhaka over the projects related to Teesta.
Here, we may not be surprised if China incites Bangladesh to create troubles against India to demand 50% of water share of Teesta.
A look at the Trans-boundary Basin of Teesta proves why Bangladesh should be happy at what it has of its share of the water. The river encompasses 12,159 Square Kilometers in total. Of this, 10, 155 Sq. Km are in India and only 2,004 are in Bangladesh.
As for Teesta’s River Basin which is 8,051 Sq. km and falling in the hilly areas, Sikkim’s share is a hefty 6,930 Sq. Km while West Bengal’s share is 1,121 Sq.km. The plain areas of Teesta are approximately 4,108 Sq. Km of which West Bengal occupies 2,104 Sq. km and Bangladesh 2,004 Sq. km.
Now which country has rights to greater share of water of Teesta, India or Bangladesh? We know what the answer should be but Bangladesh wants 50% of Teesta waters. But the problem is Dhaka is demanding it since 1972: just two years after it got liberated from West Pakistan with the help of India.
Why Should Bangladesh have 50% of Teesta Water?
Originating at Kangse Glacier of Charamu Lake in Sikkim, Teesta’s most of the catchment area lies in India. The 4th largest river of Bangladesh, Teesta enters into that country joins Brahmaputra River to terminate at the Bay of Bengal.
Going by the geographical origin point of Teesta, Sikkim should have the lawful claim of sharing maximum waters of the river.
A large number of glaciers that contributes to the water of the river are located in the upper reaches of the basin in Sikkim largest one being the Zemu Glacier covering 107.3 Sq.km and the largest Glacial Lake is Khangchung Chho with an area of 1.6 Sq. km.
What is more nearly 30 of the 300 Glacial Lakes lying in the Teesta Basin that feed water to the river are located in the Sikkim Himalayas. In that case, how Bangladesh can claim more water?
Amlan Home Chowdhury
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