Despite sharing a close and friendly relationship, water management remains a contentious issue between India and Bangladesh, especially the sharing of Teesta river water which has remained stuck for several years.
This creates hurdles for Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who faces a tough election next year.
Responding to a question pertaining to raising the issue of river water sharing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially the Teesta river, Hasina told ThePrint that she would raise the issue of “deepening of friendship” during her meeting with the prime minister Tuesday.
Prime Minister Hasina, who is on a four-day visit to India, was speaking to a select group of journalists at a reception hosted by the Bangladesh High Commission Monday evening.
“Had you let the water flow, all Hilsa (fish) would have flown towards India and you would not have depended on us,” the Bangladesh PM said in a jocular manner, hinting that the talks on Teesta agreement remain stalled.
However, she said, Bangladesh is now looking at large-scale dredging of all the 54 rivers that are common to both countries. She said the focus is now more on the two main transboundary rivers – the Muhuri and the Feni-Kushiyara – both of which originate from Tripura and flows into Bangladesh.
She said that Bangladesh will soon be starting the process of dredging all its rivers and hopes India will provide a line of credit (LOC) for this since these are mostly common transboundary rivers.
Apart from this, Bangladesh is working on enhancing underground water as well as revive some of the old and decaying rivers, she said.
Despite the Modi government’s constant assurances to Dhaka that the Teesta issue will be solved, the issue continues to remain in cold storage with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee opposing the move.
The Teesta river flows through Sikkim and then enters West Bengal before finally merging with the Brahmaputra in Assam and the Jamuna in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has a total of 230 rivers, of which 54 flow through India.
The Teesta deal was set to be signed during the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September 2011 but was postponed at the last minute due to objections raised by Banerjee.
“I was hoping to meet Mamata on this trip … But what to do? She is like a sister. We have a relationship beyond politics also, like I have with the Gandhi family,” she said.
Hasina had written a letter to the West Bengal CM in July expressing her interest for a meeting.
Last month, India and Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) met in Delhi where the Teesta issue was discussed. In this meeting it was also discussed that the Ganga water treaty, which was signed in 1996, will be renewed in 2026.
When Prime Minister Modi came to power in May 2014, he had promised as part of his ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy that the Teesta matter would be settled.
‘India can do a lot’ on Rohingya matter
The Bangladesh Prime Minister also said that she will be raising the issue of Rohingya repatriation during this trip.
“India is a very big country, it can do a lot (on repatriating the Rohingyas back to Myanmar),” she said, adding that she will speak to PM Modi on the “serious crisis” her country is facing with the Rohingya refugees.
Since 2019, Bangladesh has been pushing India to speak to Myanmar on taking back the Rohingya refugees as New Delhi and Naypyitaw share a cordial relationship even after the comeback of the junta rule there.
More than 1.5 million Rohingya are currently living in various refugee camps in the Chittagong region of Bangladesh, ever since they fled Myanmar due to a violent campaign against them carried out by the Myanmar military in 2017.