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India’s state leader upset after Modi, Hasina speak over water-sharing treaty

Mamata Banerjee, whose West Bengal state borders Bangladesh, expressed her dissatisfaction after being left out of the talks between the two prime minister during the Bangladesh PM’s recent visit to New Delhi.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (L), his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina (C) and West Bengal chief minister Kumari Mamata Banerjee (R) at the exchange of agreements between India and Bangladesh in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on June 6, 2015. (Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

INDIA’S internal political differences over a foreign policy matter have come to the fore with Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the eastern state of West Bengal, writing to prime minister Narendra Modi to object to the recent water-sharing talks that New Delhi held recently with Dhaka during the visit by Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina to India.

The leadership from Bengal, which borders Bangladesh, was not invited to the talks.

Rejecting the Indian government’s proposal for sharing the water of the Teesta river that flows between Bengal and Bangladesh, she said “such unilateral deliberations and discussions without consultation and opinion of the state government is neither acceptable nor desirable”, NDTV reported.

Read: Bangladesh PM in India twice in a month; hold talks with Modi

The talks over sharing the water of the Ganges and Teesta rivers took place this weekend, when Hasina was in New Delhi. It was her second visit to India in a few weeks as she attended the oath-taking of her Indian counterpart on his historic third term.

Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart spoke over the conservation and management of River Teesta and renewal of the 1996

“On the conservation and management of the Teesta river in Bangladesh, a technical team will soon visit Bangladesh for talks,” the Indian PM said in his media statement after the talks.

Read: India is our trusted friend: PM Hasina on Bangladesh election day

“I came to understand that the Government of India is in the process of renewing the India-Bangladesh Farakka Treaty (1996) which is to expire in 2026. It is a treaty which delineates of sharing of water between. Bangladesh and India and as you are aware it, has huge implications for the people of West Bengal,” Banerjee wrote, adding that the people of her state would be the “worst sufferers” of such pacts.

She also said that while Bengal has cooperated with Bangladesh on many issues in the past, including exchange of India-Bangladesh enclaves and setting up railway and bus services between India and Bangladesh, water is a sensitive issue since lives of millions depend on it.

“We cannot compromise on such a sensitive issue which has severe and adverse implication on the people,” Banerjee, known to be a firebrand leader and a strong critic of Modi, said. 

On the proposal of sharing the waters of Teesta, a major river in Bengal’s northern parts, Banerjee said the river is not in great health on the Indian side due to construction of many hydropower projects in its northern neighbouring state of Sikkim and deforestation in the river’s upper catchment area. She said there is not much water in the river to share.

“It seems that in the meeting, Government of India has proposed a bilateral cooperation between India and Bangladesh for restoration of Teesta in Bangladesh. I am surprised by the fact that no concrete steps have been taken by the ministry of Jal Shakti to restore the river in its original form and health on the India side,” she wrote, the NDTV report added.

India Today cited sources to say that the chief minister of Bengal, who also leads the opposition party Trinamool Congress, is in touch with her allies in the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance and raise the matter in the upcoming session of the parliament.

The government of Manmohan Singh, Modi’s predecessor, had also faced Banerjee’s reservations over the quantum of water to be shared with Bangladesh with the former prime minister conceding that it is a “difficult” issue after Hasina raised concerns over the delay in inking the long-pending pact on Teesta water-sharing treaty.

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