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India-Bangladesh sees the joint river commission meeting as a progress after a century

The resumption of bilateral talks on a recognized issue after a 12-year hiatus for one reason or another is a sign of progress. This is how the water ministries and diplomatic circles of the two countries are interpreting the 38th meeting of the Joint River Commission (JRC) of Bangladesh and India. After the three-day meeting of the JRC in the Indian capital recently, the relevant circles of the two countries feel that this meeting has exposed more of the positive side of bilateral relations ahead of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India next month.

An official of India’s Ministry of Water Power told Prothom Alo about the meeting of the JRC, “From 1972 to 2010, the JRC has met a total of 37 times in 38 years. Then there was a long hiatus. For one reason or another, the JRC meeting has not been held in these 12 years. Finally, the 38th meeting was held from 23 to 25 August. For us, Bangladesh has also accepted the importance of restarting the closed meeting.

The official explained the matter and said that the meeting is a progress. Common river water distribution, basin management, alluvium and flood control, river and its water flow control, river bank maintenance, etc. cannot be agreed upon and moved forward simultaneously without meeting. It is in this light that the restart of stalled JRC talks should be seen.

The attitude of Bangladesh is similar. That’s right, Teesta is still elusive. The Teesta agreement has been delayed for 12 years without a meeting. The diplomats of this neighboring country think that the start of talks is positive. In the words of a source in Bangladesh, “We understand the Indian government’s obligations regarding Teesta. But I also understand that it’s not okay to stay silent. In this JRC meeting, Teesta’s stalled ball has been rolled. After 12 years there has been renewed interest in water sharing and joint management of common rivers including Teesta. Both India and Bangladesh have agreed to ensure that subsequent meetings of the JRC are held annually as per the understanding. It is definitely progress.’

The withdrawal of 153 cusecs of water from Kushiara for irrigation has been finalized. Statements by the Indian Ministry of Hydropower and External Affairs highlighted the draft of the interim agreement. According to the understanding between the two countries, the agreement is to be signed during Sheikh Hasina’s visit. It has been admitted in the meeting that the water is very important for the irrigation of five thousand hectares of land in Sylhet. In the words of a source in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had already agreed to give 1.82 cusecs of Feni river water to the people of Sabrum town in Tripura for the sake of humanity. The agreement on the possible withdrawal of water from Kushiara is an indication of the strength of the relationship between the two countries. The source said, “Good bilateral relations are the basis of this mutual give-and-take.”

Another aspect of this need for give-and-take is important in this JRC meeting. In this meeting, eight more rivers have been identified in terms of water distribution and joint management of common rivers. They are Mahananda, Sari-Goain, Howrah, Someshwari, Jadukata, Jalukhali-Dhamalia, Dhalai and Piain. Among these rivers, the Mahananda enters Bangladesh through Siliguri-Jalpaiguri in West Bengal through Tentulia in Panchagarh district. Then it again entered Bangladesh through Bihar and West Bengal in Chapainawabganj district. Sari-Goain river flows through Meghalaya and joins Sylhet at Surma.

This river has to bear the pollution of coal mines and cement factories. In this meeting, special emphasis has been laid on controlling the pollution of common rivers. Someshwari, Jalukhali–Dhamalia, Jadukata and Payain rivers also enter Bangladesh from Meghalaya. Howrah and Dlai rivers enter Bangladesh from Tripura like Feni. Coming to Bangladesh, Howrah joins the Titas river, Dhalai joins the Manu. These eight rivers are also joining the earlier rivers in the framework of the Water Sharing Agreement. For the time being, the two countries will exchange all information including the water flow of these new rivers. The details of these eight new rivers will be considered by the river experts (technical committee) of the JRC.

The Ganga Treaty between the same 54 rivers will expire in 2026. The Teesta Treaty is stalled. Because of that, the Feni contract is also on hold. An understanding on Kushiara water withdrawal is forthcoming. Out of these 4 rivers Manu, Muhuri, Dudhkumar, Dharla, Khoai and Gomti are under joint management and water distribution. In all, there are 10 rivers under discussion. 8 more are joining him. Prothom Alo, a source from India’s Ministry of Water Power, said, “This is definitely progress. In this way, one day the water distribution and overall management of all the same rivers will be finalized. For that, both the countries have insisted on sitting in the JRC meeting at regular intervals. The two countries have agreed to meet every year.

In the words of a government source of Bangladesh, ‘Discussions show the extent of the problem and the willingness to solve it. Before the Prime Minister’s visit, the picture of that goodwill has emerged well in this meeting.