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    OpinionsIndia has won a significant victory in its battle with China in...

    India has won a significant victory in its battle with China in Bangladesh


    Hasina agreeing to take part in $one billion Teesta Project is a setback for Beijing

    By Girish Linganna

    and Bangladesh have signed several agreements during the recent visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India. These agreements cover various areas including connectivity, , trade, energy, defense, maritime cooperation, and aid. One of the key agreements is Bangladesh agreeing to take part in India's $1 billion project for the comprehensive management and restoration of the Teesta River.


    The Teesta River is a major waterway in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent. Originating in the Himalayas, it flows through the Indian states of Sikkim and North of West Bengal before entering Bangladesh, where it joins the Brahmaputra River. The river is crucial for irrigation, supporting agriculture and livelihoods in both countries. However, it has also been a source of contention due to water-sharing disputes between India and Bangladesh.


    The Teesta River stretches over a length of approximately 315 kilometres. It flows for about 172 kilometres in India and the remaining 143 kilometres in Bangladesh. Presently, the river's waters are shared between India and Bangladesh based on an ad-hoc arrangement, as a formal treaty on water-sharing has yet to be finalized. This sharing arrangement has been a point of ongoing negotiation and discussion between the two nations.


    India will send a technical team to Dhaka to discuss how it can support Bangladesh in its ambitious project. This project involves extensive dredging of the Teesta River, creating reservoirs to store excess monsoon water, and building modern townships along the river.


    The project is significant because Bangladesh previously sought China's help for it. Dhaka had requested a $938.27 million (approx INR 7,700 Crores) loan from China to fund the project. China had expressed its willingness to both and carry out the project, estimating the cost at $1 billion.


    This raised concerns in New Delhi. If China gets involved in the project, it could establish a significant presence in northern Bangladesh, close to the sensitive and vulnerable Siliguri corridor, which might not be good for India.


    India quickly acted to convince Dhaka not to accept China's offer. During a visit to Dhaka on May 9, Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra expressed New Delhi's interest in funding and carrying out the project.


    The agreement signed on Saturday, June 22, will allow India to participate in the project and help Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handle pressure from China during her visit to Beijing from July 9 to 12.


    A senior official from India's Ministry of External Affairs explained that the Prime Minister will be able to inform the Chinese that, since India is interested in the project, Dhaka will wait for the results of India's technical evaluation before making a final decision.


    A senior officer from the South Asia Wing of Bangladesh's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the media that among all the agreements and MoUs signed during Sheikh Hasina's two-day visit to New Delhi, the one concerning the Teesta project is the most important.


    Bangladesh has stated it will “consider geopolitical issues” before moving forward with the Teesta project. According to a Bangladeshi diplomat, this means that Dhaka is aware of India's concerns and is likely to prefer giving the project to India.


    Since 2011, Bangladesh has been frustrated and upset by India's inability to finalize an agreement on sharing the waters of the Teesta river. Most of the river's water is diverted into irrigation canals from the Teesta Barrage in North of Bengal. This causes the river to dry up in Bangladesh during the winter, impacting the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of farmers and fishermen there.


    For many years, Bangladesh has been asking for a fair share of the river's water. A draft agreement on this issue was prepared during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's tenure and was expected to be signed during his visit to Dhaka in September 2011.


    However, Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal who had just come to power in Bengal a few months earlier in May 2011, and was part of the UPA II government, blocked the agreement by refusing to support it. She argued that sharing enough water from the Teesta river with Bangladesh would harm North Bengal's farmers.


    Since then, Dhaka has repeatedly asked New Delhi to convince Mamata Banerjee to agree to the water-sharing deal, but she has remained firm in her stance. Realizing that India cannot share the Teesta's waters as desired, Bangladesh decided to rejuvenate the river to boost its carrying capacity. They also plan to build reservoirs along the banks to store excess water during the monsoon season.


    Extensive dredging of the river will increase its capacity and help prevent floods. Excess water during the monsoons will be diverted to reservoirs along the banks, which will also stop the river from overflowing and flooding nearby farmlands and communities,” said Bangladesh's Minister of State for Water Resources, Zaheed Farooque Shamim to the media house. Bangladesh also plans to develop modern smart towns and cities along the rejuvenated Teesta. These urban centres will serve as special economic zones and attract foreign investments.


    Additionally, having a large number of Chinese near the India-Bangladesh border in the sensitive Siliguri Corridor would pose a serious security threat to India. There are real concerns that China might use the project as a cover to build infrastructure and bases to spy on the Siliguri corridor, where many Indian military facilities are located.


    For this reason, it is crucial for New Delhi to persuade Dhaka to let India carry out the project. The initial move was made on Saturday, June 22. A Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official informed that a technical team will soon visit Dhaka and will be asked to speed up their assessment of the entire project. The officer also mentioned that once the final agreement to start the project is signed, work will move forward quickly and be finished in record time.


    Additionally, another key agreement was made on Saturday 22nd June. Both sides agreed to start technical-level talks to renew the 1996 Ganges Water Treaty, which is set to expire in 2026.


    Several other important agreements were signed too. First, there will be a new transportation route from south to north Bengal through Bangladesh. Additionally, an e-visa facility will be launched for Bangladeshi citizens seeking medical treatment in India. India will also open a new consulate in Rangpur, which will be its fifth in Bangladesh.


    Moreover, Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed to enhance cooperation in various areas. These include maritime issues, the blue , oceanographic research, health, and disaster management.


    Lastly, India and Bangladesh have agreed to increase their efforts in counter-terrorism, de-radicalization of extremists, and the peaceful management of their shared borders. The topic of allowing India access to Bangladesh's rail network to transport goods to the Northeast was also discussed. Bangladesh has asked India for detailed project proposals.


    An MEA officer explained that India will need to assist Bangladesh in upgrading its rail tracks and infrastructure along the routes intended for transporting goods from Bengal to Assam and Tripura. Bangladesh has requested detailed project reports from India. Using Bangladesh's rail network will help reduce the pressure on the Siliguri Corridor and lower the cost of transporting goods to the Northeast.


    India has agreed to look into Bangladesh's request to import power from Bhutan through India's grid. Additionally, India will ensure a smooth and uninterrupted supply of essentials like sugar, wheat, and onions to Bangladesh.


    In return, Bangladesh has agreed to consider buying Indian-made defense equipment using the $500 million line of credit provided by New Delhi. India will also consider granting new loans to Bangladesh with easier terms. Sheikh Hasina's visit was the first by a foreign leader to India under the Modi 3.0 government and marked her third visit to India in nine months.


    An MEA officer expressed satisfaction with the visit's results. Besides the concrete agreements, the visit held significant symbolic value. It reaffirmed India's ‘Neighbourhood First' policy and advanced the ‘Act East' policy. The officer noted that there will now be much greater cooperation between the two countries in various areas, including connectivity and security. (IPA Service)



    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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