Home >Politics >News >Govt seeking domestic political consensus on Teesta, says Krishna

New Delhi: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to a river water-sharing pact with Bangladesh is hurting India’s efforts to take its relations with its crucial neighbour to the next level.

Extending support: External affairs minister S.M. Krishna with his Bangladesh counterpart Dipu Moni in New Delhi on Monday. Photo: Kamal Singh/PTI

“It is important that the views of all those who are dependent on the waters are taken into account and the burden shared fairly and equitably," Krishna told reporters after chairing the first meeting of the India-Bangladesh joint consultative commission with visiting Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni.

“I have assured Dipu Moni that India remains committed to an early solution on the issue of sharing Teesta waters. Since water is a sensitive issue, in accordance with the traditions of consensual decision-making in India’s democratic polity, internal consultations are on among stakeholders," Krishna added.

The Teesta flows through North-east India and forms the border between Sikkim and West Bengal before joining the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh. It is one of 54 rivers that flow through India and Bangladesh. Both sides have been trying to arrive at a deal on sharing water since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was re-elected in 2009 and Sheikh Hasina, widely seen as a friend of India, took office after polls in December 2008.

The pact was expected to be signed during a visit by Singh to Dhaka last September, but could not be inked in the face of objections raised by Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is a key ally of the Congress in the UPA coalition.

Reports from Bangladesh said finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was on a two-day visit to Dhaka over the weekend, told newspaper editors that a consensus on Teesta would be difficult to achieve in the near future.

“As the bigger neighbour, the onus is on New Delhi to take steps to improve ties with Bangladesh," said analyst C. Uday Bhaskar, an adviser to the South Asia Monitor, a New Delhi-based policy forum. “Steps like this are important to build goodwill in that country. It is important that the people do not feel disappointed and disillusioned with India and turn inimical to us," he added, pointing to Bangladesh’s standing as an important neighbour with which India shares a 4,095km-long border in the sensitive north-east, riven by insurgencies.

India is seeking closer economic ties with its neighbour as a means to develop its Eastern and north-eastern states. Growth should lead to jobs for the young, making it difficult for insurgent outfits to hire disillusioned and jobless young people, goes the logic.

Bangladeshi diplomats based in New Delhi say an agreement on the Teesta is crucial for the Hasina government to prove to its people that closer ties with India are beneficial for the country and to counter anti-India sentiment—critical with elections due in Bangladesh in late 2013.

They warn of a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to close the deal before both Bangladesh and India—which is scheduled to hold general elections in 2014—go into poll mode.

Moni said India had assured her delegation that it would not take a unilateral decision on Himalayan rivers that flow from India to Bangladesh as part of an Indian plan to interlink rivers.

The Bangladeshi foreign minister said she had urged India for the early ratification of a protocol to the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement, which paves the way for the settlement of the long-pending land boundary issues, including undemarcated areas, territories under adverse possession and exchange of enclaves.

It was signed during Singh’s visit to Dhaka. Moni added that her government is in the process of allowing Indian goods transit through Bangladesh to reach landlocked north-eastern states.

The Moni-Krishna meeting also reviewed the progress made in the implementation of the accords signed during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi in 2010, including the extension of a $1 billion credit line.

Krishna noted that finance minister Mukherjee had announced in Dhaka that $200 million of this would be regarded as aid for priority projects in Bangladesh.

As far as the rest of the money was concerned, “projects worth more than $810 million have been agreed upon and five contracts worth $83 million have been signed" Krishna said. Moni noted that with India announcing duty-free imports of 46 textile items during Singh’s September visit, Bangladeshi exports to India have picked up. Bilateral trade was just over $5 billion in 2010-11, according to Indian government figures.

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