Bangladesh is hopeful that a positive conclusion to the Teesta water-sharing negotiations will soon be reached, following the successful Land Boundary Agreement between Indian Prime Minister Modi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that was reached in early June
In 2011, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee failed to agree to former Indian Prime Minister Singh’s proposal for the Teesta water-sharing agreement with Bangladesh. After her visit to Bangladesh in February 2015, hope was held that Banerjee would re-open negotiations for the joint water agreement. Despite sending positive signals that Bangladesh would ‘get its fair share [of the Teesta River]’, she refused to further expand upon negotiations for the water agreement.
The signing of the Land Boundary Agreement between India and Bangladesh on 7 June has renewed faith that co-operation over the Teesta waters may still be possible. An agreement will secure water for thousands of Bangladeshis residing in the river’s lower reaches and who depend on access to the river for their survival.
The Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) between India and Bangladesh demonstrates that a co-operative relationship between the two countries is possible. The LBA has huge significance for Bangla-Indian relations: the leaders have agreed to simplify 4,000 kilometres of undefined border and to clarify the identity of the residents of 200 enclaves in the border region. The agreement also secures greater economic co-operation and builds trust between the two countries. The success of the LBA generates hope that Prime Ministe
Despite Modi’s success in securing a consensus for the LBA, wider political factors are having an impact on the possibility of negotiations over the Teesta River. Banerjee’s support is critical to the success of any water-sharing deal, but she is hesitant to support such an agreement. In 2011, Banerjee rejected a water-sharing proposal after claiming that it would hinder West Bengal’s Future interests.
West Bengal currently has little means of using the waters of the Teesta River as it flows through the state but it is Banerjee’s intention to change how it utilises the river. Modi has proposed the construction of irrigation infrastructure in West Bengal to help the state utilise Teesta water for West Bengali famers – a move that may secure the support of Banerjee and West Bengali voters.
Modi is not likely to pursue the Teesta water talks until after the West Bengal elections in 2016. During the signing of the LBA, Banerjee distanced herself from the Prime Minister’s touring party. With state elections looming and the Teesta water-sharing agreement a sensitive topic within West Bengal, Banerjee is cautious not to take a stance on the issue and risk polarising voters.
If Banerjee is not re-elected in 2016, Modi and the Bangladeshi Government would have to re-commence negotiations entirely. A new Chief Minister may have a more positive impact on negotiations, retain the same agenda as Banerjee, or push for a new set of interests before signing the Teesta water-sharing agreement.
The LBA between India and Bangladesh is evidence that co-operative relations between the two countries are possible. The Teesta water-sharing agreement relies on internal consensus within India despite Modi’s diplomatic agenda. Expanded engagement with West Bengal and an increased use of water resources within the state may induce West Bengali support for Teesta water-sharing. Negotiations on this agreement, however, are unlikely to occur before the 2016 West Bengal elections.
Research Assistant, Global Food and Water Crisis Research Programme
Originally published by www.futuredirections.org.au