Any pact on the issue will be done in consultation with West Bengal: Centre

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's decision not to accompany Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka, as she has strong reservations on a proposed accord on the sharing of the Teesta river waters with Bangladesh, has placed the United Progressive Alliance government and the Congress in a quandary.

On Monday, the Congress responded cautiously, saying while it was for the government to respond, it believed that on display now were mere “teething issues” that would be “resolved though mutual discussion.”

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said, “There is no need for the party to react and amplify what the government has said … The right people to react to it are those in government who are dealing with the issue .... Off-the-cuff reactions would be inappropriate.”

Earlier in the day, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told journalists that any agreement with Bangladesh on the sharing of the Teesta waters would be done in consultation with the West Bengal government.

Asked what Ms Banerjee's reasons were for opting out of the visit, Mr. Tewari said: “I am not privy to the consultations and discussions that have taken place in this particular case.” He pointed out that “an appropriate structure exists for consultations in a federal structure.”

During Dr. Singh's visit — the first by an Indian head of government in 12 years — that starts on Tuesday, the two countries are expected to sign important treaties on sharing of the Teesta waters and on exchange of enclaves occupied by people located on borders.

But even as the Congress officially expressed the hope that Ms. Banerjee's reservations would be cleared through discussions, unofficially, the party indicated that there were issues other than the sharing of the Teesta waters that were causing concern on this side of the border.

A party MP pointed out that he received an appeal from those involved in the textiles and garments business on this side of the border that with five product lines from Bangladesh being granted duty-free access here, they were at a disadvantage, especially as this industry was far more vibrant in that country.

The concern springs from the fact that Dr. Singh's visit will also focus on securing freer access to Bangladeshi textile goods, which constitute 75 per cent of its exports.


A tale of two riversSeptember 6, 2011

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