Interlinking of rivers likely to figure in Indo-Bangla talks

New Delhi Sept. 21. India's coming talks here with Bangladesh on the sharing of river waters, are likely to be held under the shadow of the latter's reservations on interlinking of rivers. Already there is a lot of media focus in Bangladesh on India's plan to interlink rivers, so much so that some Bangladeshi professionals have written to the Supreme Court to scrap the interlinking programme.

Under the programme, dams are being conceived upstream Manas and Sankosh rivers in Bhutan under the Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga link. India shares Teesta and Ganga with Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh Government is reported to have taken up the issue with the Indian Government and has been assured that the international laws on water sharing would be adhered to in the interlinking programme. Senior officials in the Ministry of Water Resources said none of the projects was likely to affect Bangladesh in the manner that was being projected in its media.

For now, during the Ministerial-level 35th Joint Rivers Commission talks scheduled for next week, India would be focussed on the implementation of the Ganga Water Sharing Treaty of 1996. Although there is speculation that the Treaty might come up for review in this crucial meeting, sources said neither country has officially sought a review so far.

The "goodwill" treaty, signed in December 1996, by the then Indian Prime Minister, Deve Gowda, and the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, is valid for 30 years, although there is a provision that it can be reviewed after five years.

Under the treaty, the neighbours are to share Ganga waters from Farakka barrage in Mushirabad in Malda, West Bengal, between January and May every year as per a monthly schedule. However, between March and May lean periods, both India and Bangladesh shall receive a guaranteed 35,000 cusecs water in alternate three 10-day periods each. India takes this water from Ganga through a feeder canal which goes to the Calcutta port during the lean season to maintain the draft.

Earlier during January, since it was an overall drought year and the flows in Ganga were less, average releases to Bangladesh were affected. Bangladesh is expected to take this up during the meeting.

The other issue that might come up would be the sharing of the waters of the Teesta river which originates in Sikkim and runs through West Bengal to Bangladesh. Five inconclusive meetings have been held under a Joint Committee of Experts headed by the Water Resources Secretaries on this.

Bangladesh has also expressed reservations about an earlier proposed Fulertal barrage.

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