The trans-boundary river Teesta has almost dried up due to ‘unilateral withdrawal’ of water upstream by India, seriously affecting lives and livelihoods of the people in Bangladesh’s north.
An official in the Joint Rivers’ Commission in Dhaka said that India was withdrawing water from various points of Teesta allowing a little amount to flow into Bangladesh that India could not manage upstream.
‘Bangladesh has already conveyed its concern to India over the sudden fall in the Teesta flow…We are making
every effort to hold the overdue JRC meeting in Dhaka and waiting for India’s response,’ state minister for water resources Muhammad Nazrul Islam told New Age on Sunday.
Out of a ‘historical record’ of 6,500 cusecs of water in the lean season, Bangladesh received the lowest-ever 500 to 550 cusecs in the Teesta in February-March already playing havoc with environment and agriculture in the northern districts of Lalmonirhat, Rangpur, Kurigram, Nilphamari and Bogra, the JRC official added.
When asked, water resources minister Anisul Islam Mahmud earlier said that Dhaka would have to wait until the end of the parliamentary elections in India for a resolution of the Teesta water sharing issue.
He said that irrigation in the north was being affected by the low flow in the Teesta with no immediate solution to the crisis in sight.
The staggered national elections in India beginning on April 7 will end on May 12, 2014 – the time when the lean season would be over and the water crisis would not be so acute, according to officials.
Dhaka has long been pushing for signing of the Teesta water sharing deal to guarantee its rightful share of the water.
Although the two neighbours share 54 cross-border rivers, the countries have an agreement only on the sharing of the Ganges water.
The JRC meeting could not be held in last four years with India apparently buying time to resolve the Teesta water sharing issue which was crucial for Bangladesh’s agriculture and ecology, according to officials in Dhaka.
Over seven lakh hectares of farmland in the country’s north depends on the Teesta water for irrigation during the lean season.
Foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque visited Delhi in March 19-22 in an effort to ‘ease the deadlock’ and to expedite the process for JRC talks, but achieved nothing substantial on the issue.
The 38th JRC meeting, which was scheduled for June 18-19, 2013 with the signing of the Teesta water sharing treaty high on agenda, was postponed at the eleventh hour because of the ‘Indian water resources minister’s inability to attend the bilateral talks in Dhaka.
The JRC is supposed to meet at least twice a year to resolve bilaterally the issues of common rivers shared by Bangladesh and India.
The Teesta water sharing agreement had been put on hold since the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in early September 2011 as the West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, had raised objections to the deal and refused to come to Bangladesh with the Indian prime minister at that time.
New Age correspondent in Lalmonirhat reported that the lowest ever flow in the Teesta was badly affecting agriculture, fisheries, communications and above all the livelihoods of a large number of people in the north.
Many locals who depend on Teesta for their livelihoods have become jobless finding it difficult to earn a living as the river has dried up.
Bangladesh Water Development Board officials in the district said the Teesta had dried up completely this lean season and consequently a large number of shoals and chars had appeared on the riverbed.
Water transports have suspended operation on all Teesta routes due to drastic fall in its flow causing sufferings to 60,000 people living along the Teesta on 85 char settlements under five upazilas in Lalmonirhat.
At least 300 boatmen on 42 river routes connecting five upazilas in the district are searching alternative livelihoods.
Boatman Mizanul Islam, 48, at Kalmati village in Lalmonirhat Sadar said, he used to earn Tk 200 to 300 a day from ferrying passengers across Teesta round the year. ‘Now I manage some earning only in the rainy season, barely making ends meet for three months,’ he added.
The low flow in Teesta has also brought miseries for the fishermen dependent on the river. At least 1,200 fishermen on 20 char villages in the district have now no work to do.
Farmers who depend on the Teesta for irrigation are also facing difficulties.
BWDB sub-divisional engineer Mainuddin Mandal said that only 450 to 500 cusecs of water was available at Daliya point in the Teesta Barrage area.
Our correspondent in Kurigram reported that the people living in char areas were crossing the once the mighty Brahmaputra, Teesta, Dharla and Dudkumer on foot as the rivers had almost dried up.