Tripura hopes for solution to river disputes with BangladeshSeptember 4th, 2011 - 3:42 pm ICT by IANS
Sabroom (Tripura), Sep 4 (IANS) Indian villages by the Feni river, which serves as a natural border with Bangladesh in southern Tripura, are desperately hoping that the eight-decade-old dispute over the water channel will find a durable solution during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Sep 6-7 visit to Dhaka.
The Feni, which flows 135 km south of Tripura capital Agartala, has been in dispute since 1934. According to Tripura government officials, in a total catchment area of 1,147 square km of the river, 535 square km falls in India and the rest in Bangladesh.
“The water of Feni has not yet been measured for technical and locational reasons,” border town Sabroom’s civic body chairman Shantipriya Bhowmik told IANS. “Therefore, water sharing between India and Bangladesh has not been finalised despite a series of meetings between Dhaka and New Delhi.”
Bhowmik, accompanied by local people, told a visiting IANS correspondent that they were sincerely hopeful that the festering row over water sharing would be resolved during the prime minister’s visit.
“Fourteen projects linked to the Feni have been at a standstill since 2003 after objections from Bangladesh affecting irrigation in Indian villages,” said chief engineer Tapan Lodh of Tripura’s water resources department.
However, at the 37th meeting of the Joint River Commission (JRC) in New Delhi in March 2010, Bangladesh had allowed India to go ahead with a drinking water project and 21 river protection projects involving the Feni.
India and Bangladesh have 2,979 km of land border and 1,116 km of riverine boundaries. The neighbours share 54 rivers but currently have a 1996 water sharing treaty on the Ganga.
The Indian states of West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam and Tripura share the 4,095-km border with Bangladesh.
“During the British rule the dispute over river Feni first arose in 1934 when Tripura was an independent princely state,” historian and political analyst Tapas Dey said. “After India’s independence and partition, the dispute continued.”
Dey cited old official correspondences of the external affairs ministry. “Tripura’s erstwhile kings and parliament members over the years tried in vain to persuade the Indian government to resolve the dispute,” he said.
According to Lodh, in the last JRC meeting, India and Bangladesh discussed the signing of a 15-year interim water-sharing treaty on two common rivers - Teesta in West Bengal and Feni - during the dry season.
The JRC also discussed formulating a working plan on sharing the waters of other common rivers, including Dharla and Dudhkumar in West Bengal and Manu, Khowai, Gumti and Muhuri in Tripura.
The joint communique issued after the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi in January last year said: “The two prime ministers directed their respective water resources ministers to convene a ministerial-level meeting of the JRC to discuss issues relating to Feni, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar.”
On the invitation of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Indian premier Manmohan Singh, accompanied by the chief ministers of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, is to visit Dhaka Sep 6-7.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, during her visit to Tripura in November last year, had said that her country was keen to resolve the problems of water sharing and basin management of the 54 common rivers.
She said that her government has been asking India for basin-wise management of all common rivers. “In 40 years, we have signed agreement for one river (Ganges) (and) are on the verge of doing another - an interim treaty on Teesta waters. At this rate, the two neighbours will need ‘a millennium’ to sign deals on 54.”
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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