GAUTAM LAHIRI, Senior Journalist

Once again India and Bangladesh have showcased a remarkable good neighbourliness in their bilateral relation when the Joint River Commission of two countries met in New Delhi recently. The 38th meeting of the JRC concluded with a breakthrough on bilateral water sharing and management after a gap of 12 years. The last meeting held in New Delhi in December 2010.

India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers. The joint Rivers Commission of India and Bangladesh was established in 1972 as a bilateral mechanism to address common border and Trans-boundary rivers issues of mutual interest. This time, the meeting was significant for two reasons: firstly, both the countries resumed the meeting after a decade in order to work closely to further deepen and strengthen cooperation in the areas of common rivers and water resources management, and secondly, the JRC came just weeks ahead of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s official visit to India in September 2022, at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The JRC meeting symbolizes the partnership of half a century between India and Bangladesh that has “strengthened matured and evolved “as a model for bilateral relations for the entire region and beyond.

The India delegation for the 38th meeting of the ministerial level of JRC led by Union minister for Jalshakti Mr. Gajendra Singh Sekhwat and Bangladesh delegation was led by Mr. Zaheed Farooque, Minister of State for Water Resources. Mr AKM Enamul Haque Shammem Deputy Minister for water resources was also part of the Bangladesh delegation. The meeting was preceeded by Water Resource Secretary level interactions.

 After the meeting, India’s Ministry of External Affairs stated that,’ the discussions were held on a number of ongoing bilateral issues of mutual interest including river water sharing of common rivers, sharing of common rivers, sharing flood data, addressing river pollution, conducting joint studies on sedimentation management, river bank protection works”. Important resolutions were accepted by both sides about finalization of the text of MoU on Interim water sharing of Kushiyara River which has been a long standing demand of the Bangladesh. This emphasises India’s “Neighborhood First’ policy in the real sense. For Bangladesh, India proved her commitment by the going the extra mile.

The Kushiyara River is a distributary river in Bangladesh and Assam. It originates in the state of Nagaland in North-East India and picks up tributaries from Manipur, Mizoram and Assam. It may be mentioned here that water is a state subject and all the state Governments have risen to the need of Prime Minister Narendra Modis vision of foreign policy.  Bangladesh wants to use the Kushiyara River to cultivate crops in the northern Sylhet district through canals, the water will be extracted from the River for croplands.

Another Important decision was also taken during the meeting, which might have a far reaching impact of the bilateral relation as both sides finalized the design and location of a water intake point on the Feni River of Tripura to meet the drinking water needs of Sabroom town of Tripura. During the liberation struggle Tripura hosted lakhs of refugees who took shelter in the small state of Tripura. Therefore, allowing India to lift water will be termed as a return gesture by the Bangladesh Government after a gap of 50 years. India was taking 1.82 cusecs of water from the Feni River under an interim agreement signed during the visit of Sheikh Hasina to India in 2019.

Landmark decisions were taken on identifying 7 rivers for developing framework of water sharing agreement on priority. These are the rivers that flow mainly from the north-eastern states like Assam, Tripura and others. The rivers are Muhuri, Mou, Khowai, Doodhkumar, Dharala, Gomti and Feni. Many of the rivers flow down to big rivers of Bangladesh like Meghna. Only Doodhkumar comes from West Bengal which is known as Raidak River. As a major confidence building measure it has been agreed to widen this area of ongoing cooperation by including 8 more rivers for data exchange. Thus, the Rivers of both sides will create a new depth in the friendship between two countries.

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