A step further

Following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's much-awaited two-day visit to Dhaka, on 6-7 September, New Delhi's last-minute inability to sign a long-awaited water-sharing deal on the Teesta and Feni river waters came as a significant shock to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government. The impetus for the visit had built up for some 21 months, since January 2010, when the two prime ministers had met in Delhi and issued a historic 51-point joint memorandum on bilateral cooperation. The biggest disappointment had to do with the long-discussed land-transit deal, which would allow India access to the Northeast through Bangladesh and would result in significant fees for the Dhaka government. The fact that this deal did not come to fruition was obviously due to India's inability to conclude the Teesta deal.

The failure to sign the water-sharing agreement came due to the dramatic U-turn taken by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The newly elected Banerjee expressed her disapproval over the Teesta water-sharing deal at the 11th hour and dramatically pulled out of the Indian delegation. Reportedly, the chief minister felt that there was unacceptable difference between the initial draft of the agreement and its final version: while the West Bengal government had decided to share 25,000 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of Teesta waters with Bangladesh, the final agreement had increased that figure to 33,000 to 50,000 cusecs. Even if Banerjee's stance was genuinely geared towards safeguarding the interests of her state, she failed to convince Bangladesh that her objection to the Teesta deal was not due to a personal irritability towards New Delhi.

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Himal Southasian