Bangladesh and India want a “mutually acceptable formula” for sharing the water of 54 common rivers, said Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar yesterday.
“We are ready to start from anywhere,” he said, adding, “We look forward to making progress in finding a mutually acceptable formula to share water from 54 shared rivers.”
Jaishankar was speaking at a joint press briefing after a meeting with Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen at the state guesthouse Jamuna.
Asked about signing of the Teesta water-sharing treaty, the Indian minister said, “We’ve a position. You all are aware of it. We’ve a commitment to that position. And there’s no change in that regard.”
A fair share of the Teesta water is crucial for Bangladesh, especially during the dry season (December to March), and the two countries failed to sign a deal during the then Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in 2011. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had opposed the deal.
On May 30, 2015, the then Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said there would be no Teesta deal without the West Bengal government on board.
Against this backdrop, officials of the two neighbouring countries believe they can work on sharing water of the other common rivers. A secretary-level meeting in early August decided to work on water-sharing and basin management of seven rivers -- the Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Feni, Gumti, Dharla, and the Dudhkumar.
They also decided to have a feasibility study on the proposed Ganges Barrage project, especially its impact on the environment and people’s livelihoods in both the countries.
Asked about concerns that some four million Bangla-speaking people are at the risk of losing Indian citizenship as they were left out of the National Register of Citizens in Assam, Jaishankar said, “This is an internal matter of India.”
However, Foreign Minister Momen later told reporters that India asked Bangladesh not to worry about the NRC issue.
“We said we are already in serious trouble with 1.1 million Rohingyas … They [Jaishankar] said ‘you don’t worry at all about it’,” Momen told some reporters at his ministry office.
The NRC is aimed at identifying illegal immigrants in Assam, which shares a border with Bangladesh. It is the only Indian state where people are being registered under the NRC.
When the draft NRC was published on July 30, 2018, there was a controversy over the exclusion of 40.7 lakh people.
This is Jaishankar’s maiden visit to Dhaka since he became a minister of the BJP-led government in May.
The three-day visit, which began on Monday, comes ahead of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s state visit to New Delhi in the first week of October.
Jaishankar handed Hasina Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation for the visit when he met her at the Gono Bhaban later in the day, reports UNB.
Hasina thanked Modi for the invitation.
PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim briefed reporters after the meeting. He said Jaishankar laid stress on simplifying the process for people’s visits to the countries.
During the meeting with Hasina, Jaishankar expressed interest in enhancing cooperation in the energy sector, especially hydroelectricity project.
The hydroelectric project can be implemented effectively as the cost of this project is lower, he told the PM.
At the meeting at Jamuna, Jaishankar and Momen discussed preparations for the PM’s visit to India. Dhaka and Delhi are likely to sign a number of MoUs then.
Details were not disclosed but the ministers discussed border management, reducing untoward incidents at the border, trade and investment, power and energy, river water-sharing, connectivity, culture, and consular issues.
They reviewed progress of projects under the Indian Lines of Credit (LoC). Sources said Momen sought fast disbursement of funds.
The ministers also discussed the Rohingya crisis that has put immense strain on the economy, environment, and security of Bangladesh.
“We agreed that safe, speedy, and sustainable return of the displaced people from Myanmar is important in the national interest of all the three countries -- Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India,” said Jaishankar.
He also reaffirmed India’s readiness to provide more assistance to the Rohingyas in Bangladesh and improve socio-economic conditions in Rakhine State.
Jaishankar said Bangladesh and India are enjoying the best of relations. Over 100 agreements have been signed in the last 10 years and 68 of them were inked in the last three years. The decades-old land boundary and maritime issues have been resolved.
It’s now the golden age of Dhaka-Delhi ties thanks to the visionary statesmanship of Modi and Hasina, he said, terming it “a model in South Asia”.
“Our ties have transcended into a strategic partnership,” he said, adding that India would like to extend all possible support to Bangladesh to realise its development agenda.
The Indian minister said Dhaka and Delhi agreed to be partners against crime, extremism, and terrorist groups.
The two countries agreed to increase connectivity via air and waterways, which would generate income and growth for the countries.
“We’ve many energy-sharing projects, which we’re discussing, including private and public sector partnership, and we hope to take those forward,” Jaishankar added.
He said they were ready to move to the next stage of economic partnership as Bangladesh’s economy develops and matures. “We’ll make progress at a pace that is comfortable for Bangladesh.”
Jaishankar said India was ready to make travel as seamless as possible for Bangladeshis wishing to visit India.
Momen said they had a very fruitful discussion. While talking to journalists at his office, he said Bangladesh raised the issue of killings along the border. “We want zero deaths.”
He said despite repeated commitments made by India, border killings remain a problem. The Indian side yesterday assured Bangladesh of looking into the matter.
Before the meeting with Momen, Jaishankar visited Bangabandhu Memorial Museum on Dhanmondi Road-32 and paid tributes to Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
He is scheduled to leave for Nepal today.